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SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you, Ambassador Brownback.  Good evening, everyone.  For those of you just coming, there’s room on this side over here.  It is great to see you all, so many people gathering to advance religious freedom.  I think Secretary Azar is here too from HHS, another ally in this fight for religious freedom.

I also want to extend a very special welcome to the faithful gathered here, to civil society and religious leaders, and to the foreign ministers and various heads of delegation who have joined us for this great series of events here.

Thank you too for everything you’ve done to make these first two days so special and a success.  You are all truly on the front lines of freedom.

And by gathering here today, this evening, you’re making history.  This is the second time we’ve done this here at the State Department.  It is the largest human rights gathering ever at the State Department.  (Applause.)

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.

We have our work cut out for us; you all know that.  The people on this stage know this better than I do, and you’ll hear in many sessions at the ministerial this very thing.  From the Islamic Republic of Iran, to China, to Cuba, and beyond, violations of religious freedom remain all too common and all too far widespread.

President Trump’s administration has made the protection of unalienable rights like religious freedom a real priority.

And I’ve talked about this in many settings and at length, and my colleagues have worked hard to put time and resources towards rallying our friends and partners to this important cause.  We’ve decided that nothing short of an all-out, all-of-government effort is necessary.

Two, we’re working hard to inspire grassroots movements to push for change in every nation, every country in the world where religious freedom is being violated.  More and more people are hearing that call.  They’re stepping up in their own communities around the world and saying that they too are ready to fight for this important freedom.

I’m especially honored tonight to share the stage with the men and women who have demonstrated how much each one of us is capable of in advancing this noble shared cause.  If the future of religious freedom rests on solid ground, it’s because of people who are sharing the stage with me tonight.

To say that each of them is brave is a gross understatement.  To say their work is tough does not go nearly far enough.

Each of them has a story, a story which Ambassador Brownback will tell us a little bit about in a moment.  Each of them is known for their extraordinary advocacy efforts.

They’ve risked their own reputation, their personal comfort, their own well-being, and in some cases even their lives to help strangers, many of whom practice faiths that are different from their own.

Hailing from diverse countries, working as lawyers, working as diplomats, imams, directors of NGOs, they share a common mission:  to protect religious minorities and defend religious freedom and unalienable rights.

I don’t want to steal Ambassador Brownback’s thunder – he has more to say about these extraordinary men and women.  But I do want to emphasize one more thing about them:  No one on the stage with me here tonight sought the spotlight.

I could not be more humbled and honored to recognize their actions tonight with the first-ever set of international religious freedom awards.

I hope that, through these awards, we inspire others to do their part.  The world needs more ordinary citizens doing these remarkably extraordinary things.  To all of our honorees, thank you for everything you’ve done, God bless you, and I’ll now turn it back over to Ambassador Brownback.  Thank you all.  (Applause.)

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future