.- The U.S. government will host its first-ever Ministerial Meeting to Advance Religious Freedom this summer, newly-confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced May 29.

“Religious freedom was vital to America’s beginning. Defending it is critical to our future,” Pompeo said at the announcement, which coincided with the release of the State Department’s annual report on the state of international religious freedom in 200 countries and territories.

“Our Founders understood religious freedom not as the state’s creation, but as the gift of God to every person and a fundamental right for a flourishing society. We’re committed to promoting religious freedom around the world, both now and in the future,” he continued.

The ministerial meeting of government and religious leaders, rights advocates, and civil society leaders will take place in Washington on July 25-26. It will be the first ministerial that Pompeo will host as Secretary of State, which he said is “very intentional.”

Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback also spoke at the State Department’s report release on May 29.

“For far too many, the state of religious freedom is dire,” said Ambassador Brownback, who highlighted religious freedom violations in China, Burma, Turkey, Eritrea, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan that are documented in detail in the State Department report.

According to the State Department, hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims in China have been forcibly sent to re-education centers. New religious regulations that went into effect in 2018 have increased the Chinese government’s surveillance and monitoring of both Muslim and Christian minorities.

The report also documents the arrest of hundreds of Christians in Eritrea, where the government reportedly coerced numerous individuals into renouncing their faith.

“Saudi Arabia does not recognize the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion in public and imprisons, lashes, and fines individuals for apostasy, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam,” said Brownback.

“We also remain very concerned about religious freedom or the lack thereof in Pakistan, where some 50 individuals are serving life sentences for blasphemy, according to civil society reports. Seventeen are awaiting execution,” he continued.

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