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A Panel at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom

2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom

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The protection of religious freedom is central to the Trump administration’s foreign policy, and protecting this human right is an essential part of who we are as Americans.

Michael R. PompeoSecretary of State

Secretary Pompeo hosted the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington on July 16-18. The Ministerial reaffirmed international commitments to promote religious freedom for all and focus on concrete outcomes that produce durable, positive change. A broad range of stakeholders convened to discuss challenges, identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination, and ensure greater respect for freedom of religion or belief.

The 2019 Ministerial was the largest religious freedom event of its kind in the world. With more than 1,000 civil society and religious leaders, and more than 100 foreign delegations invited, this year’s gathering marked the first time a Secretary of State has convened back-to-back Ministerials on the same human rights issue. Last year’s inaugural Ministerial was the first-ever to focus solely on the unalienable human right of religious freedom.

Day One

On July 16, we convened civil society, religious leaders and government officials to discuss the opportunities and challenges for promoting and defending religious freedom globally. Through a series of plenary sessions, participants discussed the necessary building blocks and emerging trends in advancing religious freedom, as well as how religious freedom, international development and humanitarian aid can work together to advance mutual interests.

The American people stand in solidarity with people of all faiths in the People’s Republic of China, and we will pray for the day that they can live out their faith freely without fear of persecution.

Michael R. PenceVice President of the United States
Expanding the Conversation on Religious Freedom

The first session opened with welcoming remarks by Secretary Michael R. Pompeo and by Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. Following their remarks, came a presentation by three survivors of religious persecution (Pittsburgh, Jewish; Sri Lanka, Christian; and New Zealand, Muslim). This session concluded with a General Session on “Working Together to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief.”

The first day’s second section began with a presentation by Nadia Murad (Iraq, Yezidi), a survivor of religious persecution, and concluded with a General Session on “The Journey to Self-Reliance: Securing the Way to Religious Freedom.”

A presentation by a survivor of religious persecution (China, Uighur) opened the third session, leading into the day’s last General Session, “Religious Freedom Challenges in China.” Lord David Alton then delivered remarks, before closing instructions by Ambassador Brownback with the Frank Wolf Award.

Opening Remarks by Secretary Pompeo

Secretary Pompeo (July 16): “Religious freedom is a foundational American value. It is a universal and unalienable right that should be afforded to all, not just a privileged few. I’m proud to launch today’s Ministerial because the Trump Administration is committed to making this ideal a reality worldwide. . . . I want to thank everyone here who has committed a part of their life to helping those who are persecuted and to defending the unalienable right to practice one’s religion and follow their conscience and to take care of their soul. Thank you all for that.” Read the Secretary’s remarks.


Keynote Remarks by Ambassador Brownback

Ambassador Brownback (July 16): “We need you to boldly fight for religious freedom for yourself, for all those who profess your faith, and — taking it an essential step forward — joining together to fight for those who profess different faiths. Think about it: this is a right that only exists if all of us experience it. If one government takes the right away from one religious group, don’t be fooled — yours may be next. This is not an exercise in trying to achieve some sort of common theology. This is an exercise in protecting a common, unalienable human right. We seek to have all the religions and governments of the world come together around this concept…religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, and all the time!” Read the Ambassador’s remarks.

The Trump Administration prioritizes the protection of the unalienable right of religious freedom.

President Trump and our Administration will always stand for the freedom of religion that animated the American founding and is enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

Michael R. PenceVice President of the United States

The Trump Administration champions the protection of unalienable rights like religious freedom, grounded in our nation’s founding principles. Religious freedom is a universal human right, and key to the protection of other unalienable rights, including freedom of speech and assembly.

Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback are strong, public advocates for religious freedom.

In February, Secretary Pompeo swore in Elan Carr as the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

Every year, the State Department releases the International Religious Freedom report, which describes the status of religious freedom around the world.

Secretary Pompeo recently announced the establishment of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, to furnish advice for the promotion of individual liberty, human equality, and democracy through U.S. foreign policy.

