IHRG at Athens 2004, Summer Games Past

We have attorneys working with us who have been working to protect religious freedom at major sporting events since the Atlanta Games in 1996.  As a result, we have helped on the ground at the Atlanta Games, the Athens Games, and the World Cup in Germany.  We have worked directly with those participating in the outreach or protecting missionaries at the Melbourne Games, the Salt Lake City Games, the Torino Games, the World Cup of Cricket, the World Cup of Rugby, and other events like the Super Bowl.


In the Summer Games of 2006 the Olympics returned to their origin.  Athens was alive with the thrill of hosting the Games again.  The city was virtually rebuilt.  The atmosphere was charged as the Games approach.  Before the Games began I was able to meet with a key leader of the Arch Bishop of Greece’s staff discussing the work that would happen during the course of the Games.  There was great concern on a both sides.  The Greek Orthodox Church has a monopoly on Christianity and really religion in all of Greece.  Evangelicals number only a couple of thousand adherents in all of Greece.  On the other side, there was a fear that evangelicals participating in outreach designed to convert Greeks and outsiders to evangelical Christianity would be threatened with arrest or arrested during their outreach.


Our job was simple; we did everything we could before the Games to show the government authorities, who are church authorities in Greece, that these missionaries had legal rights that must be respected no matter what.  It appears we were successful.


With this having been done, I went to Greece to monitor events with a local attorney who works with the IHRG, Vassilios Tsirbas.  I first met Vassilios when I was working in Strasbourg, France.  We have been friends since then, 1999.


While on the ground in Athens Vassilios and I met with missionaries before they began outreach to discuss what they could expect on the streets of Athens.  We met with missionaries after they had been on the street to discuss issues that were arising during the course of their outreach.  One of the issues that arose was street musicians were being told they could not use amplification on the streets.  While this went beyond the authority of the police we counseled the missionaries to work without the amplifiers to avoid problems.  They continued to minister on the streets with music without further problems.


Another day we were preparing to go into Athens when we got a phone call through our hotline.  Two missionaries handing out pamphlets were approached by police in downtown Athens and told that if they did not have a permit to hand out literature they would be arrested.  Within an hour Vassilios and I were talking to the missionaries.  After learning exactly what they had been told we began hunting for the officers who had threatened the missionaries.


Vassilios was absolutely fearless as he approached every police officer and security officer in the area.  He would approach the officers and ask if they were the officers who had threatened to violate the rights of Christian missionaries.  The police officers kept pointing us to others.  After about an hour of questioning every officer we found Vassilios turned to me.  “Let’s go to the precinct house and talk to the boss.”  It sounded like a good idea to me.


We went into the police office and took the elevator to the third floor where the bosses worked.  As we stepped off the elevator and looked around we saw a small crowd of police standing in a door way.  Before we could move out of the elevator the Captain called to us.


“I have heard that you were looking for the officers who threatened to arrest the people on the street.  I have already taken care of the situation.  The officers are off the street.  They have been suspended without pay for three days.  You will not have any other problems.”


Quickly, Vassilios stepped up.  “Ma’am, we are not looking to punish the officers.  Please do not take their pay.  We only want to make sure that our clients are permitted to participate in activities that are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and the laws of Greece.”


We left the station and reported the good news to the missionaries who immediately went back to sharing the faith on the streets of Athens.


There was a lot of good outreach that went on in Athens.  And there is no doubt that because we were there the missionaries were able to do their work without the being arrested.


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