SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thanks, Penny. Where’s Table 28, the conspiracy people? (Laughter.) They sat me at the wrong table. (Laughter.)
It is really, truly wonderful to be here. It’s a blessing to be with you all. Thank you, Penny, for that kind introduction, and thank you for your friendship throughout the years. I look around; this is such a beautiful hotel. The guy who owns it must – is going to be successful somewhere along the way. (Laughter.) That was for The Washington Post in case they’re in the back. (Laughter.)
It’s special to be with so many patriots and to share – who share the same concerns and priorities for our country as Susan and I. I want to thank you. I want to thank you all for your support. I undertook a project, and Pam would know this. When I came into the State Department, I didn’t come in at the beginning of the administration. I came in after about a year and a half. But I had a number of things that I wanted to accomplish, one of which was to undertake making sure there was clarity about the things that are most fundamental, that we hold most dear.
And so I created this Commission on Unalienable Rights. That is a fancy word for some really talented people who will go out and take us back to our foundational ideas, the things that you all know, the things you all work so hard for, and put that at the core of what the State Department does. And I appreciated the public letter that 17 of you signed. You should know, when we announced it, we knew we were in the right place. There were 400 people who signed and said it was a horrible idea. And if you go look at that list, you’ll see that we are headed in the right direction. We have undertaken a very important mission.
And I want to talk about one of those things that I am confident that this commission will do: They will talk about this right to religious freedom, the most important freedom in many respects. And I want to do it by telling a story. I want to tell a story about a man named Yusuf, a Uighur Muslim from Xinjiang, China. He was living in Pakistan when the Chinese Government began its systematic repression of Uighurs back in 2017. As part of its campaign, China began forcibly extraditing Uighur expats like him back home.
And sure enough, Yusuf found himself forced onto a one-way flight to Beijing. But the Lord was smiling. The flight had a layover in Doha. And it was there in Doha, in what was likely to be his final hours of freedom, that Yusuf made a desperate move. He broadcast a plea for help into social media, and it caught the attention of the State Department, and our team jumped into action.
Our embassy team there on the ground in Doha conducted superb diplomacy work with the Qatari Government to keep Yusuf off his flight to Beijing. We alerted the international community through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to his plight, and our teams in multiple embassies around the world looked for flight patterns through partner countries where Yusuf could stay, even if it was just temporarily.
Ultimately, every country – every country – was reluctant to cross China, and they declined to take Yusuf. This left us one choice, and so we brought him back to America. (Applause.)
We were informed around that time that patience inside of Doha had run out, too. Yusuf would have been forced onto the very next flight to Beijing in just mere hours. So the team here in Washington and the team on the ground crammed what would have normally been a weeks long vetting process for entry into America into just a handful of minutes. And as soon as we received permission from the Customs and Border Patrol, one of our diplomats – a young, talented diplomat who worked in the Office of International Freedom – used her own credit card to book him a seat on the very next flight. (Applause.) Thirteen hours later, Yusuf landed here in the United States of America.
That story didn’t get a heck of a lot of attention here in the press, but I wanted to share it with you today for one reason: Because it demonstrates – to demonstrate the lengths that America goes to defend religious freedom around the world. And I am proud that the State Department, that Pam and I are so privileged to be a part of, is looking out for it in each and every corner of the world. (Applause.)
You should ask yourself this, ask yourself: What other country in the world would have done this much to help someone in this terrible situation? . . .
Indeed, there were many countries that had the chance, but only America did it. No other country stands up for religious minorities on the scale that we do.
In fact, sadly, most other truly powerful nations – from China, to Russia, to Iran – are indeed perpetrators of religious oppression. And the fact that America uses our massive power to defend the persecuted is one of the most wonderful defining attributes of American exceptionalism. (Applause.)
It’s not to say that sometimes we don’t lose our way, and sometimes certain administrations haven’t done all that they could have. Indeed, for years under the last administration, fighting for religious freedom was just an afterthought.
