Amid criticisms for the string of expulsions of Christians over the past year, the Moroccan government has been "sincere" in listening to Christian voices on the issue, says one evangelical leader.
"It's rare for an ambassador to spend over two hours with a group of people not from a government agency," the Rev. Dr. Samuel Goebel, president and CEO of the Evangelical Church Alliance, told The Christian Post on Wednesday. "They were open to what we had to say and listened carefully."
Goebel led a delegation of evangelical leaders last week to meet with Aziz Mekouar, the ambassador of Morocco, to discuss the deportation of Christian foreigners and the government closure of a Christian children's home that cared for abandoned children.
According to Goebel, the ambassador gave assurance that the recent expulsions did not signal a change in the Kingdom's policy of religious tolerance. He also stressed to the delegation that Morocco enjoys the presence of large Jewish and Christian populations that freely worship in their respective synagogues and churches without the oversight or interference of the government.
"Morocco has always had religious freedom," Goebel noted to The Christian Post.
But in light of the recent expulsions, Goebel suspects that "there was some pressure put on the Moroccan government from Islamic sources."
Compared to other Islamic countries, Morocco has generally allowed religious freedom. The U.S. Department of State noted in its religious freedom report in 2009 that the government continued to encourage tolerance, respect, and dialogue among religious groups in the predominantly Muslim country.
Still, there have been reports of discrimination and abuses of religious freedom in the North African country, where Christians make up only 1.1 percent of the population.
Most recently, 16 Christians who were taking care of 33 orphaned and abandoned children were accused of proselytizing and told to leave the country. The workers had been serving as foster parents in the Village of Hope for some 10 years with the full knowledge of the government and were shocked by the sudden expulsion.
Morocco has strict laws against proselytizing, which the ambassador reiterated in last week's meeting.
The Village of Hope workers, however, have denied the allegations and said they always sought to abide by the Moroccan law. They feel they were caught up in a national crackdown against Christians.
Mekouar told the evangelical delegation in Washington that the recently deported groups had "crossed the line" and violated the law.
"From the Moroccan government's perspective, the people did cross the line," said Goebel. "I can't be a judge of whether they did or not."
The delegation suggested the government of Morocco consider adopting a clear and detailed definition of "proselytizing" so that foreign Christians will know what legal limits are imposed on them in sharing their faith. Mekouar accepted the recommendation, Goebel said.
Though unsure of whether the government will follow through on that suggestion, Goebel believes the meeting overall was "fruitful."
"I believe it's possible the healing process will start," he commented.