Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom: Remarks by Secretary Pompeo and Vice President Pence

Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom: Remarks by Secretary Pompeo and Vice President Pence


SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone,
and thank you all for being here. It’s an honor for the State Department to
host the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. This event truly reflects President Trump’s ironclad
commitment to protecting this important liberty. 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.) VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Thank you,
Secretary Pompeo. To the Secretary, to Ambassador Brownback,
to Administrator Green, Director Mulvaney, to the representatives of more than 80 nations
gathered here, and especially to the survivors of religious persecution who honor us by their
presence here today: It is my great honor to address this first ever, and first annual,
Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. (Applause.) And I bring greetings from a champion of
religious freedom, at home and abroad. I bring greetings this morning, and gratitude
for all the efforts represented here, from the 45th President of the United States of
America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.) As President Trump has said on many occasions,
the United States of America is a “nation of faith,” and religious freedom is a top
priority of this administration. Since the earliest days of our nation, America
has stood for religious freedom. Our earliest settlers left their homes to
set sail for a New World, where they could practice their faith without fear of persecution. Our forebears carved protections for religion
into the founding charters and their early laws. And after this great nation secured our independence,
the American Founders enshrined religious freedom as the first freedom in the Constitution
of the United States. And America has always, and will always, lead
the world by our example. As our first President, George Washington,
wrote in his famous letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, he said, and I quote, “The United
States of America [has] given to mankind…a policy worthy of imitation,” for here, as
he said, “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” We “require only that they who live under
[our] protection should demean themselves as good citizens.” And in the long history of this nation, religious
freedom has been our first freedom. But as our Founders knew, this precious liberty
is endowed not by government, but by our Creator. And we believe that it belongs not just to
the American people, but to all people so endowed. (Applause.) The right to believe or not believe is the
most fundamental of freedoms. When religious liberty is denied or destroyed,
we know that other freedoms — freedom of speech, of press, assembly, and even democratic
institutions themselves — are imperiled. That’s why the United States of America
stands for religious freedom yesterday, today, and always. We do this because it is right. But we also do this because religious freedom
is in the interest of the peace and security of the world. Those nations that reject religious freedom
breed radicalism and resentment in their citizens. They sow the seeds of violence within their
borders — violence that often spills over into their neighbors and across the world. And as history has shown too many times, those
who deny religious freedom for their own people have no qualms trampling upon the rights of
other people, undermining security and peace across the wider world. Let me single out a few great American leaders
today for their efforts to advance religious liberty around the world. First and foremost, let me invite you to thank
the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, for bringing together
this historic ministerial. (Applause.) By bringing together 80 nations, the Secretary
of State put feet on President Trump’s ambition to make religious liberty a priority of the
United States on the world stage. Mr. Secretary, we are grateful. I also want to mention the extraordinary efforts
and travels of the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a lifelong
champion of religious liberty, Sam Brownback. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. (Applause.) As the Secretary and Ambassador Brownback
know, while the discussions that have taken place this week are promising,
we have much work to do. For today, tragically, a stunning 83 percent
of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is either threatened
or even banned. The victims of religious persecution face
economic sanctions. They’re often arrested and imprisoned. They’re the target of mob violence
and state-sanctioned terror. And all too often, those whose beliefs run
counter to their rulers face not just persecution but death. The list of religious freedom violators is
long; their crimes and oppressions span the width of our world. Here in our own hemisphere, in Nicaragua,
the government of Daniel Ortega is virtually waging war on the Catholic Church. For months, Nicaragua’s bishops have sought
to broker a national dialogue following pro-democracy protests that swept through the country
earlier this year. But government-backed mobs armed with machetes,
and even heavy weapons, have attacked parishes and church properties, and bishops and priests
have been physically assaulted by the police. We’re joined today by Father Raul Zamora,
who shepherds a flock at Divine Mercy Church and is a hero of the faith. Last week, the Ortega government laid siege
to his church after more than 200 students sought shelter there, and 2 students lost
their lives. They joined the more than 350 courageous Nicaraguans
who’ve died in the cause of freedom this year alone. Let me say to you, Father: Our prayers are
with you, and the people of America stand with you for freedom of religion and freedom
in Nicaragua. (Applause.) Farther from home, but close to our hearts,
religious persecution is growing in both scope and scale in the world’s most populous country,
the People’s Republic of China. The State Department’s annual International
Religious Freedom report has labeled China as a religious freedom violator every year
since 1999. Together with other religious minorities,
Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians are often under attack. With us today is Kusho Golog Jigme,
a Tibetan Buddhist monk. For nearly 70 years, the Tibetan people have
been brutally repressed by the Chinese government. Kusho was jailed and tortured after he spoke
out against the Chinese rule in his homeland. While he escaped China, his people’s fight
to practice their religion and protect their culture goes on. I say to Kusho, we are honored by your presence
and we admire your courage and your stand for liberty. (Applause.) Sadly, as we speak as well, Beijing is holding
hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of Uyghur Muslims in so-called “re-education
camps,” where they’re forced to endure around-the-clock political indoctrination
and to denounce their religious beliefs and their cultural identity as the goal. But for all of China’s abuses, their neighbor
in North Korea is much worse. While we all hope that relations between the
United States and North Korea continue to improve, and we certainly hope that the threat
posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic weapons program can be eliminated, there is
no escaping the plain fact that North Korea’s leadership has exacted unparalleled privation
and cruelty upon its people for decades. Torture, mass starvation, public executions,
murders, and even forced abortions, and industrial-scale slave labor have been the means by which that
regime has retained hold on its power for more than 70 years. Today, as we gather at this ministerial, an
estimated 130,000 North Koreans are imprisoned for life in unimaginably brutal slave labor
camps. Contrasted with a thriving Christian community
in South Korea, North Korea’s persecution of Christians has no rival on the Earth. It is unforgiving, systematic, unyielding
and often fatal. The mere possession of a Christian Bible
is a capital offense. And those identified by the regime as Christians
are regularly executed or condemned with their families to North Korea’s gulags. That’s what happened to Ji Hyeona, who is
here with us, and who I had the honor to meet when I traveled to the region earlier this
year. Ji Hyeona was imprisoned and tortured simply
for having a Bible that her mother had given her. And after a failed escape attempt, the North
Korean authorities forced her to abort her unborn child. Hyeona was lucky enough to escape with her
life, and we are honored to have you with us today. Your faith and your courage inspire us all. (Applause.) In Russia, more than 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses
face similar persecution to other countries around the world. They’re legally banned from practicing
their faith. Government agents have seized Jehovah Witnesses’
headquarters near St. Petersburg, raided their prayer halls across the country, and arrested
and imprisoned scores of believers. And turning our attention to the leading state
sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran, we recognize that the Iranian people
enjoy few, if any, freedoms — least of all, the freedom of religion. Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Baha’is, and other
minority religious groups are denied the most basic rights enjoyed by the Shia majority,
and they are routinely fined, flogged, arrested, assaulted, and even killed. In 2016 alone, 20 Sunni Kurds were executed
for the crime of allegedly “waging war against God,” simply for practicing their faith. And the people of the United States of America
have a message to the long-suffering people of Iran: Even as we stand strong against the
threats and malign actions of your leaders in Tehran, know that we are with you. We pray for you. And we urge you, the good people of Iran,
to press on with courage in the cause of freedom and a peaceful future for your people. (Applause.) While religious freedom is always in danger
in authoritarian regimes, threats to religious minorities are not confined to autocracies
or dictatorships. They can, and do, arise in free societies,
as well — not from government persecution, but from prejudice and hatred. In Europe, where religious freedom was born
as a principle and is enshrined in law, sadly, religious intolerance is on the rise
in many quarters. Just 70 years after the Holocaust, attacks
on Jews, even on aging Holocaust survivors, are growing at an alarming rate. Last year, hate crimes against Jews hit a
record high in the United Kingdom. And in the same period of time, there were
an average of nearly four attacks against Jews every day. In France and Germany, things have gotten
so bad that Jewish religious leaders have warned their followers not to wear kippahs
in public for fear that they could be violently attacked, and in too many cases, that’s
exactly what’s happened. From the 2012 murder of four small children
outside their Jewish school in Toulouse, to the 2016 terrorist assault on a Paris kosher
supermarket, the world has watched in horror as these attacks on Jewish people
have taken place. It is remarkable to think that within the
very lifetimes of some French Jews — the same French Jews that were forced by the Nazis
to wear identifiable Jewish clothing — that some of those same people are now being warned
by their democratic leaders not to wear identifiable Jewish clothing. These acts of violence and hatred and anti-Semitism
must end. (Applause.) There are many more examples across the world. And while they’re all deserving our attention,
we must never forget the barbarism and the violence committed by the terrorists of ISIS
and the magnitude of their acts. ISIS has shown a savagery unseen in the Middle
East since the Middle Ages. And across the Middle East, Africa, Europe,
and beyond, ISIS continues to seek to subjugate and eradicate all who would reject
its apocalyptic mania. And believers of many backgrounds have suffered
grievously at its hands, including Muslims, Christians, Druze, and many others. But perhaps no faith community was so cruelly
targeted by ISIS as the Yazidis. Nadia Murad is with us today. Four years ago, the butchers of ISIS entered
her village and slaughtered more than 600 Yazidi men and boys, including six of Nadia’s
brothers and stepbrothers. Then they stole Nadia away and all the young
women, and subjugated them to the most degrading form of human slavery. Nadia was brutalized by ISIS fighters during
her captivity. She was only able to escape because her captor
left a door unlocked, and a neighboring family hid her until she could be smuggled to safety. But too many of her Yazidi sisters weren’t
so lucky, and thousands of Yazidis remain missing to this day or in ISIS captivity. To Nadia, I say: We are honored by your presence. We are inspired by your courage. And the United States of America, I promise
you, will always call ISIS brutality what it truly is: It is genocide, plain and simple. (Applause.) Nadia, thank you for being with us
and for your courage. The suffering of the Yazidi people, and all
the victims of ISIS has sickened the American people and mobilized this President
and this administration to action. From the very first days of this administration,
President Trump directed our military to take decisive action, along with our coalition
partners to confront ISIS. And thanks to the courage of our armed forces,
I am proud to report that ISIS is on the run, their caliphate has fallen, and I promise
you, we will not rest or relent until ISIS is driven from the face of the Earth. (Applause.) But victory in combat is only half the battle. That’s why our administration has already
devoted more than $110 million to support persecuted religious communities to rebuild
across the Middle East. The United States is also committed to ensure
that religious freedom and religious pluralism prosper across the Middle East as well. To that end, America is launching a new initiative
that will not only deliver additional support to the most vulnerable communities, but we
trust that it will also embolden civil society to help stop violence in the future. And it’s my privilege as Vice President
to announce today that the United States of America will establish the Genocide Recovery
and Persecution Response Program, effective today. (Applause.) Under this new program, the State Department
and the U.S. Agency for International Development will closely partner with local faith and
community leaders to rapidly deliver aid to persecuted communities, beginning with Iraq. Crucially, this support will flow directly
to individuals and households most in need of help. And this program will bring together funding
not only from the United States government, but from the vast network of American philanthropists
and believers who share our desire to support our brothers-and-sisters-in-faith as they
rebuild after years of suffering and war. America will help the victims of ISIS reclaim
their lands, rebuild their lives, and replant their roots in their ancient homelands so
that all religions can flourish, once again, across the Middle East and the ancient world. (Applause.) America will always stand for religious freedom,
and we will always speak out boldly wherever and whenever it’s threatened. To that end as well, the United States is
also launching a new initiative to leverage our resources, together with other nations,
to support those who fight for religious freedom and suffer from religious persecution. And today, I’m also pleased, as Vice President,
to announce that the United States will launch the new International Religious Freedom Fund. (Applause.) America is proud to launch
and support this program. And we’re earnest in our appeal to all the
nations gathered here and around the world that you might join us in this fund. Together, we will champion the cause of liberty
as never before, and I believe that our combined leadership will make a difference for freedom
of faith, for generations to come. We will never lose sight of the true importance
of religious freedom. It’s about beliefs, it’s about faith,
and discovering truth, and the ability to live out that truth in one’s life. It’s also about community and communal responsibility. It’s about the unalienable right to believe what
we wish and not be disturbed for that belief. It is, in a very real sense, the first freedom,
the first freedom of everyone in the world. To all the victims of persecution who are
here with us today, many of whose stories I’ve had the opportunity to tell and those
that I have not, know this: We are with you. The people of the United States are inspired
by your testimony and your strength and your faith. And it steels our resolve to stand for your
religious liberty in the years ahead. But as we gather today, there’s one victim
of religious persecution that bears mentioning as well. A victim of persecution who is not with us
— an American named Pastor Andrew Brunson. Pastor Andrew Brunson is an American citizen
who’s lived in Turkey for more than two decades, raising his family there, and sharing
the Gospel of Jesus Christ, faithfully, in his ministry. In 2016, Pastor Brunson was arrested by Turkish
authorities, as part of a massive crackdown following a failed coup attempt. Tens of thousands of journalists, activists,
judges, army officers, teachers, and others were arrested and remain imprisoned
to this day. Pastor Brunson was imprisoned without being
charged for more than a year. And when the Turkish government finally indicted
him, they accused him, allegedly, of “dividing and separating” Turkey by simply spreading
his Christian faith. Pastor Andrew Brunson is an innocent man. There is no credible evidence against him. Our entire administration has worked tirelessly
to secure Pastor Brunson’s release. Yesterday, Turkey released Pastor Brunson
from prison, only to place him under house arrest. This is a welcome first step, but it is not
good enough. (Applause.) I spoke to Pastor Brunson and his wife
Norine yesterday. I know that his faith will sustain him, but
it shouldn’t have to. Pastor Andrew Brunson deserves to be free. (Applause.) Today, we’re honored to be joined by a member
of his family, his daughter Jacqueline. To Jacqueline, I promise you: As I told your
father yesterday, President Trump and I will continue to fight to secure your father’s
full release until he is restored to your family and returns to the United States of
America. (Applause.) To believers across America, I say: Pray for
Pastor Brunson. While he is out of jail, he is still not free. And to President Erdogan and the Turkish government,
I have a message on behalf of the President of the United States of America: Release Pastor
Andrew Brunson now, or be prepared to face the consequences. (Applause.) If Turkey does not take immediate action to
free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose
significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free. (Applause.) So thank you again for being here today — all
of the distinguished Americans who are here, all the representatives of 80 countries, and
these extraordinary and courageous men and women of faith who join us here to put a face
on the reality of religious persecution in the world. We have discussed much here, and we know we
have much work to do in the days ahead. But as we labor, I think we can take confidence
from what we have heard in this place and the determination of the nations gathered
here to advance a cause of religious liberty. Our cause is just. We’re advancing the first freedom that is
essential to the people of all of our nations and to the world. In America, we prove every day that religious
freedom buttresses all other rights. It provides a foundation on which a society
can thrive. Here, in America, believers of all backgrounds
live side-by-side, adding their unique voices to the chorus of our nation, proving that
religious freedom means not only the right to practice one faith; it lays a foundation
for boundless opportunity, prosperity, security, and peace. The American people will always cherish
religious freedom. And we will always stand with people across
the world who stand for their faith. So today, I want to close with faith. Faith in the good people of this nation of
faith, the United States of America. And from our founding, have cherished that
foundation of belief and cherish it still. Faith in our President, whose deep commitment
to religious liberty at home and abroad has been evident every day of this administration. Faith in all of you and the nations represented
here, and your renewed commitment to the cause of religious liberty in your nations and around
the world. And I also close with faith that, from this
renewed beginning today, we will make progress on behalf of religious liberty in the years
ahead. And my faith ultimately comes from what’s
in my heart. And in the ancient words inscribed on our
Liberty Bell, displayed in Philadelphia, the words of the ancient text of Leviticus that
read, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, and unto [all] the inhabitants thereof.” We’ve done it throughout our history. And I know that as each one of us renew our
commitment to proclaim liberty throughout all of our lands, that freedom will prevail,
for as the Bible tells us, “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” So freedom always wins when Faith in Him
is held high. So thank you all. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your partnership. May God bless you and your nations. May God bless all who yearn for freedom and
labor beneath persecution. And may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

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