SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning everyone. I want to take it all in. This is a fantastic group. Thank you all so much for being here. Welcome to the State Department. And to the hundreds of passionate advocates from overseas, some of whom are joining us in the overflow room as well, who couldn’t make it into this auditorium, welcome to the United States of America as well. I’m honored to kick off the second ministerial.

Ambassador Brownback, thank you so much for putting it together. Thank you for the kind words. It’s not incongruent to be both a tank commander and a Sunday school teacher. (Laughter.) I’ll get to that in a moment.

Look, we’ve invited more than 100 foreign delegations, more than 1,000 representatives here. And I want to just be here as we kick this off today for a moment to say my personal welcome. I’ll speak to you more throughout your time here.

We’ve got folks from civil society and from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Falun Gong, and other secular backgrounds. We welcome you all. You all traveled from far corners, distant places around the world.

Later this week, we’ll be joined by the Vice President and other distinguished guests. They all appreciate you coming here together to work with us on this important mission.

I want to thank everyone here who has committed a part of their life to helping those who are persecuted and to defending the unalienable right to practice one’s religion and follow their conscience and to take care of their soul. Thank you all for that.

As some of you know, I just launched a commission – the Commission on Unalienable Rights – to ground our understanding of human rights, rights like religious freedom, in our nation’s founding principles here in the United States. I hope that this ministerial will inform that discussion.

And despite our many differences, everyone here agrees on the need for religious pluralism.

And we all agree that fighting so that each person is free to believe, free to assemble, and to teach the tenets of his or her own faith is not optional – indeed, it is a moral imperative that this be permitted.

All people from every place on the globe must be permitted to practice their faith openly – in their homes, in their places of worship, in the public square – and believe what they want to believe.

This week, we need input from all of you on how we can best advance that religious freedom.

In closing, I want you to know that America’s commitment to religious freedom will never waver. We stand with you and for you in each stage of this fight.

Thank you again for being here. I look forward to seeing many of you in the hours and days ahead. Thank you, Ambassador Brownback, for bringing us all together. Good luck. Have a great visit. (Applause.)

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