Written by Don Byrd

The U.S. State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom ended last week with a declaration and action plan presented by the chairman. The “Potomac Declaration” affirms every person’s right to religious freedom, explaining:

Defending the freedom of religion or belief is the collective responsibility of the global community. Religious freedom is essential for achieving peace and stability within nations and among nations. Where religious freedom is protected, other freedoms – like freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly – also flourish. Protections for the free exercise of religion contribute directly to political freedom, economic development, and the rule of law. Where it is absent, we find conflict, instability, and terrorism.

A Plan of Action provides a “framework for national and multinational activity… when responding to violations and abuses of religious freedom.” This includes items such as

  • “Ensure that all people, including religious minority community members, are free from forced conversions, and are entitled to and receive equal protection under the law without discrimination;”
  • “Encourage teaching about the value of intra- and inter-faith understanding and collaboration, and promote a general understanding of world religions to reduce harmful misunderstandings and stereotypes;” and
  • “Encourage authorities to denounce and condemn public discrimination and crimes targeting individuals on account of their religion or belief or lack thereof.”Participating countries are being encouraged to endorse the Potomac Declaration and to take steps as outlined in the Plan of Action.

Participating countries are being encouraged to endorse the Potomac Declaration and to take steps as outlined in the Plan of Action.

Religion News Service’s Adelle Banks notes, however, that some critics found the event to produce only rhetoric and hypocisy.

“This administration is led by Islamophobes, runs internment camps for children separated from parents seeking asylum from persecution, and has failed to deliver promised reconstruction funds for Iraqi Christians and other minorities,” said Shaun Casey, who launched the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs under former Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The conference produced a cloud of words that in no way changed facts on the ground regarding either the Trump Administration’s dreadful record on religious freedom or the behavior of other nations.”

Christianity Today reports that a second ministerial will be held next year.