By Erin Rodewald || July 21, 2018
Fundamental to the American character is an embrace of religious freedom. It is our first freedom, enshrined in our founding documents:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. —Declaration of Independence
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. —U.S. Constitution, First Amendment
Religious freedom has not been gifted to Americans alone, of course. It is a universal value — worth protecting, but often abused. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, restrictions on religion around the world are on the rise, with one-third of the population surveyed living in places with high or very high levels of persecution.
A quick glance at the headlines affirms the statistics: Rohingya Muslims massacred and driven from their homeland; Yezidi women brutalized and enslaved by ISIS; thousands of Christians slaughtered in Nigeria; faithful Baha’i members routinely persecuted in Iran and Yemen; anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe.
Time to sound a clarion call for religious freedom around the world.
In the coming week, the U.S. Department of State will host the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. The three-day summit (July 24-26) will bring together ministerial-level officials from more than 40 nations, as well as religious leaders, NGO representatives, civil society organizations, and human rights advocates. The goal: reaffirm international commitments to promote religious freedom and identify concrete initiatives to raise religious freedom as a global priority.
“Every human by nature of their dignity as a human being deserves the capacity to worship in the way that they want to worship, or if they chose not to worship at all, so be it,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a recent interview with VOA News. “No one should be punished by their government for their religious beliefs or their religious activities connected to those beliefs.”
The Ministerial represents the largest and highest-level gathering ever on the issue of international religious freedom and comes on the 20th anniversary of the passage of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. IRFA established the framework that elevated religious freedom as a priority within U.S. foreign policy.
In addition to formal plenary sessions and testimony from survivors of religious persecution, a number of side events are planned around the city. Topics for side events (many of which are open to the public) include lectures on the status of religious freedom in places like China, Nigeria, Syria, and Russia; screening of the film, Letter from Masanji; a multi-faith prayer service; an exhibit called The People of the Cross that highlights the persecution millions of people experience as daily followers of Jesus Christ; and a discussion about technology and religious freedom.