The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) was launched during the conference, “Theology, International Law and Torture: A Conference on Human Rights and Religious Commitment,” which was held on January 13-16, 2006 at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. George Hunsinger, Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, convened the conference to better equip the multiple religious communities to take a more prominent role in the effort to end U.S.-sponsored torture. 150 leaders of a variety of faiths attended the conference.
The organization that Hunsinger created after the release of the Abu Ghraib photos, Church Folks for a Better America, and its fiscal agent, the Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, NJ, contracted with the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy, a national ecumenical research center located at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, to help plan and promote the conference and develop plans for a new national religious organization working to end U.S.-sponsored torture.
Preparations for the January 2006 conference included a November 17, 2005 meeting, held at the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, DC, of staff people of various national faith group bodies and those in the religious community who were already working on the issue. Those attending began to discuss the possibility of developing an ongoing national religious anti-torture campaign.
From January 2006 to May 2007, NRCAT was a project of the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy. In May 2007, NRCAT became an independent organization and hired Rev. Richard L. Killmer as Executive Director. Additional staff were subsequently hired, including a Director for Program and Outreach, Director of Policy, Director of Finance & Operations, and Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program. Also several contractors and interns assist NRCAT in specific projects.
Over 67,000 people of faith have endorsed “Torture is a Moral Issue” – NRCAT’s Statement of Conscience, the Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order on Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty or NRCAT’s Statement on a Commission of Inquiry. As important partners of the organization, endorsers receive information about pending legislation as well as suggestions for helping their congregations engage in efforts to end torture.
More than 320 religious organizations are now members of NRCAT. Member organizations include: Evangelical Christians, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, mainline Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Bahá'ís, and Buddhists. Members include national denominational and faith group bodies, regional entities such as state ecumenical agencies, as well as congregations and other local religious organizations. Over one hundred are Participating Members that name a representative to the Participating Members Council (PMC) and contribute financially to the organization. A Board of Directors of twelve people is responsible for NRCAT's work.
NRCAT works closely with six regional interfaith anti-torture organizations, five of whom were formed in conjunction with or because of NRCAT's work. These include: Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture, Los Angeles Region Religious Campaign Against Torture, Metro New York Religious Campaign Against Torture, Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice in Connecticut, the Bay Area Religious Campaign Against Torture in California, and the Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture. Also, NRCAT has a total of 22 state partners including state ecumenical agencies and other organizations.
NRCAT saw the fruit of its many efforts on January 22, 2009 when President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order halting torture just two days after taking the Oath of Office.
In December 2007, the NRCAT Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) entity, was created. The Action Fund is responsible for advocacy and election campaign activities. Visit the NRCAT Action Fund website for more information.
- In January 2010, NRCAT joined an effort by the Maine Council of Churches, other religious organizations, the Maine Civil Liberties Union and other organizations in supporting a bill before the Maine legislature that would have, among other requirements, reduced the amount of time that most prisoners would spend in isolation (solitary confinement) and prohibited the placement of prisoners with mental illness into isolation. That bill did not pass, but the Legislature passed, and the governor signed, a bill that requires the Department of Corrections to review their use of isolation and report their findings back to the Legislature. The Maine Council of Churches, the Catholic Diocese of Portland, NRCAT and other religious bodies in Maine played an important role in educating and advocating for this bill - read about their efforts.
- Once again, NRCAT mobilized congregations to participate in June's Torture Awareness Month.
2009 - For more information, read the NRCAT 2009 report (PDF)
- In January, NRCAT launched one final grassroots effort to unite the religious community in calling for President-elect Obama to issue an executive order halting torture. Called "Countdown to End Torture: Ten Days of Prayer," this initiative featured a "countdown clock" on the website, marking the final 10 days before the inauguration, and a call to religious congregations to include an interfaith prayer on torture in a worship service during that period. More than 200 congregations informed us of their participation in the Countdown initiative.
- At noon on June 11, 2009, eight heads of faith groups and other religious institutions joined other prominent clergy in standing with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) at a public witness in front of the White House (in Lafayette Square), calling for a Commission of Inquiry on Torture. The religious leaders issued a strong plea to President Obama to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate U.S.-sponsored torture that occurred post-9/11. Over 300 people of faith were in attendance. Read a further report of June 11 activities.
- June is Torture Awareness Month - Read about June activities.
- The Catholic Leadership Council of the National Religious Coalition Against Torture, the Life Cycle Institute and the Center for International Social Development of the Catholic University of America sponsored an important conference on March 19, 2009 at Catholic University called Torture, Conscience and the Catholic Moral Tradition. It explored the decisions of conscience by Catholics in the public square regarding the use of torture. For the conference program, speakers, and video of sessions, see www.nrcat.org/catholic.
