Obama Urged to Lift U.S. Restrictions on Religious Travel to Cuba

Leaders of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service are urging the president to lift the restrictions on religious travel to Cuba, calling the current U.S. policy toward Cuba "ineffective and counter-productive."

In a joint letter this past week to President Obama, NCC General Secretary Michael Kinnamon and CWS Executive Director/CEO John L. McCullough said the "impractical restrictions" that resulted from the Bush administration's then-new interpretation and application of the U.S. Code governing travel to Cuba by religious groups have reduced their ability to send religious delegations to Cuba, limited their opportunities to accompany and support their Cuban church partners and have the effect of "severely limiting" participation in Cuba missions by U.S. churches and congregants.

"Since 2005, U.S. church denominations, mission agencies and ecumenical organizations at the national and regional levels have suffered from severe restrictions on religious travel," the leaders noted in their May 4 letter.

As a result of the tightened restrictions, national religious organizations such as NCC and CWS, and their member denominations, are eligible to travel to Cuba no more than once per quarter, and are subject to other limitations.

Furthermore, many religious institutions have reportedly been unable to attain licenses from the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which is empowered to grant two-year licenses to religious organizations to travel to Cuba.

There have also been long delays in getting them renewed.

"Churches across the theological spectrum have called for the elimination of these restrictions which have now interrupted relationships, fellowship, and exchanges which began more than 125 years ago," NCC and CWS leaders stated.

"We urgently ask that you now change the Cuba policy of the United States in ways that will assist the churches in their work and have wider benefits for our country and for the people of Cuba," they added.

Noting that Congressional action is not required to lift the travel restrictions imposed on religious groups, NCC and CWS has asked the president to take direct action.

The letter also asked the president to work with Congress to end the travel ban to Cuba for all Americans.

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