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African spiritual leaders arrive in D.C. for world’s largest religious freedom event

African spiritual leaders have arrived in Washington D.C. for the largest religious freedom event ever held in the world.

Between Monday and Thursday this week, the U.S. Department of State will host its second-ever Ministerial on Religious Freedom with over a thousand religious leaders in attendance along with over 80 sidebar events by activist groups. 

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“It’s really two events,” Ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Samuel D. Brownback, said during a telephonic press briefing on July 11.

“There’ll be religious and civil society leaders gathered on the first two days, on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. There’ll be over a thousand religious leaders, civil society leaders gathered.  And then day three is the governments that will be attending at that event”.

“We have more foreign ministers that have RSVP’d this year already than came last year, so we’re looking forward to their participation,” Brownback added.

The reason for the ministerial is “to stir action”, he said. 

“We have way too much religious persecution that’s taking place in the world, people being killed for their faith and harassed and imprisoned”. 

“We will start off, and the lead speakers for the whole event will be those who have been persecuted.  And we have over 20 different people from many different faiths that will testify.  The start-off group will be three people from the Abrahamic faiths:  a Jewish rabbi from the San Diego synagogue where the shootings took place there; a Christian from Sri Lanka that has worked with a number of the individuals that were – experienced the deadly Easter bombings that took place in Sri Lanka; and a Muslim from New Zealand that was in the mosque attacks that happened there,” Brownback added.

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The best known people who have been persecuted for their faith and will be speaking at the event include Nadia Murad, a Yezidi Nobel Peace Prize winner from Iraq and Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor who was in a Turkish prison for two years.

“We want to see a grassroots movement taking place around the world, uniting the faiths to stand up for each other’s right to exist.  Every faith that’s a majority in one country is a minority in another country.  Each of them have the right under the UN Declaration of Human Rights and under most countries’ constitutions to practice their faith freely and without persecution.  Yet most of the world, over 70 percent of the world, experiences substantial religious persecution.  So we want to stir this grassroots movement.  We’re asking countries to start, or places to start religious freedom roundtables, where the people of faith get together and stand up for each other’s religious freedom.

“We hope to have follow-on conferences.  We anticipate at the event itself a series of actions being announced by the United States Government and other nations in attendance,” Brownback added.

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“The entire event will start at the Holocaust Museum on Monday, July 15th.  It’s starting there to remind people of what can happen in these situations where a faith gets persecuted, like what took place in the Holocaust.  Last year’s event, one of the people that were persecuted in – when they were touring the Holocaust Museum, saw pictures of some of the prisoners in the concentration camps and said, “Why, my uniform looked very much similar to that one.”  And another person responded that evil is not very imaginative; it just keeps doing the same thing.  And unfortunately, we keep seeing these evils perpetrated.  The British report out last week on Christian persecution cited a very high level – indeed, some are saying the highest level in history – of Christian martyrs for their faith,” he added.

Simon Ateba | Washington DC
Simon Ateba | Washington DC
Born in a small village in Cameroon, groomed in Nigeria's most populous city of Lagos, and now in Washington D.C. to practice journalism at a global level, Simon is an investigative journalist and publisher of TODAY NEWS AFRICA, USA based in Washington DC

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