Honoring the U.S. Commitment to International Religious Freedom

John J. Sullivan
Deputy Secretary of State
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel D. Brownback
U.S. Institute of Peace
Washington, DC
February 8, 2018

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Thank you, Bill. Good afternoon, everybody, and, welcome. I know the Secretary enjoyed attending the prayer breakfast this morning with many of you.

The National Prayer Breakfast, I believe, was the first official event that he attended last year after he'd been confirmed as Secretary. He regrets that he can't join us today, but on his behalf, I want to thank all of you for making this event a priority as the State Department officia-- officially celebrates a governor becoming an ambassador.

Before I speak about Ambassador Brownback, I want to talk briefly about this administration's priorities as they relate to international religious freedom.

Since our nation's founding the right to freedom of religion or belief has been at the very heart of who we are as a nation. To protection in the First-- the protections in the First Amendment have played a pivotal role in our success over the past two and 1/2 centuries, and continue to serve as an inspiration and beacon of hope to the world.

Every day we strive to uphold and protect the dignity and rights of every person and, most significantly, the rights of conscience. The right to worship freely. I happen to travel to Khartoum, Sudan last year in Nov-- in November, and I gave a speech on religious freedom at a Mosque in Khartoum. And it was a very moving experience for me, and I was very proud as an American to be able to stand in that Mosque as a Roman Catholic from an Irish American from South Boston, able to stand in that Mosque in Khartoum and talk to my friends and colleagues whom I met there about the importance of religious liberty, and the right to religious freedom.

These rights are not ours alone. They belong to all people around the world. Every person has a right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Unfortunately, many around the world do not live in the light of that truth. Nearly 80% of people worldwide experience restrictions on religion. They are not free to practice what they believe. They live in fear, worship in secret, and face discrimination.

The Trump administration is actively working to champion religious freedom around the world. To do that effectively requires partnerships with governments, organizations, and individuals, who are willing to stand up against tyranny and defend freedom of conscience-- conscience where-- wherever it is under attack.

Many of the honored guests in this room are part of that critical effort. And for that, I thank you. I want to recognize, in particular, former Congressman Frank Wolf, who is here, I believe. Please. The author--[APPLAUSE] Congressman Wolf is the author of the original legislation that created the Ambassador-at-Large position, as well as the Department's Office of International Religious Freedom.

And so on to the purpose of today's event, the introduction of Ambassador Brownback. Today, we officially welcome the man who will lead the United States efforts to advance religious freedom to all corners of the world. For decades, Ambassador Sound Brom-- Sam Brownback has served the people of Kansas in just about every way imaginable. Kansas Secretary of Agriculture, congressman, senator, and, of course, most recently, as the twice elected Governor of the Sunflower State.

Indeed, Ambassador Brownback is a true public servant. The epitome of a public servant. And he's long been a champion for international human rights, from his work on landmark religious freedom and anti-trafficking legislation, to leading the charge for justice and accountability for the victims of the Darfur Genocide.

Ambassador Brownback is a man of conviction and a man of action. So I cannot think of anyone more qualified than he to lead the Trump administration's charge for religious freedom. In fact, Ambassador Brownback has the distinction of being the highest ranked official ever to serve in this role.

I would also like to thank his wife, Mary, who continues to serve as a source of encouragement and support for the ambassador. We're grateful to have both of you with us.

Ambassador Brownback, on behalf of Secretary Tillerson, and the entire team at the State Department, welcome. We are so thrilled to have you with us. We look forward to working with you as we strive toward the overarching goal of making religious freedom a global reality for everyone.

Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

AMBASSADOR AT LARGE BROWNBACK: Good to see so many old friends here.

I-- a number of you have come up and greeted me and said, well, you remember when we worked on this together, or that? Well, I'm back, and we're back, and we're going to do something. Big things are going to happen. We're going to get things done.

I-- I think this is the most important foreign policy issue of our day is religious freedom. Do you agree? This-- this is-- by the way, I want to start off appropriately. This is my wife, Mary, who has done fabulously--[APPLAUSE]
I was getting too fired up. I apologize about that. And, Deputy Secretary, thank you very much for being here. This administration is serious about religious freedom.

