Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will host a gathering of “like-minded” foreign counterparts later this summer to brainstorm ways to advance the cause of religious freedom around the world.
The event, slated for July 25-26 in Washington, will likely please evangelical Christians who support President Donald Trump, many of whom worry about the persecution of Christians abroad. But it also raises questions about the Republican administration’s sincerity on the issue, given the president’s campaign pledge to bar Muslims from U.S. soil.
Pompeo announced plans for the gathering on Tuesday as he unveiled the State Department’s annual report on global religious freedom. He described the ministerial meeting as the first of its kind.
“It will not just be a discussion group. It will be about action,” Pompeo vowed. “We look forward to identifying concrete ways to push back against persecution and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.”
The meeting will be Pompeo’s first time hosting a ministerial get-together. Along with foreign ministers, religious leaders, religious rights activists and civil society figures will also be invited.
Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, declined to say which countries’ foreign ministers will be invited — he was asked specifically about Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally whose conservative interpretation of Islam essentially forbids the practice of other faiths.
Still, Brownback and Pompeo both used the term “like-minded” when describing the expected participants, indicating that countries known for their abuses of religious rights won’t get an invitation.
Brownback stressed that one of his key goals in the gathering and beyond will be to raise awareness of how a lack of religious freedom can breed terrorism and damage economies. He downplayed concerns about Trump’s past promises to restrict the entry of Muslims trying to reach America.
Both Pompeo and Brownback’s own commitment to the cause of religious freedom have been questioned over the years.
As governor of Kansas, Brownback supported a law that essentially forbid state courts from consulting Islamic, or Sharia, law. As a congressman, also from Kansas, Pompeo came under fierce criticism for alleging — falsely — that Muslim leaders had not condemned the Boston marathon bombings.
Both men have publicly insisted they do not discriminate on the basis of religion.