Religious liberty advocates drew hope from a first-ever international gathering of government officials, civil society representatives and faith leaders to promote the freedom of all people to practice their beliefs.
The U.S. State Department convened the inaugural Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom July 24-26 in Washington, hosting delegations from more than 80 governments in an effort to combat persecution of and discrimination against people of all faiths. On the meeting’s final day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the event would be held again next year.
The conference included addresses by Vice President Mike Pence and other U.S. officials as well as testimonies from persecution survivors and equipping sessions for civil society organizations.
The event also produced both a declaration and a plan of action on international religious freedom.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) was encouraged at how the event “evidenced the work of Ambassador [Sam] Brownback and his team of dedicated public servants to raise the profile of religious freedom as a foreign policy priority,” Travis Wussow said, referencing Brownback, ambassador at large for international religious freedom in the State Department.
“Baptists have always been at the forefront of insisting that religious freedom is not legislative grace — something that can be dispensed with and withdrawn by the government — but is instead an inalienable right recognized by government,” Wussow, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy, said in written comments.
“After a week with men and women from over 80 countries, I’m pleased to see these same arguments being marshaled from all corners of the globe with the hope that religious freedom will be recognized by governments worldwide.”
Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), lauded Brownback and other State Department officials, saying they had “pulled off a diplomatic coup, not only in convening, but in exhorting, educating, and persuading.”
“Nothing approximating this high-level foreign policy gathering on religious freedom has ever happened before,” Farr said in a written statement. “The United States must lead this new multinational coalition and begin the process of changing things on the ground.
“With this Vice President, this Secretary of State, and this Ambassador, I believe the stars are aligned actually to reduce persecution and advance international religious freedom,” Farr said.
Brownback and Pompeo both expressed delight with the ministerial’s results.
Brownback described the event as “a spectacular success” and “a launch of an alliance with governments, with nonprofit, with faith community people.”
“I really think we’re at a moment where the Iron Curtain prohibiting religious freedom is coming down, and that you’re going to see a burst of freedom — of religious freedom around the world — taking place,” Brownback said at a July 26 news conference.
Pompeo said on the event’s final day, “As the first-ever event of its kind, we didn’t know exactly what the response would be. The reaction has, indeed, been overwhelmingly positive.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press, Tom Strode