USAID Administrator Mark Green Remarks at the Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom

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For Immediate Release

Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Office of Press Relations

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Good afternoon everyone. It is indeed an honor to be with you to make history. Today, we have the second ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. And we have the largest ever human rights-related gathering at the U.S. Department of State.

So, congratulations are in order, first to Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Brownback for everything that they've done to pull these sessions together. To President Trump and Vice President Pence, for welcoming faith communities, listening to faith communities, and defending faith communities like no other White House before.

But congratulations most importantly to all of you. It has been said that the greatest measure of one's devotion to religious liberty is the willingness to defend it for those of other faiths. This week, we have representatives from more than 130 countries and a wide range of faith traditions. Each of us here to stand up for all of us here. For Americans who are joining us, this Ministerial only seems natural. Advancing religious liberty is in our very national DNA. It is what brought the first pilgrims to our shores. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and, yes, our first Secretary of State, he believed so strongly in religious liberty, that he himself authored Virginia's Statute for Religious Freedom. When it became law, he asked that it be translated into other languages and distributed as widely as possible.

It was also one of only three accomplishments, of his many accomplishments that he asked to be listed on his epitaph. Jefferson's notions would go on to be reflected in the very first line of our Constitution's Bill of Rights. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

So, the first line -- it was the first line because Jefferson and others saw religious liberty as giving meaning to all of our other freedoms.

President Reagan understood that, he knew that very well. And so, when he was asked to give his vision for America, he referred to America as a shining city on a hill, purposefully echoing the words of John Winthrop and those early Pilgrims who braved storms and waves to pursue the freedom to practice their faith. For those who have traveled here from beyond our shores, you know that we're hosting this Ministerial because religious freedom, what we call our first freedom, is not merely an American value. It's a universal one. And it is a human right. You realize that we need this historic Ministerial because in today's world too many people, in too many places suffer violence and persecution merely for exercising that human right. The old scourge of anti-Semitism is once again reared its ugly head in Europe. Violence against Jews in their places of worship is on the rise. The German government's anti-Semitism commissioner actually warned Jewish men against wearing the kippah in public, fearing that it was no longer safe for them to do so. And of course, we in the U.S. are hardly immune. Last October, 11 worshippers were killed, and seven others injured in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

And Jews aren't the only targets of this kind of hatred and violence. Several years ago, in my home state of Wisconsin, six people were gunned down in the Sikh temple. We've seen horrific shootings at New Zealand mosques and 51 people there lost their lives, and scores more were injured. And tragic church bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Two hundred and fifty-nine people killed on Christianity's holiest day. People of faith struck down for their faith.

What's even worse is that religious intolerance and persecution has effectively become official policy in some places in this world. In Burma, government security forces attempted to ethnically cleanse the country of its Rohingya population, prompting more than 750,000 to flee to Bangladesh. Most of those left behind have been forced to live in what can only be described as prison camps. And the government has stood by as groups have poisoned citizens against their Rohingya neighbors. Since Russia illegally took control of Crimea, the Tatar community has faced ever greater repression and harassment. It's increasingly dangerous for them to practice their culture, speak their language, or observe their Muslim faith. Tatar activists have been arrested, Tatar media outlets have been shuttered, and Tatar businesses raided. One observer described it as the slow motion cultural and ethnic elimination of Crimea and Tatars.

In China, 11 million Uighur Muslims have been treated brutally. Many forced into government-sponsored reeducation camps. This kind of inhumanity reminds us of the darkest days of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. Beijing seems determined to strip workers of their individuality, their identity and, yes, their faith.

In Northern Iraq, ISIS has committed genocide against Christians and Yazidis and other minorities. Places of worship have been desecrated, women enslaved and raped, and men tortured and beheaded. ISIS sought to wipe these Christians and Yazidis and others from the face of the earth even though they've been a vibrant part of the region's cultural mosaic for countless centuries. President Lincoln once said that he felt sorry for the man who can't feel the whip when it is laid on another man's back.

