When Ben Gilman passed away December 17 at age 94, he had been retired for 15 years from the U.S. Congressional seat he held for 30 years. The district he represented encompassed portions of Orange, Rockland, Sullivan and Westchester counties north of New York City.
In his 15 terms, he focused his attention and support on a broad range of concerns—Ukraine famine and world hunger, sea law, Irish affairs, prisoners of war and MIAs in Southeast Asia, and control of drug trafficking and abuse, among others. His moderate to liberal stance on particular social issues—notably labor and abortion rights—caused some to call him a “Rockefeller Republican.”
Years before the 2010 Haiti earthquake, he traveled frequently to that country to monitor programs to rebuild and improve infrastructure, education and the legal system, and he later sponsored the Haiti Economic Recovery Opportunity Act of 2002.
Many will remember Ben Gilman most for his forceful advocacy of human rights issues, including his sponsorship of the Center for International Human Rights Act of 2002. Founder of the House Human Rights Caucus, he was instrumental in bringing about release of political prisoners from the Soviet Union and other repressive regimes. In 1994, Rep. Gilman assumed chairmanship of the House International Relations Committee (now Foreign Affairs Committee) from which he continued his efforts to eradicate human rights violations wherever they occurred.
In the late 1990s he stood fast against pressure from the German government when he sponsored a Congressional Resolution and hearings to expose and condemn then-rampant discrimination against Scientologists in Germany. After he left office in 2002, he carried on his dedication to ending religious discrimination in that country, traveling to Germany to meet with government officials and religious leaders.
“Congressman Ben Gilman was a friend to the Church and to all people who value human rights and religious freedom. His courage and spirit were indomitable, and he will be missed,” said Sylvia Stanard, deputy director of the Church of Scientology National Affairs Office in Washington, D.C.