By Erin Rodewald // July 27, 2018
Twenty years ago, the U.S. Congress codified religious freedom as a priority for U.S. foreign policy by passing the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). This week, leadership at the highest levels of U.S. government re-affirmed a commitment to that first freedom, hosting the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.
“The United States of America stands for religious freedom yesterday, today, and always,” said Vice President Mike Pence at the closing session of the Ministerial. “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.”
To that end, the Ministerial has issued the Potomac Declaration, an official statement that underscores U.S. commitment to the advancement of religious liberty and the protection of those persecuted for their beliefs. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Declaration at the conclusion of the Ministerial, saying it “is a formal affirmation that says right up front that the U.S. takes religious freedom seriously, that we will work with others around the world to help those under attack for their beliefs, and that we expect leaders around the world to make it their priority as well.”
Among the principles elevated by the Declaration:
- All people have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
- A person’s conscience is inviolable, a truth that lies at the heart of religious freedom.
- Forcing a person to adopt a certain religion is inconsistent with and a violation of the right to religious freedom.
- Parents have the right to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
Attached to the Potomac Declaration is a comprehensive plan of action, providing a framework for concrete steps the international community and governments can take to protect and promote religious freedom.
The official Ministerial concluded Thursday evening, with side events wrapping up Friday. In closing remarks, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said, “Our basic morality compels us to give prominence to human rights concerns, because it is the right thing to do. We will continue to forcefully advocate for religious tolerance in the international arena. Not just because so many people are being denied this right, but because defending religious freedom makes for a safer and more peaceful world for all of us.”