Mike Pence speaking at a lectern (@ Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Images)
Vice President Pence speaks at the close of a three-day conference on religious freedom at the State Department. (© Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Images)

Addressing the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Vice President Pence redoubled the administration’s commitment to what he called the first freedom and announced two initiatives to support the right to religious freedom worldwide.

“When religious liberty is denied or destroyed,” Pence said, “we know that other freedoms — freedom of speech, press, assembly and even democratic institutions themselves — are imperiled. That’s why the United States stands for religious freedom yesterday, today and always.”

The ministerial meeting brought together leaders from government, religion and civil society for three days to discuss challenges to religious freedom and promote greater respect for religious freedom for all. Victims of religious persecution from around the world shared their stories.

While introducing the vice president, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the next ministerial would take place in 2019 and that the State Department is finalizing commitments from other nations to host follow-up conferences on religious freedom in other countries.

Mike Pompeo smiling, in front of Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom sign (© Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (@ Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The two new U.S. initiatives that Vice President Pence unveiled:

  • The Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program will see the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development partner with local faith and community leaders to rapidly deliver aid to persecuted communities, beginning with Iraq. Funding will come from both the U.S. government and the “vast network of American philanthropists and believers who share our desire to support our brothers and sisters in faith as they rebuild after years of suffering and war,” Pence said.
  • The International Religious Freedom Fund will “leverage our resources, together with other nations, to support those who fight for religious freedom and suffer from religious persecution,” the vice president said, inviting the nations represented at the ministerial and those throughout the world to help the U.S. “champion the cause of liberty as never before.”

During the meeting, Secretary of State Pompeo announced the department will provide an additional $17 million for mine-removal efforts in the Nineveh region in Iraq. This is on top of the $90 million provided countrywide in this year alone, he said. The additional funding will help clear mines from areas with a large population of religious minorities who were subject to ISIS genocide.

The U.S. also released the Potomac Declaration and the Potomac Plan of Action, two documents that Pompeo said “reassert the United States’ unwavering commitment to promoting and defending religious freedom.” They include concrete recommendations for how the international community and governments can do more to protect vulnerable religious communities.

“The United States advances religious freedom in our foreign policy because it is not exclusively an American right,” the secretary said. “It is a God-given universal right bestowed on all of mankind.”