A three-day summit on international religious freedom commenced on Tuesday, focusing on the persecution that the majority of the world's population suffer due to religion.
Co-chaired by Sam Brownback, International Religious Freedom's ambassador-at-large, and Katrina Lantos Swett, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights' president, the International Religious Freedom Summit 2021 was launched. It aims to create a "powerful coalition of organizations" to uphold religious liberty worldwide, as well as to increase the movement's "public awareness and political strength."
Speaking to the Religion News Service, Brownback said that the purpose of the summit is "relationship-building."
"We really need to have civil society and religious leaders building relationships to stand up for each other's religious freedom," he added.
The event was attended by leaders from diverse groups and faiths, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats Chris Coons and Rep. Henry Cuellar, Republicans Sen. James Lankford and Rep. Chris Smith, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Muslim American actor Mahershala Ali and Dalai Lama. The sponsors, such as the National Council of Churches and Jewish refugee group, HIAS, also joined the summit.
Another partner of the event, the Action Alliance to Redress 1219, tackled about the Tai Ji Men case by facilitating a workshop and launching two books, which include "Who Stole Their Youth" and "The Tai Ji Men Case in Taiwan: A Bitter Winter Anthology." The case focuses on Taiwan's violation of human rights and religious liberty.
Brownback shared that almost 80% of the people in the world are living in nations that persecute citizens for their faith, highlighting, at the top of the list, the persecution of Christians in China. This is followed by the wrongful treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China, sending Christians to prison camps in North Korea, abduction of Yazidi girls and women in Iraq and detention of Rohingya Muslims in Burma.
The ambassador-at-large was hoping that the movement would still gain bipartisan support as it had in 2019, when he said both Pelosi and Mike Pompeo "got a standing ovation" for the event.
Brownback pointed out the relevance of engaging religious leaders in promoting foreign policy, citing the success of Abraham Accords, a peace agreement between Israel and Muslim countries such as Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. The treaty, pushed by the Trump administration, holds a title that shares a religious connection between Jews, Christians and Muslims by citing "Abraham." This, he said, displays a religious factor of foreign policy.
"You've got to engage the religious leaders to get breakthroughs like that, because they're the ones that have a lot more credibility, many times, with the public," he further stated.
Though he commended the Biden administration for its position on China over the Uyghurs, he reportedly "expressed frustration" over the president's rejection of Pompeo's "Unalienable Rights Commission," which stated in a report that religious freedom and right to property were the most important human rights. Anthony Blinken criticized the report in March, saying that "There is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others."
Further, Brownback expressed his hope that the summit participants would defend religious freedom, warning against the terrible effects of its failure.