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Thank you Mr. Secretary.

Good morning and welcome! We are delighted you are here. Much effort has been put into making this a very special week for the global religious freedom movement.

This is the largest human rights event ever hosted at the State Department and the largest religious freedom event ever done in the world. I hope you feel the history and importance of this moment.

A global human rights movement centered on religious freedom is being launched from this meeting. You are here at the inception. But after this, we ask you to take your station around the world to protect this fundamental freedom.

This right extends to all, everywhere, all the time.

It is a God-given right governments must protect if their people are to prosper.

Most people around the world profess a faith and I believe that we all experience a deep need to nurture calls from within. Governments are not religious institutions but they are expected to protect religious spaces and the right of individuals to practice their beliefs, without which the faithful cannot thrive.

Government, therefore, provides an indispensable role for people of faith around the world.

But the situation is grim. Although most of the world is religious, around 80% of the world’s population live in a religiously restrictive atmosphere. It’s time to bring down these religious restrictions so that the Iron Curtain of religious persecution can come down one and for all!

Imagine the burst of freedom most of the world’s population would experience if religious freedom was protected. Imagine the prosperity we can create together if our world was put on a path of exponential growth of religious freedom.

First, we need to remember: this can happen!

In fact it must happen for humans to reach their aspirations for peace and eternity…no small accomplishment.

Second, we need to remember we already have a common foundation. The countries of the world agree on religious freedom for all. It is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it is in most countries’ constitutions. Article 18 of the states it very clearly: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Under international law, even during a public emergency, states cannot derogate from their obligation to protect freedom of religion. What is abundantly clear today is that this right needs to be put into practice.

That’s where you come in.

We need your activism and passion.

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!

Join us in this vision. Let’s determine to fight for each others’ God-given, unalienable right to religious freedom.

Let this be the beginning of a global grassroots movement for religious freedom.

Let this be the time the worlds’ faiths came together to stand for each others’ ability to exist peacefully, without fear. Let’s bring our faiths alive, and respect—even love one another no matter what we believe or don’t believe. We are all part of a common humanity.

The United States seeks to partner with religious and civil society groups to advance the cause. This Administration sees the killing, imprisonment, harassment and persecution on the basis of religious beliefs or convictions as a global crisis that has received far too little attention — a global crisis that we are determined to reverse.

Whether Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Yezidi, Zoroastrian or other, people from every religion and belief experience persecution somewhere. And often it’s deadly.

Yet if all these same faiths stand together in agreement for one another, i’m convinced we can change the world. Deaths would go down. Imprisonments would decline, freedom of worship would flourish.

So my message to you in brief? United we stand.

Divided we fall… and far too often in catastrophic, even genocidal ways.

When will it stop?

Let us answer that question…

It stops now!

At this Ministerial we will explore the new and the old.

New ways of supporting the rights of religious minorities, including in the areas of development aid and business formation. We will study the new ways religious adherents are persecuted thru high tech facial recognition systems and the use of artificial intelligence.

The future of oppression is dark. It may involve fewer people locked up, but more marginalized from society. In that future, you might get a low social credit score by going to the wrong church or mosque and that prevents you, your family and friends from accessing schools, getting jobs or even able to buy or sell.

Technology is morally neutral but it can be used by good or evil.

Another goal of our time together is drawing greater awareness to the discrimination and persecution others face around the world.

See something, say something. Much evil is perpetuated by good people not speaking out.

We also want to encourage everyone here to find more ways to learn from each other in your communities back home. One avenue is by starting religious freedom roundtables where ever you live — a regular meeting where religious actors in your community come together with civil society and government leaders to discuss and pursue ways to expand religious freedom, and encourage governments to defend and protect the right.

All must be welcome and invited to this table.

We want to see 100 of these established around the world in the next 12 months.

Let this be the time humanity says we are together in this right.

Let this week be the moment the history books point out as the time the world determined that this human right will not be trampled on anymore because the people demand it.

Let the movement begin.

We stand united and together.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future