USAID Administrator Green's Remarks at the Values Voter Summit


For Immediate Release

Friday, October 11, 2019
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email:

October 11, 2019
Omni Shoreham Hotel
Washington, DC

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Good morning. Good to be with all of you. Gil, thanks for those kind words, and of course, my thanks to Tony Perkins for this opportunity to join all of you. Ronald Reagan - one of our greatest presidents and the quintessential American - he used to claim that there was a sign in a federal building that read in case of nuclear attack federal rules concerning prayer will be temporarily suspended. (laughter)

Now, of course, the Gipper would say that with a wink and a smile. But, he was also making a serious and important point. In difficult times we know that faith is a source of strength and inspiration. And that truth is woven into the fabric of American history. It's why our Founding Fathers gathered so often to pray during the difficult struggle for independence. They understood the importance of faith in people's lives. And then later sought to preserve it in our young republic. Today, I am afraid that too many Americans don't appreciate just how rare that freedom is. We all owe Tony Perkins a great debt of gratitude for his role on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom. He is an unyielding voice for those who are persecuted because of their faith. And we, at USAID, we proudly stand with Tony and his colleagues in that mission.

The assistance that USAID provides to people across the world is, it's an expression of American Compassion. But, it's also a reflection of our history and our values. We know that the free exercise of religion is what brought the first pilgrims to our shores. Ronald Reagan often spoke of his belief that America should be a shining city on a hill. An example of liberty for the rest of the world. Of course, he was borrowing from one of those same pilgrims, John Winthrop, who was in turn borrowing from the Gospel according to Matthew. USAID works on religious liberty because we firmly believe that it's not merely an American value, but a universal one. Simply put: Billions of souls all around the world feel strongly that their spiritual beliefs give purpose and meaning to their lives and protecting each other's right to worship. That's really protecting each other's humanity.

In today's world, too many people in too many places are attacked and persecuted merely for exercising this human right. In Northern Iraq, ISIS has committed genocide against Christians and Yazidis and other minorities. In one community, terrorists desecrated the local Chaldean Catholic Church and beheaded congregants right on the altar. Another of the region's ancient faith communities, the Yazidis, were similarly targeted and attacked. Like Christians, they were marked for extinction. In 2018, I traveled to Northern Iraq with Ambassador Sam Brownback and my friend and former congressional colleague Frank Wolf. We visited a displaced persons camp and met with Yazidi survivors. I will never forget looking into the eyes of a Yazidi mother. She showed us photographs of her missing daughters as though somehow, some way we could help find them. Sadly, of course, we could not.

On one of my first trip as USAID Administrator, I traveled to Burma and Bangladesh and I visited with Muslim Rohingya who were brutally victimized through extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture, displacement and destruction. Nothing short of an ethnic cleansing campaign. All driven by intolerance and sectarian hatred. I visited a camp near Sittwe in Burma and I met with a young Rohingya father whose children had all been born and were raised within the confines of a barbed wire perimeter. They lacked a mosque. Didn't have any teachers. There was no regular medical care and they essentially lived off the food that we were giving them. And I looked at that young father and he said to me "What do I tell my son? I've got nothing."

In China, the government has forced millions of Uighur Muslims into reeducation camps in a crackdown that harkens back to the darkest days of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. Beijing is determined to strip Uighurs and others of their individuality, their identity, and yes their faith.

In Europe, the old scourge of anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head. Violence against Jews at their places of worship, it's on the rise, including yet another attack this very week in Eastern Germany. The suspect apparently sought to livestream his gruesome acts.

And I recently traveled to the Nigerian countryside and I learned how extremists were exploiting local conditions and conflicts as fuel for jihad.

But, we know that attacks on religious liberty don't always take an interfaith forum. Sometimes there are simply efforts by an authoritarian regime to capture the community of faith -- to bend it into surrendering its character and values for the tyrant's darker ends. I've heard stories from Nicaraguan community leaders about that country's ongoing violence and brutality. The church and clergy there who believe their faith calls upon them to try to restore some sense of peace and justice are under attack for doing precisely that. Because priests were unwilling to simply stand by as atrocities were committed by the regime, Daniel Ortega has called the Roman Catholic Church itself coup mongers. Nicaraguans have told me how Ortega's paramilitary forces stormed the parish of the Reverend Gutierrez. Amid a hail of bullets, Father Gutierrez called a local radio station. And before breaking down in tears he said they are defiling the churches. The government is killing us. On social media, Nicaraguan Bishop Baez pleaded the Government of Nicaragua crosses the limit into what is inhumane and immoral. The international community cannot be indifferent. He's right. We cannot be indifferent. We must not be indifferent.

