For the second year in a row, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback have hosted A Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department in Washington, D.C.
It was a diplomatic grand slam of the first order, and I was honored to represent Focus on the Family.
A Ministerial is a fancy term for a diplomatic priority, and in this instance, Pompeo and Brownback have made religious liberty and conscience rights a centerpiece priority in the Trump/Pence Administration. By inviting foreign ministers and senior diplomats to Washington specifically to focus like a laser beam on these issues, it sends a global message of what matters to this Administration.
They have done so by inviting to Washington delegations from over 100 countries to come together for three dawn-to-dusk days of forums, panels, speeches, information-sharing sessions, and networking to advance the fundamental human right of freely practicing one’s faith around the globe.
Only 20 percent of the world’s population is able to do so, and shining light in dark corners of persecution and repression is one of the major achievements of such an annual gathering. In my own three decades in Washington, this kind of major forum is genuinely unprecedented.
The general sessions were grouped together by themes such as “Working Together to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief”; “Religious Freedom Challenges in China”; “Documenting Atrocities and Countering Violent Extremism”; and “The Economic and Security Benefits of Advancing Religious Freedom.”
The most powerful and heart-rending part of the Ministerial gathering was the singular focus on the actual victims of religious persecution around the world. Their stories and personal experiences were revelatory, searing, and shocking. Featuring real people with real stories to share was the catalyst of this gathering.
Speeches and presentations by long-time advocates of religious freedom like Rep. Chris Smith (NJ), Ambassador Kellie Currie of the Office of Global Criminal Justice, former Rep. Frank Wolf (VA), and Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus were particularly well-done and affecting.
Vice-President Mike Pence also addressed the gathering, issuing a rally cry on behalf of the represented countries: “Together, we will champion the cause of liberty as never before, and I believe that our combined leadership will make a difference for religious liberty for generations to come.”
This annual gathering proves that when religious liberty and conscience rights are protected and codified into law, all other rights and freedoms of a nation are protected too. Alas, the opposite is true as well, and there is major work to be done in numerous nations around the world.
“It is past time to bring down these religious restrictions so that the Iron Curtain of religious persecution can come down for one and all, and it comes down now,” said Brownback.
The Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom is a fountainhead of great ideas on one of the most important and fundamental issue-areas of the 21st century, both at home and abroad. One hopes this might become an annual gathering in a quest to make conscience what James Madison, the principal architect of our own United States Constitution, called “the most sacred of all property.”
Timothy Goeglein’s newest book, American Restoration, is published by Regnery Books and is available on Amazon.
Photo from the United States Department of State