I appreciate the opportunity to address the third annual International Religious Freedom Summit, and to reaffirm the United States’ strong and enduring commitment to advancing religious freedom for all.
The diversity of this gathering reflects the collaboration these challenges demand throughout the world.
I’m grateful for everyone’s engagement and leadership.
And a special thanks to this Summit’s Co-Chairs, Ambassador Brownback and Dr. Lantos Swett, for their tireless and bipartisan work to lift up the voices of persecuted individuals. Sam, Katrina, thank you.
Freedom of religion is a bedrock American value – the very first freedom in the First Amendment to our Constitution.
It’s enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a fundamental right for all people –no matter where they live, and no matter what they believe or do not believe.
That right– to think and worship in our own way, to follow our conscience, and to change our beliefs – is inextricably linked to so many rights we hold dear.
The right to express ourselves freely. To assemble peacefully. To participate fully in society. When religious liberty is at risk those other freedoms are jeopardized as well.
Yet, some 80 percent of the world’s population still cannot practice their faith without serious restrictions or risk. And that has consequences for us all.
Time after time, we’ve seen how religious persecution can undercut stability and inclusive economic development, spiraling into violence and conflict.
Meanwhile, countries that respect human rights and foster inclusion find themselves better positioned to grow, deliver for their people, and contribute to addressing our most pressing global challenges.
For this reason, protecting and promoting religious freedom is vital to safeguarding America’s national security, and continues to be an essential part of our diplomacy around the world.
Last January, our Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain, was sworn in –after being confirmed nearly unanimously by the U.S. Senate.
As you’ll hear, he and our team in the Office of International Religious Freedom have been working- alongside many of you and leaders around the world – to address discriminatory laws and policies, advocate for those who’ve been unfairly targeted, and help encourage tolerance and respect. We are joined in these efforts by a coalition of 42 countries –the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance.
This past November, I named a dozen nations as “Countries of Particular Concern” because of their egregious violations of religious freedom, from Russian authorities raiding and brutally beating Jehovah’s Witnesses to the People’s Republic of China perpetrating an ongoing genocide against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs.
We similarly designated individual perpetrators, including officials from Burma who have carried out crimes against humanity against Rohingya.
These designations carry significant penalties – such as economic sanctions and travel bans –to hold abusers accountable and deter religious persecution.
This spring, the State Department will release our 25th annual International Religious Freedom Report, providing a comprehensive review of the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories across the globe, and illustrating how the U.S. government has advocated for this critical right.
And, of course, every report and designation is complemented by the work of our Department and embassies worldwide, whether that’s meeting with prisoners of conscience, shining a spotlight on abuses and restrictions of religious freedom, or modeling America’s approach to pluralism in the diversity people encounter whenever they enter a U.S. embassy or consulate.
In all of our efforts to advance freedom of religion and belief, advocates and groups like yours play an indispensable role.
You bring the voices of the victims to the attention of the world, often at great risk to yourselves.
Your organizations are frequently the first to report persecution and the first to support those in desperate need.
Your courageous advocacy empowers governments like ours to press other countries for greater accountability and action.
People of faith – like all people – deserve to live free from fear and oppression.
And with your continued partnership, the State Department and the entire United States Government will continue standing strongly for the right of every person to worship and believe as they choose.