And I'm here to reaffirm that the Trump Administration will never be indifferent when it comes to the persecution of faith communities. (applause)

My friends, we believe as Vice President Pence has put it, "An attack on one faith is an attack upon us all." At the UN just a few weeks ago, President Trump proclaimed, "We must all work together to protect communities of every faith." All over the world, USAID is supporting programs to address religious hate-speech and interfaith conflict to promote the strengthening and enforcement of laws that protect religious freedom and to increase the capacity of civil society to advocate for it. We aim to reinforce ethnic and religious pluralism where it has historically existed.

Our work isn't about the content of faith, it's about society's tolerance for multiple faith traditions and the individual's right to freedom of conscience. That's the case in Northern Iraq and our efforts to restore at least some of what ISIS tried to destroy. Thanks to our President and Vice President, the U.S. Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program is already providing $400 million to help persecuted minorities. We're working with 77 local partners, 17 faith-based groups, and 35 international organizations providing urgent relief and humanitarian assistance to devastated communities.

In fact, I can announce today that we're extending our work. We're awarding a little over $5 million dollars to a group of universities, including Purdue, Notre Dame, and Iraq's University of Duhok to assess the agricultural damage done by ISIS that is impacting traditional cultural practices of persecuted communities. Let me be real clear: we're not using these funds to rebuild faith, nor will we be rebuilding mosques or shrines or churches. But we do intend to restore some hope to those who ISIS targeted for destruction. (applause)

But, there's another way that USAID is working to protect religious liberty and it's through our efforts to unleash the power of faith-based organizations in our broader mission to lift lives. So many of these wonderful groups are answering the call to the faithful that is rung throughout history. In the Gospel of 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 text that the world depends upon three things: Torah, the law, service to God and others, and acts of loving kindness. In more recent times, John Paul II reminded us every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but having the right to do what we ought.

Reverend Billy Graham put it differently, he liked to say, "God has given us two hands. One to receive within and one to give with." I sense a pattern here. That spirit; that part of our humanity; that part that bears the unmistakable fingerprints of God urges us to put faith to work and turn worship into deeds. At USAID, we've been undertaking reforms to our partnership and procurement process, to tear down the barriers and burdens that too often pushes the faith community and local groups away. But, too often calls upon faith-based organizations to surrender their faith character. We must be able to touch people who've been left behind or forgotten. We must be able to reach corners where governments cannot effectively go or where they have chosen not to.

In many settings, being able to partner with the faith-based community enables us to do just that. Faith based organizations are often uniquely trusted voices in those forgotten communities. They can harness networks and resources and insight that can help us reach out in ways that we otherwise could not. I'll end with this. This past March in Madiba, Jordan, I visited a center run by Caritas Internationalis. A center that provides training to refugees in the timeless art of crafting mosaics. The refugees were Christians who had fled their homes in Mosul and Baghdad, escaping the brutality of ISIS. So Madiba has been famous since Roman days, not only for these beautiful mosaics but also as a model of religious tolerance. It's a place where Christians and Muslims have long lived peacefully side by side. Caritas is helping Iraqi refugees -- people who have had so much taken from them to develop skills, and craftsmanship to enable them to help in furthering the city's beautiful ancient traditions. Madiba, a tolerant and diverse city, has given these refugees an opportunity to once again practice their faith freely.

It has enabled them to become part of the area's rich cultural fabric. And taught them a skill to help them to begin to economically rebuild their lives. Before I left Madiba on that trip that I mentioned, the refugees presented me with a gift: a beautiful mosaic to express their gratitude for our support in their time of need. We will display this at USAID's main lobby as a symbol of our work to assist those who face persecution and violence merely for exercising their faith. It will also serve as a challenge to us to take up the mission that the world's great faith traditions call for: to lift lives and build communities for believers and nonbelievers alike. Or in the words of John the Baptist to share a tunic, "With him who has none."

Last updated: March 24, 2020

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