QUESTION: Welcome back to Washington Watch. I’m your host, Tony Perkins. So glad that you are with us on this Monday afternoon. As I mentioned earlier, today starts the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted here in Washington, D.C. by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I was at one of the opening events at the Holocaust Museum earlier today. The ministerial will be held throughout the week with both official State Department meetings with some 1,000 civil society and religious community representatives and government officials representing every corner of the world. And there’s also events by nongovernmental organizations seeking to promote religious freedom.
Secretary Mike Pompeo, who heads up the State Department, is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduated first in his class. He served in the U.S. Army, reaching the rank of captain before going to Harvard Law School. He worked as an attorney, among other things, before being elected to Congress from the state of Kansas where he represented the 4th District. Prior to the President asking him to serve as Secretary of State, Mike served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is married to Susan, with whom he has one son, Nicholas. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo serves as a local church deacon and teaches Sunday school through the Evangelical Presbyterian church.
Secretary Pompeo, welcome back to Washington Watch.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, it’s great to be with you.
QUESTION: First of all, let me just say thank you for hosting and making this a priority, the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. And let me start, Secretary, with the most obvious. International religious freedom is a priority for the Trump administration, that is clear – but why?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, we talk about the ministerial, that’s a fancy name for something that you and I both understand as something that is basic, it’s intrinsic, this first freedom, this most fundamental of human rights to – for an individual to make a choice about how to practice one’s faith or frankly to choose not to is so central to human dignity that it is important that the State Department, the United States Department of State, do its level best to ensure this freedom that we have here in the United States is a freedom that we encourage and support all around the world so that every individual, no matter their circumstances and no matter on what continent they live, they have the opportunity to engage in practicing their faith in the way they see fit for themselves and for their family.
QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary, give us an overview of what we can expect this week as you have government leaders from across the – really around the world coming here to discuss religious freedom. Some looking back at what the challenges that were put forward last year to see how we are making progress, but what other items are going to be covered?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, it’s going to be a great gathering. And as you said too, there are gatherings all across town now that have begun to take place during this week. That is – that heartens me to see that blossoming. We’ll have a thousand leaders – some governmental leaders, civil society leaders, religious leaders – all coming together to talk about the things that are going right in their countries, the things that are not going well, how we can collectively deliver on this fundamental human right, this unalienable right for each and every individual. So you’ll have people like Pastor Brunson talking about his experiences. You’ll have individuals who were persecuted in certain countries talking about what happened to them and how it is we can prevent that. The conversations will be lively, they’ll be intellectual, they’ll be very powerful because we’ll hear firsthand accounts of people who have suffered where religious freedom did not exist. And it hopefully will come together to deliver on a set of objectives over the course of the next year.
We’ve seen great progress in this last year, but Tony, as you well know, there’s much work to be done.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I can imagine that as you have traveled almost every week to different parts of the world, that as a result of this administration making international religious freedom a priority, it’s been interjected into your conversations. Because I can tell you, I have seen it. As I have met with leaders of other countries, they have taken note that the Trump administration has placed a priority on religious freedom, and they are working to try to advance it in their own countries.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Tony, it’s heartening that you’ve seen it too. I certainly have. President Trump has made it a priority, so our team does as well, and I see it as well. It’s at a higher level in the conversation. It’s more of a priority in many countries. I think they understand the United States expectations, and our encouragement for them to behave in ways. And we try to do this, Tony, too from both as a – it’s a fundamental human right, one that every individual ought to have the right to expect in their country, but we also work to help countries understand that affording this right, this right of religious freedom, will make their country stronger. It will make their country more powerful. It will make the citizens in their nation more capable.
So this is certainly something that one nation ought to do because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also something that benefits each and every nation that opens up religious freedom to people from all faiths.
QUESTION: Well, and that is actually a topic that’s covered in this year’s ministerial is the effect of religious freedom. Once you get that right, you begin to see economic development coming into place, you see greater social stability. So it is a first freedom for a reason.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Amen, Tony. The – you also see this, you can see the converse, which is nations that have chosen a different path, a path which denies religious freedom, over time lose their capacity to respond to the most fundamental needs of their own citizens, and that does not bode well. That doesn’t strengthen a nation; it weakens it. And I think as the United States and President Trump have directed, we talk about this and make this a priority, I think countries are beginning to see that and learn that as well. And so it’s had a very, very positive impact. We’re very happy with how this has proceeded not just in the United States, but all around the world.
QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary, what are your goals for this year? What do you hope to be the takeaways from this year’s gathering?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So at the most basic level, we will regather. This will be the second time, so people will have had one year, having seen what happened last year, will be able to mark our progress along the way. But we’ve got a number of particular issues, places in the world. Christian persecution will be one of the focuses. The focuses of the persecution that’s taking place against Muslims in China and throughout other parts of the world – those will be some of our central focuses. And then we’re also going to try to make sure that we put in place a set of building blocks. We don’t want this event to be a one-off where we all congratulate ourselves for having a good week here in Washington.
