The U.S. State Department is making the advancement of religious freedom a foreign policy priority, with survivors of religious persecution representing North Koreans, Rohingyas, Uighurs and Yazidis invited to highlight the urgency of the problem at a conference next week in Washington.
"This is a major foreign policy initiative of the United States," said Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom. During a telephone briefing, he said it was an issue that has not received enough attention around the world as religious persecution has grown in recent years.
More than 1,000 representatives from religious groups and civil society, as well as foreign ministers, are expected to gather at the State Department July 16-18 to discuss the status of religious freedom around the world.
Victims of recent attacks at a synagogue in San Diego, mosques in New Zealand and an Easter bombing in Sri Lanka are also expected to attend.
Speakers at the ministerial will include Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who has been advocating for the group in northern Iraq, and American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who was freed after two years of detention in Turkey.
"Our effort is to stir action. We want to see, really, a global grass-roots movement around religious freedom," said Brownback.
The U.S. special envoy said governments of nations that have been designated by the U.S. as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for severe violations of religious freedom, including China and Myanmar, are not invited to the conference as it is centered on like-minded countries and governments that aspire to move toward religious freedom.