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US, at least 17 countries to launch first-ever International Religious Freedom Alliance

US, at least 17 countries to launch first-ever International Religious Freedom Alliance

Ambassador Brownback welcomes participants and speakers at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. on July 16-18, 2019. | State Department

Government officials from the United States and several countries will convene in Washington, D.C., next week on the eve of the National Prayer Breakfast for the inaugural meeting of the new International Religious Freedom Alliance.

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told reporters on Wednesday that the alliance is essentially like an "activist club" of countries that are serious about pushing religious freedom globally.

The alliance was first announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last July and touted by President Donald Trump at the United Nations General Assembly in September. It is said to be the first-ever alliance of nations devoted to confronting religious persecution around the world. 

The alliance comes at a time when most of the world's population lives in countries where religious freedom is limited in some way. 

"I have not seen this type of organization or push on a human right that I am aware of before," Brownback explained this week. "This is the first effort really to get a group of nations that will be the activist on a particular human right to try to champion and pursue that cause more aggressively."

He stressed that there is strong support for religious freedom around the world even though there is much "encroachment" on it.

"We will be looking at things we can work collectively on and [how] we can push for religious freedom efforts around the world," he said. "We are excited about the countries and their enthusiasm."

According to Brownback, at least 17 countries so far have committed to the alliance. But he hopes that the number of countries represented at the Wednesday event will be in the "upper 20s."

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The former Kansas governor and U.S. senator could not yet disclose which countries will participate in the meeting.

"We got a pretty high bar for joining it, honestly," Brownback detailed. "We want nations that respect religious freedom in their own country and are willing to push religious freedom in international venues. This is the activist club of countries."

Brownback believes that the "right crew" is assembled and believes a difference will be made.

"The United States pushes [religious freedom] but we need other allies to push it too," Brownback said. "The fortunate thing is that it isn't going to be just us. It is going to be a group of nations to push on this."

While the International Religious Freedom Alliance will bridge like-minded nations on the issue, some global interfaith efforts have been formed by religious leaders to promote religious freedom globally.

Brownback traveled to Rome for a Jan. 16 meeting of the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative, a coalition of Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders looking to reduce violence in the name of religion.

"One of the key statements that that came out is this group committed to resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism," he explained.

"This was a statement from the Document on Human Fraternity that Pope Francis signed along with the President of Al-Azhar, the top Muslim university in the world. This group endorsed [the statement] and wants to put legs under these documents. It wants to get out and have a practical impact in places around the world where there is a conflict between the Abrahamic faiths."

Through the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative, there will be trips to various countries to try to "reduce violence between Christians, Muslims and Jews," he added. The Balkans, Sudan and Nigeria are among other areas where theologians are calling for peace.

"Unfortunately, much of the world looks at religion as the cause of wars," he said. "This group and the people they are working with see religion as an instrument of peace. They want to make it that way."

Last September, plans were announced for the Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex that will house a church, synagogue and mosque in the United Arab Emirates. The idea is to promote religious harmony among the Abrahamic faiths. 

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