But President Trump, our administration, recognizes it as our country’s first freedom, and it’s found at the very top of the Bill of Rights, so we kind of got it right. (Laughter.) And we believe that advancing it is in our foreign policy interest, whether it’s popular or not.
We’ve committed your money, $340 million, to support Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians. It’s why I, as I travel the world, raise religious freedom all the time in conversations with foreign leaders. Sometimes it’s welcome, sometimes less so.
And it’s why for the last two years we’ve had this incredible response from the world. We’ve held ministerials to advance religious freedom. Countries – dozens and dozens of countries – come to the State Department. Some of you have been there. Some of you have attended these events.
Our work on behalf of this first freedom couldn’t come at a more crucial time in the world’s history. Today, 83 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is either threatened or denied nearly entirely.
And we know this here but we take it for granted: When religious freedom is denied, a host of other freedoms are often denied alongside it. This is especially true for women and girls. We’ve seen this with the enslavement of Yazidi women by ISIS in the Middle East and with the assault and kidnapping of Nigerian girls by Boko Haram.
Barbaric situations like these are why I need your help today. And I’m confident. I used to be an elected official, so there’s always an ask. (Laughter.) I’m confident that with you, with this team, with you as committed patriots, that you’ll do more than you’ve done already. You’ve helped in so many ways. Many of you remember the case of Meriam Ibrahim of Sudan. As punishment for her Christian faith, she was arrested, beaten, and after she refused to renounce Christianity, sentenced to hang.
Meriam is now a free woman, and last year she attended our religious ministerial at the State Department and was able to tell her glorious story. It was there she met you, Shea. She met Shea Garrison here of the Concerned Women for America.
Shea says she never expected Meriam to know anything about this organization, your organization. But instead, Meriam pulled up a picture of Penny on her phone – (laughter) – and said that, “This woman was my friend in prison.”
This is the glory of what you do. She never forgot so many of you had picketed the White House until President Obama acted on her case. (Applause.)
And it may not always seem like it – we’re here in this beautiful ballroom – but when you stand up for religious liberty abroad, your efforts are a force multiplier for America’s interests and values. Great case in point: Meriam, like all of you, is now a powerful voice for religious liberty – even vowing to return to Sudan one day to help her fellow Christians.
And so in closing, two thoughts. First, I ask that you continue to stand up for religious liberty whenever and wherever you can. I pledge to you that my entire team at the State Department will do that as well.
Earlier, Penny, you described a moment where a great lady told a parliamentarian, “You can be both a parliamentarian and a Christian.” And I promise you, as Secretary of State, I will do my best to be your senior diplomat and stay true to my Christian values every single day. (Applause.)
God bless you. May God bless you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you for what you do. God bless you, and I look forward to taking some questions. Thanks. (Applause.)
MS NANCE: Again, we are just so excited because you have done such an amazing job in your position of representing our country and to making such a sound case for religious freedom and first freedoms – the very first freedom, by the way.
I would love to just start out and ask you to tell us a little bit of your story. Tell us who you are, and tell us a little bit of your faith journey. I think people would just be really excited to know who you are.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Well, I’d be happy to do that. Settle in, it’s a long story – (laughter) – as are many of our faith journeys.
The truth is I grew up in southern California. My parents took – I have an older sister, younger brother – took us to church, but it wasn’t a particularly important part of my life growing up. My sister was in the choir, did all that. I was pretty sure I was going to be in the NBA. (Laughter.) But when I went off to school at West Point, there were two young men who were in the class ahead of me who invited me during the very first summer there – it’s a pretty tough summer, during that very first summer they invited me to a bible study, just a fellowship. And I’d like to say I went because I knew Jesus would be there, but they had cookies. (Laughter.) But I came to know these great men of faith in the most important way, and they brought me to Jesus in a fundamental way there. I would have been 18, maybe 19 years old at the time, and truly, since that moment it’s been central to what I’ve done.
I married this great Christian woman, Susan. We’ve raised a son who’s now 29 years old, who we’re very proud of too. We think he has the Lord as his guidepost each and every day. Nick, if you’re listening, it’s not that you’re perfect. (Laughter.) But we’ve always made this a central part of what we do, and I’ve tried to do that in my role as CIA director and now as Secretary of State.
