Thousands of world leaders, activists, lawmakers, and more descended on Washington recently with the goal of shining a spotlight on those being persecuted for their faith. They’re a part of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit, which was created to highlight the issue of religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, all the time. With an uptick in global unrest over the last year, organizers believe religious freedom is not only a fundamental human right but also an important foreign policy issue. “The United States must continue to be a voice for the voiceless who are persecuted for their beliefs,” said Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) during the opening session of the IRF Summit. “In our very diverse world, unless the right to religious freedom exists for everyone, it doesn’t truly exist for anyone,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).
Despite differing political views, McCaul and McGovern, honorary congressional co-chairs of the event, expressed mutual concern about increasing religious persecution worldwide. “Countries where religious freedoms are under attack are often countries where repression and instability are the norm,” McGovern said. “Protecting religious freedom is not just about doing what’s right, it’s also a matter of national security. By resolving conflict, we can help prevent terrorism at home and abroad. As religious freedoms advance, conflict recedes,” said McCaul. Former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, says this issue plays a significant role in current global events. “Take Ukraine right now. Ukrainians splitting off a Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Russian Orthodox Church was one of the things that caused Putin to move. He didn’t want Ukraine to break out of the Russian world,” Amb. Brownback said.
It’s China, however, that Brownback believes poses the greatest international threat to religious freedom. “It’s an authoritarian regime, seeking to expand their model, and to export their technology to do it,” Brownback said. Dr. Yang Jianli, with the Citizens Power Initiatives for China, blames the Communist Party. “Ultimately the reason China has no tolerance of all faiths is because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wishes to replace human need to worship with a substituted religion centred around the Party,” Dr. Jianli said. The world just needs to look at what’s happened to the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other faiths, to see Beijing systematically eradicating anyone not completely in line with a party-centred allegiance. Dr. Jianli called on world governments to condemn this behaviour in the same way they’ve united against Putin. Brownback says he hopes this summit will help push religious freedom to the next level, making it a top priority at every level of government.
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