SECRETARY POMPEO: We want this to be something that has programs and processes that are laid out all through the next year so that when we come together for the third one a year from now, we can measure our progress against what we set out as our objectives this year.
QUESTION: All right, Mr. Secretary. We’re at a – we’re up against a break. We’re going to come right back and finish our conversation with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Folks, don’t go away. We’ll be right back after this.
QUESTION: Welcome back to Washington Watch. I’m your host, Tony Perkins. Joining me on this Monday afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Before the break, we were talking about the hopeful takeaways from this year’s ministerial.
Mr. Secretary, last week, you spoke at the Christians United for Israel annual summit, and one of the issues you addressed there, which we’re seeing growing here in the United States as well as in Europe and other places, is anti-Semitism.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, we’ll spend time on that this week as part of the religious freedom ministerial as well. Our Special Representative for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism Elan Carr will be a central – this will be his central focus. I did talk about it last week and I’ve talked about it for my time as Secretary of State. We’ve watched the increase in anti-Semitism around the world, we saw what happened in a number of places, and we’ve seen that here in the United States as well. And we – the people of Israel, the Jewish people, have a right to practice their faith, Judaism, in the way that they choose to practice it. And we know the history and we want to do our level best to make sure that every person of every faith has the capacity to practice their religion, including those of – those who practice the faith of Judaism.
QUESTION: I mean, this is a fundamental issue, and again, I commend you for stepping out and making this a priority for the State Department and our foreign policy, which, by the way, as a member of Congress, you were supportive of this. This goes back 20 years where the Congress said we want this to be a priority in our foreign policy.
But I have to say I think in the 20 years since the International Religious Freedom Act was passed, this is the first time where we’ve had this type of leadership where you’ve got the President, you’ve got the Vice President, you got the Secretary of State, you’ve got the national security advisor, you’ve got an aggressive ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom – I’m not sure the time could be better because the need is certainly great at this moment.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, I see that in many places, and I’ve talked some – our time together this day. I talked about the progress that we’ve made. I also see when I travel places where we’ve not made sufficient progress, places where Christians are being moved out, denied their capacity to practice, and there’s risk that their Christianity will leave some of the most traditional historic places in the Middle East. I’ve watched as people who want to practice other religions are just denied that opportunity; they’re persecuted based on their faith. So this administration has made very clear that’s unacceptable. Your government can be doing lots of great things. The fundamental duty that we each owe to every other human being just by nature of their humanness is to permit them to practice their faith, and we’re working diligently on that.
And so while we’re proud of the progress we’ve made, we understand that there are many out there, many perhaps listening to your show today, that aren’t living in a place where they can practice their religious freedom in the way that they choose, and we want to do our level best to make sure that we can make it better for them.
QUESTION: And this comes in many different directions, in many different ways, sometimes more subtle. And I was out last week actually with a group in Alaska, and so I was not able to talk about one of your announcements last week, going – the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which is fundamental to this issue of religious freedom. And as usual, this administration has been criticized for stepping out. And one of the things I appreciate about the President, about you, is that that doesn’t cause you to shrink back; it just causes you to really – to dig in and move forward. But over the weekend, you were criticized by Roger Cohen for this commission, and in his comments, he made reference to – and I’m just going to quote from his piece – he said, “The intention of Pompeo, an evangelical Christian whose beliefs infuse his policy, appeared to be to turn back the clock,” referring to fundamental human rights. I mean, is this not a form of the very religious intolerance that’s manifesting itself through our own media here in the country that somehow because you’re an evangelical Christian, you can’t advocate for the rights of others?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, what we’re doing with this – and I appreciate you talking about this. The Unalienable Rights Commission is really important. We’ve put together a good panel. But we’ll go back to take a look at what are these basic rights and how do we define them here in the United States, and then how do we think about it around the world.
Our founders thought about this an awful lot. They wrote about it in the Federalist Papers. They talked about it in the Declaration of Independence with the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There is a declaration, an international declaration of human rights, to which we will study and refer. It is really important that we define these most basic rights that every human being is entitled to in a way that is careful and thoughtful and grounded, and that’s what our Unalienable Rights Commission intends to do.
When we start to talk about a broad, big, deep, thousands of rights, we diminish these things, like religious freedom, that are so fundamental to humanity, that are so fundamental that we risk making them sort of lost in the shuffle. And I want to make sure we get this right, and so that’s what the Unalienable Rights Commission is going to do, and I am very optimistic. Then when we complete this work, even those who have taken shots at what we’re trying to do, will see that it was sincere and important and deeply consistent with our Constitution and our founding here in the United States of America.
QUESTION: Well, I know as a former tank commander you’ll stay the course.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Amen, sir. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Secretary, final comment for you, and I know we’re up against a break. How can our listeners be praying for you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, just keep praying for our nation, keep praying for this amazing country, the most unique, wonderful nation in the history of civilization, that we continue to adhere to our capacity to deliver on religious freedom for every single American and that we are mindful of this Constitution that we have that protects that right for each and every one of us.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for taking time on such a busy week to visit with us. Look forward to seeing you throughout the week.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Tony. Have a great day.
QUESTION: You, too.