You should know there’s times people outside mock me for that. I’ll raise this in my speeches. I never – I was in Cairo and I opened to talk to about my Christian faith. It was important. I was in a Muslim country, but I wanted them to know that this – to know who I am and I how I think about the world. And the truth is my counterparts, the leaders around the world, I think have great respect for people of faith, even sometimes when they have very different faiths from my own. They respect that we are – we do our best to be disciplined about it and we have that in our heart. And so I think it has served America well to have a leader and a team that is – that knows that they are free not only to talk about religious freedom to others, but to live it out themselves.
MS NANCE: What a credit to our President that —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Amen.
MS NANCE: — he appoints people like yourself and others.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, he also gives us the freedom to do this. He – and more than that – is incredibly supportive in those efforts. It’s a wonderful thing to have a President and a Vice President who are prepared to take those steps right alongside of us.
MS NANCE: We evangelicals have enjoyed a beautiful relationship with our President. And he’s learning more about us, we’re learning more about him, and it’s been a great journey.
Mr. Secretary, you have promoted religious freedom around the world. I’d love for you, and you touched on it, but just explain to people about the religious freedom ministerial. You just did the second one ever, the first secretary of state to gather leaders, ministers from around the country, from around the world. And it was the largest gathering of religious leaders in the world. I’d love for you to just tell them a little bit about that and why that’s important.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s been amazing. I wish I could say it was my idea, but it was not. But it took all the energy that folks like Pam and I had to push it through, to make it come into being. I had the enormous benefit too of having Governor – Ambassador Brownback, who was leading the charge. When I was nominated – I’ve known Sam; he was the governor of Kansas – I was the lowly congressman from the same state, and I remind him works for me now. (Laughter.) And so – I love Sam dearly.
Sam had this idea, this vision for what this would look like. He knew he needed support from the Secretary to pull that off, and so when I was in the nomination process, he wrote me a note and said, “Congratulations, but I’ve got this thing I want you to help me,” and we worked to build it out. And it has been – it has been spectacular in every element.
I’d say, first of all, we convinced America that you could do this. There’s buried sometimes inside of government this idea of separation of church and state. And so can you pull off a religious ministerial at the State Department? Can you – is this possible? Second, when we would go to other countries, we would talk to them about it. And we made clear our objective: It wasn’t to foist my particular religious views on anyone else, but rather to come talk about how this is important, that their governments could be more successful, that their people can live better lives, that they too have those set of rights by nature of their humanness.
So we worked. We built. And the first time I think we had 65 or 70 countries, and this time it was glorious. We had dozens and dozens. And there were events all across Washington, D.C. where religious leaders met. We always bring heroes of religious freedom as well, who – people who have been persecuted but who have returned to fight for religious freedom, and it’s now the biggest thing we do each year at the State Department. We’ll do the third one next year. We’ll do it four more times in the Trump administration after that.
MS NANCE: Yes, we’re looking forward to that. (Applause.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: And I’d urge you watch it. We televise good pieces of it. It’s remarkable to see people from all around the world come together under this central idea, this central premise that human beings, when allowed to express their own beliefs, their own faiths are living out what it is – it means to have dignity as an individual.
MS NANCE: Because we know where that right comes from, right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Every day.
MS NANCE: CWA National and our field have been very proud to support the U.S. Commission for Unalienable Rights, and I know you got a little pushback on that. I’d love for you to explain to people the importance of it, the importance of the really teasing out our first freedoms so that people understand what that is, because there is confusion, right, on what those are.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. There are those who want to confuse rights from good things. We all have preferences. I love vanilla ice cream. As I can see from the table, it’s not my right to have it, but I’m going to get back to it. (Laughter.) When – we worked on a handful of things at the front end. The administration was working on its Mexico City Policy, not only to put it in place, which happened before my time, but to make sure it had the right scope, that we weren’t permitting taxpayer dollars to go to underwrite abortions anywhere in the world, through contractors, subcontractors, or through any mechanism. So I —
MS NANCE: By the way, you did a fantastic job of closing loopholes on that. Thank you. (Applause.) You did that.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I appreciate that. It was – yeah. It was – I was proud to do it. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the lawful thing to do, and I had a fantastic team that worked really, really hard on it. I provided the direction and guidance, but the team did really, really good work, and it will be important. It will be important for an awfully long time to come.
