In June 2022, the plight of the persecuted church was highlighted during the second annual Summit on International Religious Freedom (IRF) in Washington, D.C. The conference saw bipartisan support by leaders from both sides of the aisle, as well as from both the current and former administration. In a bipartisan collaboration, they agreed on the need to counter hatred, discrimination, genocide, and other violence against religious people across the globe.
“The United States will continue to stand up for religious freedom worldwide,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Former U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, added that “Religious liberty is fundamental to a free society.”
That kind of bipartisanship is exactly the goal of the IRF Summit.The Summit was co-Chaired by Sam Brownback, who served as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom under President Trump, and Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and former Obama appointee.
The Summit provided a show of unity among the left and the right and across the political spectrum. Those in the highest positions of influence in our nation were encouraged to work together for the plight of persecuted religious minorities around the world, work shopping solutions involving international charitable outreach, diplomacy and through policy making at home.
“Our simple motto is religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, all the time,” said Brownback, a Catholic who also called religious freedom “the most abused human right in the world today.”
“This is an entirely non-partisan issue,” said Swett, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Everybody — Democrat and Republican, right and left and center — has come together to defend this foundational right.”
Blinken and several other government and religious leaders said it’s a right that should matter to those who are not religious too.
“Freedom of religion is a human right. It’s a vital part of our identity,” said Blinken, who like Pompeo appeared at the conference by video. “Follow whichever belief system you embrace, or choose not to follow any belief system at all.”
Pompeo introduced a panel discussion on the national security implications of religious persecution. During the panel, several speakers agreed that religious freedom is inseparable from other basic human rights like freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
During the Summit, panelist Lord David Alton stated that “Religious freedom is a harbinger of things to come. It’s the canary in the mine of what’s coming in the future.” He added that “if you don’t understand the state of religious freedom in a country, then you don’t understand very much about it” and “if you do understand it, you get a pretty good view of the condition of that country.” Lord Alton also pointed out that religious freedom is an “orphan right” around the world and that religious illiteracy leads to massive destabilization. That includes its role as a motivating factor for many of the world’s more than 70 million refugees, he said.
This is something we see frequently in our work at American FRRME, where the vast majority of the refugees we help are Christians fleeing Islamic persecution – but also Yazidis and Shabak fleeing persecution for their culture and beliefs as well.
The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights states that each person has the right to believe, the right not to believe and the right to change beliefs. Infringing on those rights has consequences for any country, Lord Alton said.
“It behooves governments, if they’re truly interested in the common good, to understand religious communities. If they don’t understand them, they’re going to struggle,” said the Religious Freedom Institute’s Andrew Bennett, who was Canada’s first ambassador for religious freedom.
However, the U.S. State Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report, released earlier this month, showed that many countries continue to suppress religious liberty.
“Far too many governments remain undeterred in their repression of their citizens,” said Rashad Hussain, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
“First, governments continue to use discriminatory laws and policies to abuse their own people. Second, increasing social intolerance and hatred fueled violence and conflict around the world. And third, effective collaboration among governments, multilateral partners and civil society has led to positive change and provides hope in addressing these complex challenges.”
Brownback said religious freedom offers solutions to national ills. Religions also can help each other. “Religion is the one entity that can stand up to government that government can’t subdue,” he said.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared by video to introduce a panel about the impact of religious freedom violations against women worldwide. She said attacks on religious freedom harshly and disproportionately impact women.
“This injustice has taken on many sickening forms around the world,” Pelosi said, adding that “all freedom-loving people have an obligation” to stand up for religious freedom.
Throughout the 2022 IRF Summit there were repeated calls for unity of purpose across religions, governments and other sectors of civil society with calls for cultures to change, both within religions and in the broader society.
“Some people are terrible people to one another on the basis of their faith. We need to be open about that,” said Allison Ralph of the Aspen Institute’s Religion and Society program. “The inability to talk about it does not serve us well. Religion is a minefield of individual and collective hurts. If we can’t talk about that, we can’t solve any of these problems. This is about changing our culture so we can move forward together.”
Organizations like American FRRME are providing authentic support for those fleeing religious persecution in the Middle East. Until comprehensive solutions for the ongoing crises of sectarian violence and political instability are implemented across the Middle East there will still be an influx of refugees from this part of the world.
As the Middle East becomes increasingly more hostile to Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities, American FRRME stands committed to programs that provide hope, help and healing to those escaping sectarian violence. Our programs in Iraq are intended to help those who have lost everything to extremism with the hope to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. Our programs at the Olive Tree Center in Jordan offer vital assistance, as well as education and therapeutic activities for refugees and their children.
For these refugees, intervention is everything. They have lost their homes, their livelihoods and their loved ones as they’ve uprooted their entire lives to travel to countries where they are often heavily restricted or even unwelcome in the community. Discrimination, poverty and lack of opportunity presents itself in many refugee communites across the world. Apprenticeship programs, food assistance, medical care, education and therapy are all necessary interventions to steer refugees toward success and provide a sense of normalcy.
American FRRME is committed to long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of Christian families facing persecution across the Middle East.