Pompeo: Religious freedom is ‘a universal human right’

An Iranian woman lights a candle during Christmas Eve mass at the St Joseph Armenian Catholic church in Tehran on December 24, 2016, as Christians around the world are celebrating Christmas. / ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Pompeo called religious freedom “a right belonging to every individual on the globe” and said the U.S. “stands with those who yearn for religious liberty.”

Pompeo spoke May 29 as the State Department released the 2017 International Religious Freedom Report describing the state of religious freedom in countries around the world.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Religious Freedom Act, which promotes religious freedom as an important U.S. foreign policy. The law created within the State Department the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, a position held since February by Samuel D. Brownback. Brownback, a former U.S. senator and Kansas governor, is the highest-ranking U.S. official to serve in this role.

At the event marking the report’s release, Pompeo emphasized religious freedom’s central role in the history of the U.S. “Religious freedom was vital to America’s beginning,” he said. “Defending it is critical to our future.”

Brownback said the goal is to protect the freedom of conscience for all people.

“We report on what has occurred and been said. We don’t make judgement calls on what is worthy to report or not,” Brownback said. “We report it all.”

Pompeo and Brownback also used the occasion to announce the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, to take place at the State Department on July 25–26. The meeting will break new ground, Pompeo said. “It will not just be a discussion group. It will be about action.”

Brownback called the state of religious freedom in the world dire. “We must move religious freedom forward — we must defend it in every corner of the globe.”

Five Things To Know About This Year’s International Religious Freedom Report Release


Fact Sheet

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
May 29, 2018

  1. 2018 Marks the 20th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act

In 1998, Congress overwhelmingly passed the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act –groundbreaking and bipartisan legislation that affirmed the importance of promoting international religious freedom as a key aspect of America’s foreign policy. President Clinton signed it into law on October 27, 1998. This law created the position of IRF Ambassador at Large to lead the U.S. government’s efforts, as well as an IRF Office.

  1. The Secretary of State announced the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom

Promoting and defending religious freedom is a priority for this Administration. To elevate the effort to ensure that everyone is able to live in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, Secretary Pompeo will host the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington on July 25-26. We will convene government and religious leaders, rights advocates, and civil society from around the world to discuss challenges, identify concrete means to push back against persecution and discrimination, and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.

  1. The report conveys an objective accounting of religious freedom developments

The IRF Report annually assesses the state of religious freedom in 200 countries and territories. In each report, we seek to objectively convey information on incidents that have occurred, and what governments and civil society actors are doing and saying about the state of religious freedom in a particular country.

  1. The report directly informs the U.S. government’s actions

Drawing upon the issues and concerns outlined in the annual Report, U.S. officials formulate policy responses, including diplomatic engagement or foreign assistance programs to address abuses and violations of religious freedom in foreign countries. The reports also inform the Secretary of State’s religious freedom designations.

  1. The report is a conversation-starter

Over the years the audience for the Report has continued to grow. Today, it is used by a multitude of domestic and international audiences, including the U.S. Congress, academic researchers, foreign governments and legislators, human rights advocates, religious communities, and citizens seeking to better understand the actions regarding religious freedom of governments around the world.