U.S. State Department Convenes Historic Summit on International Religious Freedom

Sent On: 
Sun, 2018-07-29
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On July 24-26, the U.S. State Department convened a landmark gathering for the promotion of international religious freedom. The Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, and Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, Samuel Brownback, took place over three days in Washington, DC. According to the State Department’s official website, the first day of the conference focused on training for civil society organizations and activists. Day two offered further training sessions, but was structured around a forum for victims of religious persecution to tell their stories. The final day was focused on working with foreign officials from over eighty countries, including Egypt, to advance the cause of religious freedom internationally and within their home countries. The ministerial concluded by issuing the Potomac Declaration and the Potomac Call for Action, two statements which appeal to and build on Article Eighteen of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:





(Source: uy.usembassy.gov)


The State Department’s ministerial comes at an interesting time in the history of the international religious freedom movement and American politics. Almost since the 1998 passing of the International Religious Freedom Act, which created the Office for International Freedom in the US State Department and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, there have been growing concerns, primarily among conservative Christians in the USA, about the lackluster implementation of this vision in U.S. diplomacy. With the participation of the Vice President, Secretary of State, and many foreign diplomats, the 2018 ministerial is certainly one of the most important official events to have transpired in the last twenty years. If the ministerial is any indication, international religious freedom may assume a more significant and visible role in US foreign policy and diplomacy. That the event took place at time in American politics when bitter political tensions surround a volatile presidential administration also suggests that religious freedom has sadly become an increasingly partisan political issue over the last two decades. This detracts from its initially strong bipartisan credentials.


In the mid-1990s, I was skeptical during the formative discussions of the International Religious Freedom Act. In particular, my concerns were related to inaccurate reports of the alleged kidnapping of Christian girls in Egypt and other events which inevitably turned out to be more complex than what was reported initially. These oversimplifications were then exploited by people and parties with Islamophobic tendencies in order to promote their own agendas. The final act which was ratified was thankfully more accurate then what initially had been proposed. The firm conviction of CAWU has been that accuracy and truth in reporting ultimately serves religious freedom, which is undoubtedly of great value to all of humanity.


The Economist reported that the ministerial appears to have been successful in highlighting a pressing and important human rights issue and in setting a positive vision in an otherwise highly contentious and confusing political moment (https://www.economist.com/erasmus/2018/07/27/sam-brownback-makes-the-right-noises-about-religious-liberty).


The Ministerial underlines the importance of the work of our Center for Arab-West Understanding in researching events that might indicate violations of religious freedom.


July 29, 2018


Cornelis Hulsman

Editor-in-Chief Arab-West Report