The forces against religious freedom are ascendant

President Donald Trump talks to members of the media before boarding Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 24 ahead of a trip to West Virginia. Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/TNS

You are forgiven if you missed the most important story of the week given the political pyrotechnics culminating in President Donald Trump’s welcome disavowal of the nativist chant “Send her back.” Trump will wisely smother such outbursts at rallies, but expect provocateurs to try to get it started again and again. It’s a deeply offensive and un-American echo of the “Know-Nothings” of the 19th century, whose fury was directed at Roman Catholics.

There is a tie, though, between the Know-Nothings of long ago and another significant story of the week: the State Department’s second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which brought more than 1,000 delegates from 100 countries together in Washington. The statements of the gathering — on the anti-religious freedom policies of China, Iran and Myanmar, for example — do not deal with long-ago systemic discrimination against Roman Catholic immigrants to the United States, but with its very real, very present-day cousin: violent repression of this most basic of human rights across wide swaths of the world, which is the ability to find and know God.

The forces of anti-religious pluralism are ascendant in many places across the globe. Although they are almost eradicated from the United States, the struggle for religious freedom is ongoing even here, as Philadelphia’s able and much admired Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput argued at length this month in a speech that ought to travel far and wide.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has advanced this issue of religious freedom to the fore with the assistance of Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, and the strong backing of the president. It will be an enduring mark of Pompeo’s tenure at Foggy Bottom. His new Commission on Unalienable Rights will continue the State Department’s focus on the agenda of liberties owed to every individual by virtue of their existence — primary among them being the right to exercise religious beliefs freely and without interference from the state. Understanding one’s place in the universe, and whether there is a Creator and what that Creator demands of people, has been a driver for humankind since we began remembering our story.

Religious liberty and religious toleration are also the keys to a stable world. I interviewed Pompeo on Wednesday and raised this question: Could he persuade, say, President Xi Jinping of China, that it is far preferable and, indeed, more stable for a vast country to embrace robust religious toleration than to attempt to erase, for example, the culture and beliefs of the Muslim Uighur population by internment and “reeducation”?

“We’ve certainly made this argument not only to the Chinese but to every country that’s not living up to their obligations for their give them religious freedom that they have by right of their humanness,” Pompeo replied. “Nations become stronger when they permit their citizens to exercise their core beliefs about who they really are.”

Pompeo is echoing Jefferson and Madison when he said there is “a central premise” that “religious freedom makes countries stronger” — that it produces security and safety as well as economic growth. Religious liberty is a building block of political stability; religious pluralism the cement of sturdy, long-lived states. Pompeo’s appeal is to history. He isn’t asking Xi to become the new Constantine and order China’s 1.4 billion people to convert to Pompeo’s own Christianity — far from it, in fact. Pompeo’s agenda is Madison’s: Protecting an individual’s right to seek the answers about God and to hear all the arguments produces political stability, as it has in the United States.

It has taken 2,000 years for Christianity to achieve the consensus position that no conversion by the sword is a conversion worth having. A broad and growing consensus on this point is crucial for the safety of all in the new millennium. All major world religions have their extreme fringe, but the understanding is ascendant rising that only genuine tolerance of competing religious belief systems — wide-open but noncoercive invitations to preach and proselytize any faith claim — is the building block of political stability.

This is an argument worth having with every government on the planet. It is a persuadable proposition. Good for Trump, Pompeo and Brownback to have the courage to promote Madison and Jefferson in an age of cynicism about faith and its centrality to a happy life and a stable world.

Hugh Hewitt writes for the Washington Post.



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(20) comments


"You are forgiven if you missed the most important story of the week given the political pyrotechnics culminating in President Donald Trump’s welcome disavowal of the nativist chant “Send her back.” Trump will wisely smother such outbursts at rallies, but expect provocateurs to try to get it started again and again." You can be excused if you stopped reading after that bucket of nonsense. trump owned the chant. He did not disavow it. He has also gone on to attack other minorities..even a whole city.


