More than 30 faith traditions were represented at the inaugural International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., held between July 13 and 15. The aim of the summit was to create a coalition of organizations that fight for international religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, all the time.
Here are seven takeaways from the summit:
1. International Religious Freedom Should Be a Bipartisan Issue
In a polarized country that seems to view every issue as political, the summit was a clarion call for all Americans to come together on religious liberty. Even if Democrats and the Biden administration have taken a stark departure on religious liberty from past administrations, it is not often that you find both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking in favor of the same thing.
By highlighting the suffering of religious people overseas, the International Religious Freedom Summit served to remind how religious liberty cannot be confined to a partisan agenda, but rather extends beyond party politics as a basic condition for human flourishing.
As “Depoliticizing International Religious Freedom” shows, religious freedom, as a matter of fundamental human rights, transcends partisan politics, and ought to be supported at home and abroad by Democrat and Republican alike.
2. Protecting Religious Freedom Requires Cross-Faith Partnerships
Seventy-nine partners participated in the International Religious Freedom Summit, and—although they represent different countries and faith traditions—they still support each other’s freedom to pursue their own faith.
To illustrate this, a session called “In Solidarity With the Persecuted” featured representatives from seven faith traditions speaking about the persecution of other faiths. In the U.S., inter-faith collaboration can be seen taking place through the organization International Religious Freedom Roundtable, which brings together people from any faith.
Cross-faith partnerships are critical because ensuring religious freedom for all requires building friendships with those we disagree with and not merely networking. As Ambassador Sam Brownback urged attendees during the opening reception, we should share pictures of our families instead of business cards.
Just as cross-faith partnerships are necessary to protecting religious freedom so is a variety of organizations that accomplish different kinds of work, from advocating for victims in court to providing material needs. Fighting for religious liberty requires a holistic perspective that engages the heart and mind and addresses all needs—spiritual, relational, legal, and material alike.
3. Inhumane Violations of Human Dignity Still Occur Today
While the 21st century prides itself on progress, our age is not immune to violations of basic human rights. Between 1.8 and 3 million Uyghurs in China have been sent to detention and reeducation centers simply because of their religious beliefs.
China’s gross mistreatment of the Uyghurs reminds us that the greatest threats to religious freedom have always been and still are authoritarian regimes and ideologies. What’s more: Today, regimes like China are capable of even greater tyranny through the use of surveillance technology to suppress human rights.
4. Religious Persecution Impacts Real People
A Uyghur from China’s Xinyuan County, Tursunay Ziyawudun, shared her heart-wrenching story of how she was detained and tortured for her Muslim faith, often suffering intense interrogation and sexual abuse.
Ziyawudun’s experience, along with similar experiences of others like Asia Bibi and Mariam Ibraheem, demonstrates the important role stories play in bolstering religious freedom efforts. Above all, it is an important reminder that religious persecution always impacts real people.
5. Wokeism Is an Early Warning to Religious Liberty Threats
The Rev. Bernard Randall, one of the panelists who spoke at the side event sponsored by The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, is a testament to the threat wokeism poses to religious freedom. (The Daily Signal is the news and commentary platform of The Heritage Foundation.)
As a chaplain of a Christian school in the U.K., he was fired and reported as a terrorist threat for preaching a sermon in which he stated that students are free to believe marriage should be between a man and woman and reject transgender ideology. Today, activists are seeking to impose radical gender ideology as orthodoxy and punish those who refuse to conform.
The increasing influence of authoritarian ideologies like this one is always a threat to religious freedom—not just in the U.K., but even here at home.
6. Ideological Colonization Is Threatening Religious Freedom
Joy Mdivo, another panelist for the DeVos Center’s side event, shared how Western countries are forcing their beliefs about sexuality on African countries through foreign aid. For example, countries or institutions in the West that support abortion will extend grants or aid to countries in Africa that do not support abortion only on the condition of societal change, namely increasing access to abortion.
This amounts to nothing less than ideological colonialism. Businesses, philanthropists, and influencers have also contributed to this colonialism. Unfortunately, similar threats to the democratic process are cropping up in the U.S. as corporations are becoming increasingly politicized.
7. Today’s Young People Are Tomorrow’s Defenders of Religious Freedom
One of the summit’s goals was to raise up a global movement of young leaders committed to religious freedom through the Young Leaders Track. According to the 2020 Becket Religious Freedom Index, overall, support for religious freedom has declined each subsequent generation.
Working to counteract this trend, this year’s summit helped to pave the way for the next generation of religious liberty advocacy by highlighting how fundamental, yet fragile religious freedom is for human rights.
All in all, the summit spotlighted the good work of religious freedom advocates around the world as well as the unjust treatment of many religious groups occurring today. All of this should inspire gratitude and urgency. Gratitude that we, as Americans, live in a nation where religious freedom is counted first among rights. Urgency to fight boldly for religious freedom, which is increasingly under attack.
Ultimately, the broad support for international religious freedom displayed at the summit was a reminder that religious liberty should be a bipartisan issue. In the days to come, politicians and citizens should come together to ensure that it is preserved at home and abroad for generations to come.
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