by WorldTribune Staff, July 22, 2019
In his keynote address at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom on July 18, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that “83 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is either threatened or denied entirely.”
Pompeo stressed: “You can be sure that the United States will be out front defending the God-given, unalienable right of all human beings to worship as they choose.”
The secretary of state specifically called out China, Iran, Cuba and Burma for their brutalization and persecution of religious minorities.
“Religious freedom matters to literally billions of people all around the world. Look around you. Religious freedom isn’t just a Christian concern, a Jewish concern, a Muslim concern, a Buddhist concern, a Hindu concern, or a humanist concern. It’s all of our concern; it is everyone’s concern,” Pompeo told the audience at the event in Washington, D.C.
He said those in attendance were there “because each of us believes that religious freedom must be upheld, protected, and advanced. But it’s important to understand where that belief comes from.”
Pompeo noted that religious freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“And just a short walk from where you are seated today, Thomas Jefferson, our first Secretary of State, stands 19 feet tall in bronze. On the walls of his monument is a quote from the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, which he had helped author. It says, quote, ‘Almighty God hath created the mind free… No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry, or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.’ ”
Pompeo noted: “As you can see from that, religious freedom is embedded deeply in the American character. But it isn’t exclusively an American idea. Indeed, just the opposite. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms religious freedom or belief as a universal right. It’s been now more than two centuries since Secretary Jefferson steered our foreign policy, but I’m with him. He said that ‘Almighty God hath created the mind free.’ And everyone in this room understands and appreciates that.”
In China, Pompeo said, the Communist Party “demands control over the lives of the Chinese people and their souls. Chinese government officials have even discouraged other countries from attending this very gathering. Is that consistent with the guarantee of ‘freedom of religious belief’ that is found directly in the Chinese constitution? If you’re here today and you’re a country which has defied the Chinese pressure to come here, we salute you and we thank you.”
Pompeo noted that, in September 2018, Chen Huixia, a member of the Falun Gong, “was sentenced to three and a half years in prison simply for practicing his faith.”
In May of 2018, Chinese authorities arrested Wang Yi, the pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church, a large unregistered church in Chengdu, “for openly criticizing the government’s controls on religious freedom. He’s still in jail today,” Pompeo noted.
“And China is home to one of the worst human rights crises of our time. It is truly the stain of the century,” Pompeo said. “Since April 2017, the Chinese Government has detained more than one million Chinese Muslims and other minorities in camps in Xinjiang.”
The secretary of state then noted that Cuban evangelical leaders who had registered the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom “were not permitted to come. Last weekend, the Cuban government prevented them from boarding their flights to travel to Washington, D.C. to express their religious freedom. Such is the thuggish, intolerant nature of the current regime in Havana.”
The Cubans “aren’t alone in their repression,” Pompeo said.
In Iran, Pompeo noted, leaders of the Islamic Republic “ban religious minorities from possessing religious books and they deny them access to education. In May, the Iranian government prohibited religious minorities from working at childcare centers where there are Muslim children. And as we know too well, beatings and imprisonments are common. Iranians who dare stand up for their religious freedom, for their neighbors, face abuse.”
In Burma, Pompeo noted, “each of you has had the chance to hear how the military has brutalized and persecuted the Rohingya, the large majority of whom are Muslim. On Tuesday, the United States announced visa restrictions on the two highest-ranking Burmese military commanders and two other senior military figures, each of them for having been involved in these very atrocities. It’s the first time any country has taken public action against the Burmese military’s highest-ranking leaders.”
Pompe said the U.S. State Department has established an International Religious Freedom Fund – “a multi-donor fund that provides rapid assistance to victims of persecution all throughout the world. It’s already serving good, and its purpose around the world is expanding. Just one example, it’s assisting victims in Sri Lanka, today as we stand here, with medical bills after the attacks there this past Easter Sunday. We encourage more countries to step up to the plate and donate and contribute to this important cause that can do so much good all around the world.”
Since 2017, the United States has provided more than $340 million “for vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Iraq, particularly those that ISIS had targeted for genocide,” Pompeo said.
This year, Pompeo noted, the State Department “introduced mandatory training on international religious freedom for every one of our Foreign Service Officers. We’ve, so far, trained nearly 12,000 employees on how to identify religious discrimination and persecution and how to work closely with faith leaders all across the world. It is incredibly important that our diplomats be our ambassadors for this first freedom.”
At last year’s ministerial, Pompeo noted that the Trump administration had been working to bring home Pastor Andrew Brunson, “who was unjustly held in Turkey for more than two years. This year, hallelujah, our prayers have been answered, and he’s with us here today.”
Pompeo noted: “Pastor Brunson’s deliverance goes right alongside what I think is my most memorable moment as the Secretary of State. Last year, on one of my missions to North Korea, I brought home Kim Dong-Chul, Kim Hak-Song, and Tony Kim. We got off the plane here at about 2:30 a.m. at Andrews Air Force Base. President Trump was there, the Vice President was there to greet them. It was one of the most joyful moments of my life. As the three of them descended the stairs from the plane, they slipped me a little note. It was on an index card. I stuck it inside my coat pocket.”
The secretary continued: “And when I got home, I woke my wife up – it was early in the morning – and my wife Susan and I sat down to read the card. It was Psalm 126: ‘The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.’ I keep it framed in my office today. I do so because it reminds me of the power of faith in even the most trying times.”
Pompeo added: “There are so many around the world who are longing for the right to worship freely. Without fear. Without persecution. Their faith gets them through these trying times. You all came here because you understand that it is our responsibility to help them. We’re all in this fight together.”