- NRCAT generated 286 press stories in 2009.
2008 - For more information, read the NRCAT 2008 report (PDF)
NRCAT operated a major effort in 2008 for a Presidential executive order halting torture. NRCAT joined Evangelicals for Human Rights and the Center for Victims of Torture to generate support for an executive order by the U.S. President implementing a Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order on Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty. NRCAT's efforts were richly rewarded when the President signed an executive order halting the use of torture on January 22, 2009, just 48 hours after his inauguration.
- On June 25, 2008, NRCAT publicly launched the Campaign to Ban Torture with a press conference that featured the release of the names of more than 200 senior level endorsers. This launch received extensive media coverage, including articles in the New York Times, Seattle Times, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and Christian Science Monitor, and coverage by MSNBC and CSPAN3.
- Grassroots activities involved outreach through NRCAT's member groups and allied organizations to secure more than 15,000 endorsements by individual people of faith and more than 100 endorsements by religious organizations and institutions.
- On Wednesday, November 12, 2008 NRCAT organized a "National Day of Witness for an Executive Order to Ban Torture", which involved more than 50 delegations of religious leaders and people of faith in more than 25 states, meeting with Members of Congress or their staff to seek their support for an executive order based upon the Declaration of Principles and their help urging the President-elect to issue an executive order during his first days in office. In addition, more than 30 religious institutions participated in a moving procession and public witness in front of the White House. The procession and public witness included hundreds of people of faith, many of whom carried anti-torture banners that had been displayed outside their places of worship. Learn more about all of these activities.
Other 2008 Activities
- On March 10, NRCAT co-sponsored a public witness in Upper Senate Park in Washington, DC, to protest the President's veto of legislation that would have required all federal agencies, including the CIA, to adhere to the Army Field Manual's interrogation standards.
- More than 330 congregations in all 50 states and DC displayed anti-torture banners on the exterior of their buildings during June 2008, "Torture Awareness Month." With participation exceeding 350 congregations throughout 2008, the Banners Across America! project featured messages such as "torture is wrong" or "Torture is a Moral Issue." Many congregations have used their banners for special events, including public processions and vigils. In order to expand the reach of the project, NRCAT produced a colorful poster including many photographs from congregations. In September and October, NRCAT delivered one poster to each member of Congress (and in 2009 delivered one to the White House). Learn more and see many of the banners here.
- Beginning in July, religious delegations in seven cities met with editorial boards of major newspapers to urge them to editorialize against U.S.-sponsored torture. NRCAT provided background materials, training for the participants and model editorials and op-eds. Editorials were printed in the Durham Herald Sun, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Portland Oregonian, Milwaukee Sentinel, and San Jose Mercury News. Op-eds were printed in the Concord (NH) Monitor and San Jose Mercury News. The results of this project provided the basis for the resource "Guide to Meeting with Editorial Boards." Funding for this project was provided by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.
- On September 11-12, Evangelicals for Human Rights, with NRCAT and Mercer University as the main sponsors, hosted a national summit on torture to look at how the U.S. made the descent into torture, and how we can move out of it. This event was infused with moral conviction drawn from religious faith, and conference speakers reflected a variety of faith perspectives. The event had more than 50 speakers, including the nation's most prominent attorneys, clergy, activists, and scholars in the field of torture and human rights. 243 registrants came from 22 states and Washington, DC.
- NRCAT generated 179 press stories in 2008.
- Through the "Spotlight on Torture" project, NRCAT provided Rory Kennedy's Emmy Award-winning film "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" to 600 congregations for screenings during the week of October 21-28, and to 400 additional congregations in 2008.
- In December, NRCAT announced the availability of small grants to state and regional religious organizations that develop a project for outreach, education, advocacy or action related to halting US-sponsored torture. These capacity-building grants were designed to strengthen the work of its partners in various parts of the country. It repeated those grants in 2008 and made similar grants in 2009.
- NRCAT produced a 45-second video for its website. It describes the Administration's use of the expression "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" and then features a diverse collection of people of faith in representative dress stating "no matter what you call it, it's still torture" and that torture is a moral issue. The video is also located on YouTube.
- NRCAT released its statement of conscience, "Torture is a Moral Issue" and began collecting public endorsements across the country.
- In August, NRCAT helped create "Evangelicals for Human Rights." EHR prepared "An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture," which subsequently was adopted by the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals.
- NRCAT placed and promoted an advertisement on the op-ed page of The New York Times, signed by 28 national religious leaders. The signatories represented unprecedented diversity of U.S. religious life and included Elie Weisel, Pastor Rick Warren, Dr. Sayyid Syeed, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, and President Jimmy Carter.