The idea of an inalienable right is at the heart of U.S. democracy — a right that people are born with and that can never be taken away.

Religious freedom is one of them.

“Our Founders understood religious freedom not as the state’s creation, but as the gift of God to every person and a fundamental right for a flourishing society,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in May when he released the 2017 International Religious Freedom Report.

The concept is so important that the State Department will bring together foreign ministers, religious leaders, religious rights activists and civil society figures in Washington on July 24–26 for the first-ever ministerial meeting on religious freedom.

The meeting intends to break new ground. “We look forward to identifying concrete ways to push back against persecution and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all,” Pompeo said.

In the U.S., religious freedom is sometimes called the First Freedom, because it is the first freedom enumerated in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Person praying with rosary (© Patrick Semansky/AP Images)
A Catholic churchgoer holds a rosary at a Mass in Baltimore. (© Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

An inalienable right, said Richard Foltin of the Freedom Forum Institute, is “a right that can’t be restrained or repealed by human laws.” Sometimes called natural rights, inalienable rights “flow from our nature as free people.”

While there are important rights held by Americans and other citizens of democracies around the world that are not considered inalienable — such as the right to a trial by jury and even the right to own property — the most important are inalienable because they cannot be given or taken away by a government. Instead, it is a government’s job to protect inalienable rights.

But for far too many people, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said, “the state of religious freedom is dire. We have to work together to accomplish change.”

“Our goal is to protect the freedom of conscience for all people,” Brownback said at the May event with the secretary. “That means protecting a Muslim, Buddhist, Falun Gong practitioner or Christian in China and their ability to pray and live out their life.”