Day Two

On July 17, we hosted three separate, concurrent discussions for the attendees of Day One to unpack ideas generated during Day One. These sessions were hosted in three different venues within and in the immediate vicinity of the Harry S. Truman Building to allow for more focused discussions and a greater number of breakout sessions. We invited topical experts, civil society actors, religious leaders, academics and working-level government officials to discuss topics such as best practices for religious freedom advocacy; limitations in forming, registering and recognizing religious communities; challenges facing religious minorities; combatting the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic behavior; and countering violent extremism; religious freedom and national security; religious freedom and economic development; cultural heritage protection for religious sites; religious minorities and humanitarian crises; international development aid and religious freedom; and mobilizing faith leaders around peace and development goals.

Deep Dive: Building Blocks for Advancing Religious Freedom

The “Building Blocks for Advancing Religious Freedom” track began with opening remarks by Ambassador Brownback and a presentation by a Pakistani survivor of religious persecution. The track’s first session concluded with a general session on “Different Faiths Advancing Religious Freedom Together,” which featured speeches by Sheikh bin Bayyah and Joel Roseberg and a panel consisting of Imam Magid, Rabbi David Saperstein, and Pastor Bob Roberts.

Religious freedom is embedded deeply in the American character. But it isn’t exclusively an American idea. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms religious freedom or belief as a universal right.

Michael R. PompeoSecretary of State

During the off-camera breakout sessions participants in this track first joined conversations on the following topics: Addressing Challenges to Religious Freedom in sub-Saharan Africa; Addressing Challenges to Religious Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa; Combatting the Rise of Anti-Semitism; and Best Practices in International Religious Freedom Advocacy. Following lunch, participants attended a second round of breakout sessions on: Addressing Challenges to Religious Freedom in East Asia and the Pacific; Addressing Challenges to Religious Freedom in South and Central Asia; Multi-Faith Initiatives: The Role of Religious Freedom; Monitoring International Religious Freedom; and Combating Discrimination Against Muslims, Christians, and Members of Other Religions and Beliefs.

After the off-camera breakout sessions, a presentation by a survivor of religious persecution marked the beginning of the first track’s second session. The general session “Parliamentarians Working Together to Advance Religious Freedom” was moderated by Special Advisor Knox Thames and featured speakers from Canada, Indonesia, and South Africa. A survivor of religious persecution made a presentation, followed by remarks by Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. Special Advisor Knox concluded the day with a summary.

Deep Dive: Emerging Trends in Religious Freedom

Today we are turning our convictions into action. And there’s not a moment to lose. A shocking 83 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is either threatened or denied entirely.

Michael R. PompeoSecretary of State

The “Emerging Trends in Religious Freedom” track began its first session with State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus welcoming attendees and introducing Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. A presentation by a Chinese Buddhist survivor of religious persecution and an introduction by Ambassador Callista Gingrich transitioned the track to the general session “Documenting Atrocities with Sara Bloomfield.”

Off-camera breakout sessions for participants in this track included: Religious Freedom and Countering Violent Extremism; Women’s Rights and International Religious Freedom; and Teaching Interfaith Tolerance. After lunch, participants could choose to attend another round of breakout sessions on: Preserving Cultural Heritage for Religious Communities; Atrocity Prevention – Protecting Vulnerable Religious Minorities in Conflict and Crisis Settings; and Journalism and International Religious Freedom.

Following the off-camera breakout sessions, a presentation by an International Religious Freedom Awardee started the track’s second session, follow by the general session “The Economic and Security Benefits of Advancing Religious Freedom.” Congressman Chris Smith gave closing remarks followed by summary of the day by Ambassador Brownback.

Deep Dive: Religious Freedom in Development and Humanitarian Assistance

USIP President Nancy Lindborg and Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick opened the first session of the “Religious Freedom in Development and Humanitarian Assistance” track. A presentation by survivors of religious persecution and the “First Year of the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program: Partner Perspectives from the Field” general session then concluded the morning’s events.

