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26 nations joins United States in alliance for religious freedom

Jeffrey Bruno
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The International Religious Freedom Alliance will work together on problems such as blasphemy and apostasy laws.

On February 5, 26 nations joined the United States to create the International Religious Freedom Alliance. The members of the new alliance have pledged to uphold a Declaration of Principles, solidifying their collective commitment to object and oppose, publicly and privately, all abuses or violations of religious freedom.

The nations joining the U.S. in the Slliance are Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, The Gambia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Togo, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

The United States Department of State, in announcing the group, said the Alliance is “grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dedicated to working for the right of every man and woman to believe in whatever they wish, to change faith, or hold no faith if their conscience dictates.”

“Everyone has a role in the fight to advance religious freedom,” the State Department said. “Together, with common purpose and clear vision, we can fight to ensure that future generations everywhere enjoy a world where religious freedom is protected and advanced.”

The Declaration of Principles for the Alliance include a commitment to “the right to hold any faith or belief, or none at all, and the freedom to change faith.”

At a dinner at the State Department on Wednesday, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said that “defending the right of all people to live their lives according to their conscience is one of [the Trump] administration’s top priorities.”

Pompeo told foreign delegates to the Alliance that he recently met with leaders of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, “who are fighting to worship freely, without interference from the Russian Government.” On the same trip, he said, he visited Kazakhstan and met with families of ethnic Kazakhs detained by the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang.

He told the gathering that more than eight in ten people in the world today live where they cannot practice their faith freely.

“We condemn terrorists and violent extremists who target religious minorities, whether they are Yezidis in Iraq, Hindus in Pakistan, Christians in northeast Nigeria, or Muslims in Burma,” he said. “We condemn blasphemy and apostasy laws that criminalize matters of the soul. And we condemn the Chinese Communist Party’s hostility to all faiths.”

Pompeo announced the intent to create the Alliance at the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last July.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, a senior State Department official said the Alliance will focus on areas such as “technology and religious oppression,” as well as blasphemy and apostasy laws.

Pompeo said at the dinner that Poland will host the next Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom this July in Warsaw and that Colombia will host the first regional ministerial in South America next month.

“Protecting religious freedom is certainly not exclusively an American priority,” Pompeo said. “Look at the diversity of the other countries, organizations, and networks that are joining us here today. Our mission spans nationalities, political systems, and creeds. Together, we say that freedom of religion or belief is not a Western ideal, but truly the bedrock of societies.”

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