Ambassador, thank you for opening this place up. Ambassador Hanford is here that was a success-- or a predecessor of mine in this job, and Ambassador Susan Johnson Cook is here, as well, that was a predecessor in this job.

But in many regards, all of you are predecessors in this job. All of you care passionately about religious freedom. This it-- to me the fundamental human right that exists, and off of it, all the rest come. And you get this one right, the rest flow. You get this one wrong, the rest are shut down. And it is a fundamental right that you have to do with your own soul what you choose. Period. End of stuff. That's what we stand for as Americans. And we're going to fight for that. And it's right to fight for it. [APPLAUSE]

And we have wonderful religious leaders here from all sorts of different faiths, or no faith at all, that are here.

Jake, thank you for coming here and being here from the UAE and a conference you lead. Thank you for coming.

Thank you for being here.

And my old friend, Franklin Graham, who I just think the world of you and your dad and what you've done for faith around the world. God bless you and your family. Franklin Graham's here. Thank you.

And many others who I can't think to recognize. But one I just got to do. Mark Vermette-- Burnett and Roma Downey are here, who have done so much to lift faith in the public view. And what you do to put it out there on television in a way that millions of people see it in an exciting fashion. Thank you for doing it. That's just-- it's wonderful.

Now, I recognize all of you because I've got a big plan for all of you. We're going to get this done together. And with this army that's here, with this administration's commitment, and with the need to do this around the world, we're going to see religious freedom expand. And now is the time to do it.

Unfortunately, what we've seen happen over the last several decades is religious freedom contract, and persecution going up around the world. Indeed, today, there are more people persecuted for their faith around the world than at any time in human history.

This is intolerable if you're a nation like the United States of America who fundamentally believes in freedom. And in freedom of faith. We believe in this. And that has been declining around the world. That is not a situation that's going to last, and we're going to do something about it, and we're going to fight it.

We will need all of your help to get it done. Everybody in this room. We're going to need you, and I'm asking you that you lean in with us on this. Because this little office that I've got, the administration, we cannot get this done. We can try all we want, I've got an office of 25 people and they are good. But-- thank you. Let's applaud them. They're a good bunch.

But what we can do is, basically, shine the light on places and we put out the report, and we tell places where things are not going well. And we can shine the light. But you got to hit the target. And we hit the target for freedom for everybody. This isn't about any one faith, this is about all faiths or no faith at all. This is about opening up the conscience space for people around the world.

And you heard the Deputy Secretary say that 80% of the world has some restrictions on what they do with your own soul. And you know what happens when you put restrictions on a person's soul, they fight you. They fight you a lot. And which of you in this room would not fight if somebody says, we're not going to let you do this, or we're not going to let you have your family. Do this or we're not going to be able to-- you're not going to be allowed to do the things that you believe in your conscience you need to do for your family. What would you do? You would fight. You'd fight them with everything you have.

The change, the difference that's in America is we say no, you be free, and you come into the public square and express your opinions and your thoughts, and bring your-- bring it. We want to hear it, we want the discussion, we want the competition of ideas, we want the competition. We want the ideas here.

And what we've seen now in all the studies that look at this is, if you want more security, offer more freedom of religion. Because when people are free, they don't fight you. They just say, OK, you know, I want to bring my idea here. Good. Bring it. But if you don't let them do it, they will fight you. And we find around the world when you put religious restrictions on people, security problems go up and terrorism goes up.

So this is a national security issue, it's a fundamental human issue of the heart, and it's a fundamental issue for this administration, and for us as Americans. And mark my words, with this team here, with this administration, it's going to change, and it's going to get better, and we need you to help us get it done.

So I say as I leave here with-- with you, we're ready. I'm saddled up. In the Parlance of the West, we're locked and loaded. And we're ready to go to work with you for freedom, as is not-- I don't want to use that analogy wrongly-- for freedom around the world. And we really, really will work with you and your partnership.

I look forward to doing that. And let's leave here, and let's go change the world.

God bless you all.