We’re all in this fight together. You can be sure the United States will be out front defending the God-given, unalienable right of all human beings to worship as they choose.

Michael R. PompeoSecretary of State

The off-camera breakout sessions in this track split into one of two themes. Participants who selected Theme 1: Religious Freedom in Conflict and Crisis Zones: Protecting Vulnerable Minorities attended sessions on Fragmentation of Religious Minority Communities Across Regions or Religious Freedom in Conflict Prevention, Stabilization, and Peace-Building before lunch. Theme 1’s second round included the topics Protecting Vulnerable Religious and Ethnic Minorities in Conflict and Crisis Settings and The Role of the Private Sector in Post-ISIS Iraq: Opportunities and Challenges.

Breakout sessions in Theme 2: Global Development and Religious Freedom: Building Resilient, Free, and Sustainable Societies explored Promoting Religious Pluralism by Supporting Faith-Based Organizations and Schools in International Education; Democracy, Human Rights & Governance, and the Promotion of Religious Freedom in Development; or Religious Freedom Conditions for Effective Public, Faith-Based Partnerships in Development: Part 1. The afternoon breakout sessions included: Religious Freedom in Action: Mobilizing Local Faith Leaders for Global Development Goals; Religious Freedom Conditions for Effective Public- Faith-Based Partnerships in Development; and Innovation and Technology in Global Development: Protecting Religious Freedom.

After the off-camera breakout sessions, participants in the third track came back for the general session “Faith-Based Communities Working Together for Religious Freedom and Development Goals,” moderated by the Director of the USAID Center for Faith and Opportunity and with Bishop Gregory Mansour, Imam Talib Shareef, and Rabbi Noam Marans speaking. USAID Chief of Staff Bill Steiger gave conclusions of the day.

International Religious Freedom Awards Ceremony

On July 17, Secretary Pompeo hosted the State Department’s first-ever International Religious Freedom Awards ceremony to honor extraordinary advocates of religious freedom from around the world.

Secretary Pompeo (July 17): “Your presence here underscores the fact that faith matters. That the right to worship, to assemble, to practice, and to teach one’s faith is undeniable and that we have a responsibility, as civilized people who care about freedom, to protect it in every way that we can.” Read the Secretary’s remarks.

Recipients of the International Religious Freedom Award

Their heroic efforts to build bridges and protect vulnerable religious minorities, often at their own personal risk, are an inspiration to us all.

Michael R. PompeoSecretary of State
  • Mohamed Yosaif Abdalrahan of Sudan has worked tirelessly to defend the rights of Sudan’s religious minorities, both in his legal casework and through public advocacy.
  • Imam Abubakar Abdullahi of Nigeria selflessly risked his own life to save members of another religious community, who would have likely been killed without his intervention.
  • Ivanir dos Santos of Brazil worked exhaustively to support interfaith dialogue, combat discrimination, and create mechanisms for the protection of vulnerable groups.
  • William and Pascale Warda of Iraq have devoted their lives to advancing religious freedom and other human rights causes in Iraq.
  • Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud of Cyprus has fully committed herself to working with religious leaders, faith-based organizations, and religious communities on a broad range of issues, including religious freedom. She is also one of the architects and facilitators of an unprecedented peacebuilding initiative in Cyprus known as the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden based in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Eighty percent of people live in a religiously restricted environment. The United States is leading. Partners are answering the call.

The International Religious Freedom Fund, established at last year’s Ministerial, now provides emergency assistance to victims of religiously motivated discrimination and abuse around the world, thanks to the generosity of several nations, and the United States.

After Secretary Pompeo’s call to action at last year’s Ministerial, partner governments hosted regional conferences on religious freedom. In November 2018, the United States cosponsored a conference with the United Kingdom at Wilton Park on the delivery of humanitarian and development aid to members of religious minority groups in conflict and crisis settings. In February 2019, the United Arab Emirates hosted a conference to discuss the challenge of promoting interfaith understanding and diversity, as well as how to foster human rights, religious freedom, and combat violent extremism. In March 2019, Taiwan hosted an event to explore ways civil society actors and religious leaders can use their unique positions to engage government and further religious freedom. Other governments, including Morocco, Albania, and Colombia have committed to hosting religious freedom-focused conferences in the coming months.