This is true if you only follow liberal media sources such as the WDT. Try expanding your reading to other publications that don't only include facts that justify their progressive ways. Trump definitely does and says things that are completely ridiculous but not at the level the media presents. What I find amazing is that in today's marshmallow world no one can state the obvious if it's a negative about a city.


Accurate sir. Listen, trump certainly needs to change his tone but your spot on. Lets hope that the attention he brings to it helps resolve this problem. Lord knows the establishment down there along with the millions of dollars this city received via the stimulus package hasn’t helped. Mr Cummings is going on 25 years in representing this city...what has happened? Hmmm


IMO religious freedom in this nation has led to an increasing number of humanists when in fact religious freedom means In God We Trust.


So you believe that religious freedom means establishing theism as a religion. Even if that were valid, how do you then define God? Is God to be defined as "the God of..." a specific prophet or line of prophets? Or is God simply "that which one considers most holy"? In the former case you have establishment, and in the latter case you have...well, freedom of religion.


Yes, government and religion are getting overly entangled in many countries. This is indeed a threat to religious freedom. So let's double down on keeping ours separate by not letting the state favor any religion with special privileges.


I can agree with this.


The Dems use religious freedom and the Religious Freedom Summit as a threat. Think about that.


Even for a Trumpie, that's a stupid lie.

Holmes -- the real one

I certainly agree. Tripe -- plain and simple.

Holmes -- the real one



This article is misleading and dangerous. The author correctly notes that "all major world religions have their extreme fringe," implying they are problematic. Yet, he refers to Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput, a Catholic right extremist, as "able and much admired." Chaput is a "soft dominionist." He and other soft dominionists from various Christian faiths, including a host of conservative politicians and Trump, use the argument of religious liberty--the right of Christians to ignore civil rights laws that conflict with their beliefs-- as a means of positioning themselves as divinely-inspired Other and, therefore, meriting exclusion from humanly-inspired civil rights laws. The soft dominionists' use of clever rhetoric and religious fanaticism is nothing short of an attempt to take control of and transform a democracy into a theocracy. Imagine the groups of people and religions that would suffer under such a scenario.

Holmes -- the real one

Well said.


Ya I'll make sure I give this stupid subject some consideration - NOT.


Whether you believe in god or not this is certainly far from a stupid subject. Many do and have fought wars and still do. But your agenda is far superior so we will roll with it. Seems to be a common trait of those who hate.


Funny how those "religious" wars lined somebody's pocket every time -and accomplished nothing else.


So whose pockets were lined on 9/11? An act of war by an extremist arm of Islam is still a war. Not sure what your getting at here or what proof you have but we can discuss bank records of various crusades antagonists anytime lol. I do agree with you that the church has issues of corruption. Money usually is involved in any conflict. “Blood is a terrible expense.” Virgil solazzo. Godfather 1.

Holmes -- the real one

I couldn't agree more. Nice to see you again rockloper. I was surprised to find a trumpskyite using my name.


I thought perhaps you weren't involving yourself with this stupid Times format. Nice to see you're still around as well.

Holmes -- the real one

It's not religious freedom we should be worrying about. The forces against rational thought are ascendant. It's the blatant data mining that I object to the most -- although you are absolutely right about the poor format of this "new" version. It IS stupid. "By using our Website, or providing information to us, you agree and consent to our collection, use, disclosure, processing, transfer and use of information for the purposes set forth in this Policy, including but not limited to the transfer of your Personal Information between our Service Providers, affiliates and subsidiaries in accordance with this Policy. Any access to such information will be limited to the purpose for which such information was provided to our affiliate, subsidiary or Service Provider." Besides the poor format, I also think it ultimately undermines the North Country community spirit. But that might just be what was intended. Now they can publish all of the ultra conservative drivel they want. Apparently, rather than agree to have all of the computer & personal invasion that a subscription requires, people are turning to "free" sources for their news. Fox seems to have the idea that if they hold out as "free" they will eventually have every reading them since the Post and NYT employ paywalls. Best to you rockploper. Keep fighting the good fight. I'm out there too doing the same.

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