This week more than 80 foreign delegations, as well as NRB and other religious and civil society leaders from around the world, gathered in Washington, D.C., at the invitation of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.
Before the commencement of the summit, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president & CEO of NRB, told Secretary Pompeo in a letter, “I am particularly grateful that you have chosen America’s first freedom – religious freedom – to be the focus of your first formal ministerial.”
Johnson added, “Religious liberty is a source of strength and stability for societies, and the focus that President Donald Trump and his administration have placed on this core principle sends a powerful message within our nation and to governments abroad.”
Pompeo certainly underlined importance of religious freedom for strong societies. On the first day of the ministerial, he published an op-ed in USA Today declaring, “Countries that champion individual freedoms are often the most secure, economically vibrant, and prosperous in the world. Religious freedom is an indispensable building block of free societies.” Moreover, in his address to global leaders on Thursday, he declared, “When religious freedom flourishes, a country flourishes.” He then highlighted important positive steps in countries like Uzbekistan and several Persian Gulf states.
The Secretary of State also announced new funding and programs to advance the cause of religious freedom around the world. In particular, he highlighted a new Potomac Declaration and Potomac Plan of Action. “These documents reassert the United States’ unwavering commitment to promoting and defending religious freedom. They recommend concrete ways the international community and governments can do more to protect religious freedom and vulnerable religious communities,” Pompeo said. He also indicated there will be more religious freedom conferences to come, including recurrence of the State Department's ministerial.
In his keynote remarks to the foreign leaders gathered in Washington, Vice President Mike Pence also announced new efforts, including a multinational International Religious Freedom Fund and a Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program in which the U.S. will partner with faith and other local leaders to swiftly aid the persecuted, beginning in Iraq.
The Vice President declared:
The right to believe or not believe is the most fundamental of freedoms. When religious liberty is denied or destroyed, we know that other freedoms — freedom of speech, of press, assembly, and even democratic institutions themselves — are imperiled. That’s why the United States of America stands for religious freedom yesterday, today, and always. We do this because it is right. But we also do this because religious freedom is in the interest of the peace and security of the world.”
Pence had tough words for ISIS and nations like North Korea, Iran, and Russia. However, particularly striking was his message to the Turkish government on behalf of President Donald Trump. “Release Pastor Andrew Brunson now, or be prepared to face the consequences,” he declared with a threat of sanctions.
Notably, along with other victims of persecution, Jaqueline Funari had testified on behalf of Pastor Brunson, her father, earlier in the week. Brunson has been brutally and unjustly imprisoned for his faith since October 2016 by Turkey, America’s NATO ally. Funari knew he would be permanently affected by this experience, but she added, “That said, I cannot tell you how proud I am of my father and what an example of Christ’s love he continues to be to the world as he is wrongly imprisoned for his faith.” The day after Funari’s testimony, Brunson was ordered to be released from prison, but is still under house arrest.
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, who has been a key catalyst in the development of this ministerial, told those gathered, “We cannot afford to fail.” He emphasized the importance of the summit and the hope it could spread in the hearts of those suffering around the world.
He also added an exhortation that those fighting for religious freedom must not to simply be content aiming for tolerance. “We must move to a place where people genuinely care and love one another, no matter our differences,” Brownback said. “You must help us get there.”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: July 27, 2018