80 percent of the world’s population live in a religiously restrictive place. It is past time to bring down these religious restrictions.

Sam BrownbackAmbassador at Large for International Religious Freedom

Secretary Pompeo’s Potomac Plan of Action unveiled at last year’s ministerial, called for a new day of global remembrance for victims of religious persecution and a recommitment for action. Poland took the initiative, and led the effort at the United Nations General Assembly to establish August 22nd as the day of remembrance.

Ambassador Sam Brownback encouraged governments to establish new ambassadorships focused on religious freedom. Last year, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Mongolia created special religious freedom ambassadors, and this year, Taiwan followed.

Ambassador Brownback called for the establishment of international religious freedom roundtables around the world, empowering civil society to organize around the principle that every person has a right to their religious beliefs. Roundtables and similar networks currently exist in: Abuja, Bogota, Brussels (EU), Geneva (UN), Khartoum, Kiev, New York (UN), Seoul, Taipei, and Turin. We expect more roundtables to launch soon in Bucharest, Budapest, Erbil, Jakarta, London, Mexico City, Paris, and Ulaanbaatar.

Day Three

106 delegations gathered today at the State Department because we believe in the freedom of conscience . . .

Michael R. PenceVice President of the United States

On July 18, senior government and international organization representatives participated in plenary sessions focused on: identifying global challenges to religious freedom; developing innovative responses to persecution on the basis of religion; and sharing new commitments to protect religious freedom for all. Invitations were extended to likeminded governments that have a demonstrated record of advancing religious freedom and are committed to promoting Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or governments that have taken significant and meaningful steps to do so. Survivors or close relatives of those who suffered persecution due to their religion or beliefs shared their stories. Government delegations were encouraged to announce new actions and commitments they will take to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief.

Government Action

The third day began with Secretary Pompeo’s Keynote Address and Call to Action and the opening plenary session. Later that morning, Vice President Michael R. Pence arrived at the State Department and delivered remarks. Two more plenary sessions surrounded the lunch for the heads of delegation in the Benjamin Franklin Room where White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Pastor Andrew Brunson both gave remarks. Following the third plenary session, Ambassador Brownback led the Ministerial’s concluding remarks and a closing press conference.

Keynote Address

Secretary Pompeo (July 18): “This ministerial’s astounding growth proves religious freedom matters to literally billions of people all around the world. . . . Religious freedom is embedded deeply in the American character. But it isn’t exclusively an American idea. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms religious freedom or belief as a universal right. . . . Today we are turning our convictions into action. And there’s not a moment to lose. A shocking 83 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is either threatened or denied entirely. . . . We’re all in this fight together. You can be sure the United States will be out front defending the God-given, unalienable right of all human beings to worship as they choose.” Read the Secretary’s full remarks.



Remarks by the Vice President

Vice President Pence (July 18): “I’m honored by your presence, and I’m especially honored to address you today as Vice President to an American President who has been a great champion of religious freedom at home and abroad. . . . We’ve gathered here, 106 nations strong, because we believe in the freedom of conscience, the right of all people to live out their lives according to their deeply held religious beliefs.” Read the Vice President’s full remarks.



This ministerial’s astounding growth proves religious freedom matters to literally billions of people all around the world.

Michael R. PompeoSecretary of State

Multilateralism that works.

As Secretary Pompeo stated in Brussels in December, the United States is dedicated to building a liberal order that supports “institutions that work in American interests” and in the “service of our shared values” with allies and partners around the world.

The Ministerial for Religious Freedom represents the kind of flexible, voluntary, and nimble multilateralism that serves nation-states’ interests best.

The Ministerial and related events bring together an incredibly diverse group of religious leaders, government officials, civil society representatives, and people of faith for the common good.


U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future