Written by Don Byrd
As announced earlier this year, the U.S. State Department will host a first-ever global religious freedom meeting next week, bringing together minister-level officials from around the world. The gathering will focus on religious persecution and other barriers to freedom of conscience. And not a minute too soon. As I posted a couple of weeks ago, harassment directed at religious groups continues to rise around the world.
It is being tapped as the “largest, highest-level meeting” ever on the subject. But as the Washington Post reports, other questions surrounding the White House have some wondering whether the “administration’s support will be limited largely to rhetoric about the general importance of religion.”
For one, President Trump’s “recent praise” of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is confusing in light of Russia’s significant religious freedom restrictions. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom lists Russia as a Tier-1 Country of Particular Concern for its egregious violations of religious liberty. Whether a representative from Russia will attend next week’s meeting is still unknown, according to the Post,
Second, the report notes, the Trump Administration’s travel ban and surrounding rhetoric appeared to many to be a policy based on religious hostility toward Muslims, a difficult perch from which to exult the virtues of religious liberty for all.
And then there is this:
Since Trump’s inauguration, the State Department has shrunk the staff that works on religion and hasn’t filled key spots, including the director of the Office of Religion and Global Affairs. That was an office created under President Barack Obama that had 25 staffers working to help diplomats understand the role of religion in global conflicts.
With all of these questions surrounding the administration’s commitment to improve international religious liberty, at least the meeting will take place. It is a notable milestone in shining a light on worldwide victims of persecution. Hopefully some dialogue will be sparked that leads to real improvement in the lives of so many around the world who suffer under the hand of oppressions of conscience. Stay tuned.