Thanks to our President and Vice President, USAID and others are working to offer some relief and assistance to those who have suffered so very much. Our Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program is already providing $340 million for work in northern Iraq. We're working with 57 new local partners. Thirteen faith-based groups of 35 international organizations, providing urgent relief and humanitarian assistance to devastated communities. We're collaborating with heroic organizations like the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, the Humanitarian Ninewah Relief Organization, Yazda, the Assyrian Aid Society, Catholic Relief Services, and Caritas Iraq, and more. Our projects are community-driven and community-led. For example, we're partnering with the Chaldean Culture Society to restore and stabilize power services in the village of Al Qosh. We're working to rehabilitate olive groves in Zaytooni, where olives are the main source of income for those who have returned. In Sinjar and Sinuni, we've helped 34 small business owners to resume or expand their operations. And in coming months, we'll be working with an additional 123 small businesses to do the same. We're also partnering with international teams that are already on the ground in these communities. Today, I can announce that we recently provided Samaritan's Purse, a longtime partner of USAID, with an additional $3 million of funding to provide shelter and clean water to ISIS targeted communities.

Over the last year, we've signed memoranda of understanding with the governments of Hungary and Poland, as well as the Knights of Columbus and Malteser International. All to ensure that we coordinate as communities and optimize our efforts. Just yesterday, we signed a new MOU with the Community of Sant'Egidio. At this week's Ministerial, we come together as one. Voices from more than 130 nations and a wide range of faith traditions: Muslim and Jew, Christian and Hindu, Buddhist and Bahai, and more. We're speaking up for the rights of worshippers, not merely here at home, but in far-off lands. Not merely for those of our own faith, but for those of others as well.

We are here to reaffirm, as Vice President Pence has put it, an attack on one faith is an attack on us all. But each of us knows in our heart that there is more we must do to show a doubting world what religious liberty can and should mean. In Christianity's Gospel according to Luke, the crowds call out to John the Baptist asking, "What then shall we do?" He answers by saying that whoever has two tunics should share with him who has none. Whoever has food should do the same. Ancient Jewish sages wrote in the Talmudic texts that the world depends upon three things: Torah, the law; service to God and others; and acts of loving kindness. Included in the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed is the following: That man is not from me who sleeps contentedly while his neighbor sleeps hungry.

Mahatma Gandhi told us, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others."

The Dalai Lama has written, "It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others."

The Reverend Billy Graham liked to say, "God has given us two hands, one to receive with and one to give with."

And St. John Paul II reminded us, "Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like but in having the right to do what we ought."

I sense a common theme there.

This past March, in Ma'adaba Jordan, I visited a center run by Caritas International, a center that provides training to refugees in the timeless art of crafting mosaics. The refugees were Christians who had fled their homes in Qaraqosh, Mosul, and Baghdad to escape the brutality of ISIS. Ma'adaba has been famous since Roman days, not only for its beautiful mosaics, but also as a model of religious tolerance. It's a place where Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully side by side. Caritas is helping Iraqi refugees, people who have had so much taken from them, to develop skills and craftsmanship that enable them to play a role in furthering the city's beautiful ancient tradition.

Ma'adaba, a tolerant and diverse city, has given these refugees the opportunity to once again practice their faith freely. It has enabled him to become a part of the area's rich fabric of history and culture and taught them a skill that can help them to begin to economically rebuild their lives. Before I left Ma'adaba on that trip, the refugees presented me with a beautiful mosaic to express their gratitude for what we've done to support their communities in their time of need. We will display this in USAID's main lobby as a symbol of why it is so important to preserve the freedom of worship and to assist those who face persecution and violence for exercising their faith.

This week, we affirm our support for the freedoms that enable us to meet openly and to speak openly about the importance of faith in our communities and in our countries. But we go a step further: we invite each other -- no, we challenge each other to take up the mission that the world's great faith traditions call for. To live lives and build communities for believers and nonbelievers alike. To share a tunic with him who has none. USAID will proudly join all of you in that effort. Thank you.

Last updated: May 28, 2020

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