Conference Highlights Freedom to Believe in 106 Countries
That’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to a packed house last week. He kicked off the second annual Ministerial for the Advancement of Religious Freedom. Representatives from 106 countries attended, including religious leaders, rights activists, and government officials.
Ambassador at large, Sam Brownback, called it “the largest religious freedom event ever done in the world.”
On today’s America Daily, we talk to reporter Arleen Richards, about the overall theme of the summit, the power of forgiveness, and the last 20 years of religious persecution in China.
Arleen covered the ministerial from the beginning. Arleen, good morning.
Arleen: Good morning Mark.
Mark: So, this was the second religious summit in the US. What was the overall theme?
Arleen: Well, this summit sort of represents President Trump’s commitment to promote Religious liberty, not only in the United States, but world wide.
Mark: Hmmm, I know President Trump signed the executive order in 2017, for Religious liberty. Seems to me he only focused on America. How has the President shown international support?
Arleen: Last year, before the first ministerial, he proclaimed January 16 as Religious Freedom Day.
Not too many people know about it because the mainstream media didn’t cover it. He chose January 16 because just after the Revolutionary War, the Virginia General Assembly passed a statute, which gave people the right to speak freely about religion.
Mark: And, that was also the inspiration for the First Amendment.
Arleen: Right, and President Trump is committed to honoring those original laws.
Secretary Pompeo alludes to that in his opening speech.
Mark: He actually emphasizes, later in his speech, that everybody around the world must be permitted to practice their faiths. He uses the word “must,” which almost sounds like an order.
Arleen: Mark, this kind of sentiment was, echoed, throughout the conference. The key phrases, which I think really summed it up, were “God given rights” and “inalienable rights.”
Mark: And those are phrases written in the Declaration of Independence.
Ambassador at Large Sam Brownback talked about the importance of that history.
Arleen: It’s worth noting that this understanding of religious freedom for all… it’s not new.
As Senator Brownback also said, it is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in many countries’ constitutions.
Mark: And yet, another year has gone by, but the persecution continues. How have the survivors reacted to the persecution.
Arleen: Some of the survivors have forgiven the perpetrators.
Dr. Farid Ahmed, a Muslim living in New Zealand, survived a terrorist attack and he had to make a tough decision.
Arleen: Dr Ahmed said he was asked, many times, why he did this. And he has many reasons. I think the reason that struck me the most was his strong belief that he must love all human beings… even if he doesn’t know you.
Mark: mmm, you know, when we look at many of the stories told on that day, we realize how important it is to forgive…as so many survivors did.
I think what strikes me most about the stories is the length of time, that the persecution has gone on. And, the severity of it.
For example, the story of Falun Gong practitioners is compelling, because not only are they tortured, but they’re killed for their organs.
Arleen: Mrs. Yuhua Zhang shared her story on July 17. She was tortured in Chinese labor camps for 7 1/2 years.
And her husband is currently in a labor camp.
Soundbite: Yuhua Speech at Event – 6:31 – 9:05 I have always wanted to come to the United States…for beating and torturing Falun Gong practitioners.”
Mark: A very moving story by Mrs. Zhang.
Saturday marked the 20th year that Falun Gong practitioners have been persecuted in China.
Arleen: Yes, and the Falun Dafa Information Center put out a commentary marking 20 years of imprisonment, torture, and killing.
Mark: Even though conclusive reports expose the organ harvesting, why hasn’t main stream media reported on it?
Arleen: Well Mark, I’m not sure how to answer that, but I believe that will be changing. As was mentioned by the Information Center, an independent tribunal in London recently conducted an analysis of forced organ harvesting in China. They concluded that it is indeed occurring in China and it is a crime.
Mark: Did speakers at the conference get into the details of the tribunal?
Arleen: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Frank Wolf spoke about the persecution in China.
But, their main focus was on Uyghur muslims and Tibetans. The tribunal also interviewed Uyghur muslims, but there was significant testimony by Falun Gong practitioners and human rights experts, stating that Falun Gong practitioners are the main source of organs harvested.
Mark: One of the researchers who studied China’s voluntary organ transplant data said it was manipulated manually.
Arleen: Yes, Matthew Robertson along with a statistician determined that China used a quadratic equation to come up with an exact number, which he said was suspicious.
Mark: Going forward, what do you think the United States will do to improve Religious Freedom around the world?
Arleen: The survivors who spoke at the conference had an opportunity to meet President Trump.
And, I looked at how he listened to each one tell a little of their story. He seemed genuinely interested.
So I think, if President Trump maintains a hard stance on Religious freedom, he and the State Department will find a way to convince leaders of these other countries to stop persecuting religious believers.
Mark: We’ll have to see what develops next.
Arleen, thanks so much.