July 27, 2018, Washington, D.C.— The Religious Freedom Institute applauds the successful conclusion of the three-day Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. The remarkable gathering of government and civil society representatives from across the world drove home the brutal nature of international religious persecution, and was marked by historic multilateral commitments to do more to stop it.
During the first two days some 400 civil society representatives and religious leaders convened at the State Department. They heard stories of horror and of courage from survivors of persecution, including a North Korean defector, a Uyghur Muslim from China, a Rohingya Muslim from Burma, a brave Yazidi woman who survived ISIS captivity and terror, and the daughter of American Pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson has been unjustly imprisoned in Turkey for two years. Within hours of his daughter’s impassioned remarks, Brunson was transferred to house arrest. We join others in demanding his freedom.
The final day convened foreign ministers and other high-level officials from more than 80 countries, many of whom pledged to launch new initiatives to advance religious freedom. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the delegations and announced commitments from the United States for new programs and funding to help survivors of genocide. Secretary Pompeo announced that the ministerial would take place again next year.
At the conclusion of the gathering, Secretary Pompeo released the Potomac Declaration, a statement of principles on the meaning and value of religious freedom, and the Potomac Plan of Action on how the principles can be operationalized.
In sum, the Ministerial gave powerful witness to the growing tragedy of global religious persecution – how it causes terrible human suffering, uproots families, destabilizes societies, and threatens security. Experts made the case that advancing religious freedom in foreign policy can reduce persecution, increase security and stability, support the rights of women, preserve culture, and fuel economic prosperity.
RFI President Tom Farr, the founding director of the office Brownback now leads, praised the ambassador and his staff. “Nothing approximating this high-level foreign policy gathering on religious freedom has ever happened before. Ambassador Brownback, Special Advisor Knox Thames, and their State Department colleagues have pulled off a diplomatic coup, not only in convening, but in exhorting, educating, and persuading. As they know, however, the real work begins now. 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,” said Farr.
The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.
Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker