Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday released the International Religious Freedom Report for 2018 and announced the expansion of the State Department’s efforts to address religious liberty around the globe.
“I’m pleased to announce that, here at the State Department, we’re elevating the Office of International Religious Freedom, along with the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, within our organization,” Pompeo said. “Effective immediately, each of these two offices will report directly to the undersecretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.”
“Sam Brownback, the ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, will continue to report directly to me,” Pompeo said. “This reorganization will provide these offices with additional staff and resources, and enhance partnerships both within our agency – within our agency and without. It will empower them to better carry out their important mandates.”
Pompeo also spoke about the annual report, which covers the period from January 1 to December 31, 2018, and is a mandated as a report to Congress by the Religious Act of 1998.
Pompeo began his remarks on a personal note.
“This mission is not just a Trump administration priority – it’s a deeply personal one,” Pompeo said. “For many years, I was a Sunday school teacher and a deacon at my church.”
“And that might sound unusual to a lot of folks inside the Beltway,” Pompeo said. “But I am one of millions of Americans, and billions of people across the world, who live in the knowledge of a higher power.”
“I often humbly reflect on how God’s providence has guided me to this office, to defend this cause,” Pompeo said. “I think about how, as an American, I’ve been blessed to enjoy the unfettered exercise of religious freedom, our first liberty here in the United States.”
“But in much of the world, governments and groups deny individuals that same unalienable right,” Pompeo said. “People are persecuted – handcuffed, thrown in jail, even killed – for their decision to believe, or not to believe.”
“For worshipping according to their conscience,” Pompeo continued. “For teaching their children about their faith. For speaking about their beliefs in public. For gathering in private, as so many of us have done, to study the Bible, the Torah, or the Qu’ran.”
“Go into any mosque, any church, any temple in America, and you’ll hear the same thing: Americans believe that kind of intolerance is deeply wrong,” Pompeo said. “That’s why the Trump Administration has promoted religious freedom like never before in our foreign policy agenda.”
“Given our own great freedoms, it’s a distinctly American responsibility to stand up for faith in every nation’s public square,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo then shared a few details of the annual report, which he described as a “report card” on how nations across the globe are doing when it comes to affording their citizens religious liberty.
“I’ll start with the good news: In Uzbekistan, much work still remains to be done, but for the first time in 13 years, it’s no longer designated as a Country of Particular Concern,” Pompeo said. “This past year, the government passed a religious freedom roadmap. Fifteen hundred religious prisoners have been freed, and 16,000 people that were blacklisted for their religious affiliations are now allowed to travel.”
“We look forward to seeing legal reforms to registration requirements, so more groups may worship freely, and so children may pray at mosques with their parents,” Pompeo said.
“In Pakistan, the supreme court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Catholic, of blasphemy, sparing her the death penalty after she spent nearly a decade in prison,” Pompeo said. “However, more than 40 others remain jailed for life, or face execution on that very same charge.”
“We continue to call for their release, and encourage the government to appoint an envoy to address the various religious freedom concerns,” Pompeo added.
Pompeo also cited Turkey and credited President Donald Trump’s efforts for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed for his faith.
The bad news is that much of the world is still persecuting and even killing people for their faith, including in Iran, Russia, and Burma.
And China’s human and religious rights abuses are so grave Pompeo said that this year they have added a “special section to this year’s China report.”
“In China, the government’s intense persecution of many faiths – Falun Gong practitioners, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists among them – is the norm,” Pompeo said.
“The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding,” Pompeo said. “The party demands that it alone be called God.”
Pompeo also announced that the State Department will host the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, DC, in mid-July.
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