Remarks at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom
Secretary of State
I want to thank Vice President Pence for being here. I know him personally as a man of deep faith, and his dedication to defending religious freedom is unsurpassed. I also want to thank Ambassador Brownback from the great state of Kansas and the entire International Religious Freedom team for executing this vital mission and putting together this incredibly unique event.
As the first-ever event of its kind, we didn’t know exactly what the response would be. Look around you. It’s fantastic. The reaction has, indeed, been overwhelmingly positive. And I want to announce right now we will do this again next year. (Applause.)
This year, more than 80 delegations, including dozens of minister-level representatives from around the world, are here today. Thank you for making this cause a priority in your country and thank you for working with us.
My own faith is of the greatest importance to me personally. As an American, I’ve been blessed with the right to live out what I believe without fear of persecution or reprisal from my government. I want everyone else to enjoy this blessing too. President Trump’s unwavering commitment to religious freedom and the decision to hold this first-ever religious freedom ministerial is not driven by my own personal story, but rather it is rooted in the American story.
The Trump administration recognizes that religious freedom is a fundamental American liberty, and this has been clear from the administration’s earliest days and indeed the earliest days of our nation.
The United States advances religious freedom in our foreign policy because it is not exclusively an American right. It is a God-given universal right bestowed on all of mankind. Seventy years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirmed this when 48 nations declared that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.”
The Vice President will speak more about this in a moment, but it bears repeating: millions of people of all faiths are suffering every day. But the Trump administration will not be silent. As part of the State Department – part of that, the State Department will continue the good work it has already done for many years to ensure religious freedom.
Right now, we remain in conversations with Turkey to bring home Pastor Andrew Brunson. The Vice President will speak more to this as well.
I’m pleased to announce today the department is providing an additional $17 million of additional demining efforts in the Nineveh region in Iraq. (Applause.) This is on top of the 90 million we have provided countrywide in this year alone. The additional funding will help us make more progress in clearing mines from areas with a large population of religious minorities who were subject to ISIS genocide.
On that note, I want to recognize the survivors of religious persecution who are with us here today. We honor your personal courage, your depth of conviction, and that you have done so in spite of great violence done to yourselves and to your families. God bless you. (Applause.)
When religious freedom flourishes, a country flourishes. As one example today, we applaud the steps that Uzbekistan is taking towards a more free society. We have great confidence that a degree of religious freedom greater than before will have a positive ripple effect on their country, their society, and the region as well.
We’ve seen this too in several Gulf countries. As the region has become an economic hub and attracted foreigners from many faiths, several governments have taken important steps. They’ve been wise to permit the construction of places of worship like churches and temples, thus becoming an even more attractive destination for international investment.
The State Department’s done a few other things and so has the United States Government. We’ve created a new International Visitor Leadership Program to bring those working on the front lines of religious freedom issues from all around the world to the United States. It’s a ten-day project and it will focus on promoting religious pluralism and protecting the rights of religious minorities.
Second, in October, the State Department will host a three-day accelerator workshop called Boldline to support and scale innovative public-private partnerships that promote and defend religious freedom around the world.
Third, we look forward to continuing the important work done today throughout the world. That’s why we are finalizing commitments from several countries who are willing to host regional follow-up conferences on the topic of religious freedom. I want to thank each country that is prepared to help us host that.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, later today we will release the Potomac Declaration and the Potomac Plan of Action. These documents reassert the United States’ unwavering commitment to promoting and defending religious freedom. They recommend concrete ways the international community and governments can do more to protect religious freedom and vulnerable religious communities.
And we will also be releasing several statements on specific countries – Burma, China, and Iran – and specific issues representing some of the greatest challenges to religious freedom in our world today.
I’m very excited to close by introducing our keynote speaker. Throughout his years of public service, he has made it a priority to be a voice for the voiceless. His commitment to religious freedom assures men and women of all faiths they have a great friend – and a champion – in Vice President Mike Pence. Please join me in welcoming him now. (Applause.)