But we also knew that we would go to international organizations – we’d be in Geneva or at the UN in New York, and we would hear nations talk about rights. We’d hear the Chinese talk about rights, we’d hear the Russians talk about things they were doing in the name of human rights, and it was not just uncomfortable, it was morally reprehensible. And so we went back and looked at what we did in the State Department, how we handled this talk about rights, and we didn’t have it exactly crafted in a way that made sense either.
So I wanted to make sure that we – as we put out our guidance to our teams, and when we went to speak in international forum or with partners – we got these central ideas right. And to do that, I wanted to make sure we had a rigorous understanding of what this was. There was work done in the late 1940s, when there was the declaration – Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We wanted to go back to first principles, back to our founding documents, our Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights, to focus on those things that are central to the understanding of rights here in America. And when we do that, we would strip away noise. We would focus on those things that truly can improve the human condition.
So we built a commission. I chose a woman that I had known for a long time, Professor Mary Ann Glendon, to put together a team. It’s a diverse team with lots of different perspectives, and they have begun their work. They’ll have their first public meeting in just a couple weeks, and ultimately they will deliver to our organization this foundational document that I hope will become a document that the State Department will turn to for decades to come, so that as our officers – young officers who enter the State Department – are moving around the world, they have something to look back to. So as they talk about religious freedom or they talk about these central ideas of personal autonomy – that they’ll have something they can turn back to.
And it is not without controversy, for sure. There are those who would have preferred I didn’t do it and are concerned about the answers that our foundational documents will provide. I know where those rights came from. They came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world. So the support of this organization and for others has been really valuable. (Applause.)
MS NANCE: Thank you. I want to be respectful of your time because he has a couple of things to do but – and he’s been so generous to join us for lunch – I mean, we are just – I just want to say thank you on behalf of our founder and chairman, Beverly LaHaye, and our board that are here, how grateful – we are truly grateful that you’re here.
Just – I’d love for you to comment – I, like so many other people, have just been captivated what’s – by what’s happening in Hong Kong and the fear of – because, by the way, it’s – China’s still a communist country. We’ve talked about the Uighurs; a million Uighurs are in prison in China, and Christians I believe are very fearful in Hong Kong. I would love just your thoughts on the role that religious liberty plays, perhaps, in what’s happening in Hong Kong.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You bet. So these – you identified the Uighurs. We know the situation in Tibet, the challenges faced by Taiwan, and now in Hong Kong. And, of course, we know the fate of Christians inside of China as well and others who are just simply seeking to practice their own faith. This is one of the most authoritarian, least religious freedom-friendly nations in the world. Our team – we have a number of consulates, we have a big embassy in Beijing – works diligently to talk about why that’s not the right path forward, to convince them to change their ways.
And we’ve seen this play out in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has a long and storied history, and has been one of the places where religious freedom was most widely accepted. And indeed, the Chinese Government made a promise – as it got back Hong Kong inside of its own country, the arrangement said that they would respect those rights in certain fundamental ways, including democratic rights and other rights as well. And you’re seeing that play out. You can see the video. You can see the pictures on the street of human beings who are simply seeking those freedoms.
Our role has been to – and President Trump’s been pretty clear about this – we want this to proceed in a way that’s not violent. We want it to be humane, and we want the Chinese Government to honor its commitment to allow these individuals to have the freedom that the Chinese Government promised them that they could have. So we’re working to see if we can’t ensure that that happens or at least increase the likelihood that it does.
MODERATOR: Well, we support you in that effort and we support you in everything you’re doing, Mr. Secretary. Please join me in thanking him so much. (Applause.)