Religious freedom must be guaranteed for everyone, everywhere, all the time
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Merdan Ghappar was put in a prison camp in China for being a Muslim. Pastor Youcef was thrown in jail in Iran for following Jesus and helping others do the same. Twenty-five-year-old Ravinder Singh was killed in Pakistan for being a Sikh. And just last week in Indonesia, two terrorist suicide bombers targeted Roman Catholics as they were leaving Sunday morning mass.

What do they have in common? Religious persecution.

With nearly 80 percent of the world’s population living in countries that deny full religious freedom, this foundational human right is among the most abused in the world. The abuse of religious freedom takes many forms — from blocking access to religious material online to putting someone to death for simply converting from one faith to another.

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No matter the form it takes, we oppose the persecution of people’s rights to peacefully practice their faith and believe what they want to believe. Our mantra is “religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, all the time.” That’s why we’re convening the first-ever Summit to defend this right this July in Washington, D.C. Led entirely by civil society and religious groups, it will be the largest grassroots gathering ever of religious freedom advocates. Over 40 civil society and religious groups have come together representing almost all the religions in the world to convene this first-ever annual summit.

This international religious freedom summit, or IRF Summit 2021, will feature speakers from around the world who have been persecuted for their beliefs. Lawmakers, civil society members, and faith leaders will put forward their proposals for activism and discuss concrete ways toward one main goal: building a grassroots movement to eradicate religious persecution. This will not be a talk-shop but an epicenter of activism to take serious action.

Serious action means real dialogue about intractable problems related to religious freedom work around the world. Some dozen countries still execute men and women for blasphemy. We want that practice immediately relegated to the ash heap of history. China exacts near-total control of its religious minorities by constantly monitoring their internet. We want to see the internet firewall of China torn down. In the past few years alone, we’ve witnessed genocides and crimes against humanity of religious minorities from Burma to China to Iraq. Governments are often slow to respond, and when they do, it’s too late. We want to hold them accountable and work with them to help them better understand the systematic attacks occurring against religious minorities all over the world.

We want to say — in one loud voice — that it is high time that the world comes together to say no more prison time or communal persecution for those who simply want to pray to whom they will and believe what they want. We believe the moment is ripe. And we are eager to work with the advocacy and faith communities to see religious freedom go out like light in a dark world. It’s time. Would you join us?

Gayle Manchin is Chair of United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Sam Brownback is Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom (2018-21).