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The British Are Coming: UK Takes Religious Freedom Torch from US

Image: FCDO YouTube screenshot

The epicenter of advocacy for international religious freedom (IRF) has crossed the pond. Last week, the United Kingdom hosted the first in-person government ministerial on the issue to be held outside the United States.

Under the Trump administration, the US State Department inaugurated the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in 2018. Reconvened in Washington in 2019, the following year the event moved to Poland which was forced to conduct proceedings online due to COVID-19. Pandemic distractions prevented Brazil from hosting the ministerial in 2021, but civil society and religious groups rallied to organize an IRF Summit in DC instead.

In 2020, 27 nations seized the ministerials’ momentum to create the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA), centered around Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Declaring that “everyone has freedom to believe or not believe, to change faith, to meet alone for prayer or corporately for worship,” IRFBA has since grown to include 36 countries, an additional five national “friends,” and two observers—including the UN-designated special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), the preferred terminology for IRF in Europe.

As IRFBA chair, the UK hosted the Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief on July 5–6 in London.

“Millions of people are being deprived an education or a job or a home or access to justice or liberty, even to life itself,” said Fiona Bruce, the UK prime minister’s special envoy for FoRB, “simply on account of what they believe.”

The UK demonstrated leadership on the issue in 2020, when as chair of the Group of Seven—a political forum of the world’s leading democratic economies—Britain secured the first-ever mention of FoRB as a priority within the G7 official communique.

“The ministerial helped create a heightened global consciousness on FoRB, a cornerstone of all human rights,” said Godfrey Yogarajah, ambassador for religious freedom for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). “Where FoRB is violated, all other human rights suffer.”

Hosted at the Queen Elizabeth II Center in Parliament Square, the 2022 ministerial’s remarks were delivered by Prince Charles of Wales and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis spoke on behalf of Britain’s Jews.

Regional foreign minister Tarik Ahmed, a Muslim, delivered a statement welcoming to the ministerial 500 delegates from more than 100 countries. Sources told CT the UK did an exceptional job integrating the dozens of civil society and religious groups into the official proceedings.

With better coordination—and a wider berth from Americans’ July 4 observance of Independence Day—attendance might have been even larger. Only a few days before the UK ministerial…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on July 13, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Summit Produces a ‘Pentecost’ Moment for International Religious Freedom

Image: Hailey Sadler / IRF Summit
Previous IRF ambassador David Saperstein speaks at the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington.

One word floated forebodingly between parentheses throughout promotional material for the 2021 International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit:

Invited.

Following the names of Nancy Pelosi, Antony Blinken, and Samantha Power, it indicated uncertainty if the key Democratic stalwarts would participate.

As the approximately 1,200 registered attendees arrived, the distributed official program still did not include the current House speaker, secretary of state, or USAID administrator.

However, Mike Pompeo, Blinken’s predecessor at the US State Department, had a keynote address from the stage.

“There were a lot of questions heading into this summit, with a lot of hesitancy from the Biden people,” summit co-chair Sam Brownback told CT. “But we worked hard to make it bipartisan.”

Unlike the previous two ministerial meetings held in Washington, DC (and a third held virtually in Poland), this year’s IRF gathering was organized by civil society, not governments.

Brownback, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom during the Trump administration, was now a private citizen. He partnered with Katrina Lantos Swett, former chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, who was appointed by former Democratic senator Harry Reid.

Brownback chased the Republicans, and Lantos Swett the Democrats. Their friendship, Pam Pryor, senior advisor to the summit, told CT, is the “gold standard” in bipartisan cooperation. In the end, Lantos Swett was relatively…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on July 19, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.