President Trump, right, talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, on July 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Pompeo says Putin summit helps with religious freedom push

(RNS) —Russia dominated the discussion on a telephone conference call with reporters and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday morning (July 19) about next week's meeting in Washington of government officials, religious leaders and representatives of nonprofit organizations to talk about international religious freedom.

Asked about reports of Russian efforts to infiltrate American religious groups, even while suppressing faith groups at home, Pompeo said the State Department is "concerned anytime any country attempts to interfere with religious freedom of any individual anyplace and anywhere."

The secretary also told reporters that the department was “hopeful” President Trump’s engagement with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week in Helsinki “puts us in a direction where the conversations we can have with the Russians can begin to turn this in the right direction.”

“That was the president’s objective in going to Helsinki, and I am confident that we achieved that,” he said.

White House officials said later in the day that Trump plans to invite Putin to Washington for a follow-up to the Helsinki summit in the fall.

Pompeo announced the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in May while unveiling the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report, saying he looked forward to meeting with his “counterparts from like-minded governments." That includes officials from 80 countries that have a record of advancing religious freedom or that recently have taken meaningful steps toward doing so, according to the State Department.

On Thursday's call, Pompeo declined to answer whether Russia will send a delegation to the ministerial, saying the State Department still is receiving RSVPs and wouldn't release the list of attendees beforehand.

“We believe this first-ever gathering of leaders around the world to promote religious freedom is important and will move many countries in the right direction on religious freedom. We think that’s an invaluable part of American diplomacy and the capacity to shape America’s vision in the world,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo also did not directly answer questions about whether Trump had addressed religious freedom concerns during his private meeting with Putin this week. But, Pompeo said, “This administration has been incredibly strong when it comes to pushing back against Russian bad behavior across its broad range of bad behaviors, and we will continue to do so.”

Russians Mariia Butina and Alexander Torshin at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast. Photo via Facebook

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Both the International Religious Freedom report and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom's annual report have documented Russia's abuses of religious freedom. The latter document placed Russia in its top tier of countries of particular concern this year, noting the country’s recent ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and the kidnapping, torture and imprisonment of Crimean Tartar Muslims in Russian-occupied Crimea. 

The country's respect for religious groups was further tarnished this week, as the Department of Justice unsealed an affidavit showing Mariia Butina, a Russian citizen living in the U.S., intended to use the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast as a way to “establish a back channel of communication” between influential Russians and Americans. Previous testimony to the House Intelligence Committee also noted the possibility of Russian efforts to infiltrate American religious groups.

Qamar-ul Huda, a senior adviser to the State Department from 2014 until last summer who has advised the Trump State Department on the ministerial, said the event reflected a desire to make religious freedom a primary issue for the Trump administration. That includes an attempt to widen the conversation beyond foreign ministers with side events hosted by the Religious Freedom Center at the Freedom Forum Institute/Newseum and other organizations.

After the Office of International Religious Freedom was created 20 years ago within the department, Huda said, “The next chapter is to see its impact and how to mainstream it.”

But not everyone is as enthusiastic about the Trump State Department's approach to religious freedom. Shaun Casey, who launched the department's Office of Religion and Global Affairs under former Secretary of State John Kerry, called it "arguably the worst administration in history on religious freedom" and "a dramatic step back."

The Trump administration's "actual policies betray the alleged purpose of this meeting, which is to bring freedom for all people," Casey said.

He pointed to the president's approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline on land considered sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux, several iterations of a travel ban that he said discriminated against Muslims and policies that have separated families at the U.S.-Mexico border, when religious persecution is one reason people can apply for asylum.

"This is a made-for-television movie designed to impress a narrow set of American religious communities, part of the Trump political base,” he said.

Participants in the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom will hear from survivors of religious persecution, as well as Pompeo; Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom; and Vice President Mike Pence. 

The State Department's website said the focus of the event will be on finding “concrete ways” to fight religious persecution and discrimination and to ensure religious freedom for all.

It will offer information about how groups can access financial support from the U.S., as well as breakout sessions on the intersections between religious freedom and topics such as women’s rights and countering violent extremism. Other breakout sessions will focus on such things as confronting legal challenges to religious freedom, preserving cultural heritage and supporting victims of religious violence.


  1. MIke Pompeo has stated, ““religious intolerance is unacceptable.”

    Mike Pompeo has warmly embraced Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council which has such a strong record of anti-gay legislative lobbying activity that it has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    Mike Pompeo still opposes legal gay civil marriage, which he called a “shocking abuse of power,” referring to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

    Clearly for Mike Pompeo, religious liberty means liberty for me but not for thee. Or, to put it another way, religious freedom means Pompeo’s right to impose his interpretation of his religion on mine and have the state grant him its imprimatur to do so.

    But it is no surprise that he would seek to engage Vladimir Putin on this issue since Putin has made a scapegoat out of LGTB people in Russia as a distraction issue while simultaneously cozying up to the Russian Orthodox Church, granting it special favors.

    None of this is an accident. It’s all part of Trump’s master plan to emulate Putin’s success for absolute power in Russia here in this country. And it’s working. Until members of his own party stand up to him he will go all the way.

  2. They hardly need “breakout sessions” to address “the intersections between religious freedom and topics such as women’s rights and countering violent extremism”. Those should be the main topics of the main floor. I mean, what else is a religious freedom conference for? You open the thing by declaring that there is nothing worth having in any religion except an exhortation to love the neighbors. You ask if any of the attendees live in countries with laws against trying to love the neighbors. And you spend the rest of the day(s) discussing how to keep the rest of religion from dissing or harming people. Pompeo, Brownback and Pence, of course, are being sent there to mouth around about how religion should, in fact, diss and harm everyone else. What an upside-down crock we are living in.

  3. “Southern Poverty Law Center”

    Now there’s the place to go for a totally unbiased viewpoint. NOT!

  4. Yet most critics of them are just annoyed that their lobbying for discrimination is being honestly represented in public sans euphemisms.

    Tony Perkins IS a hate monger and supports discrimination under color of law. The hate group label for his organization IS appropriate. Attacking the people who have noted it in public doesn’t change that.

    The scumbag recently posted an op ed in support of locking children up in gulags. I have no problem with SPLC’s label there.

  5. At this point we see the nexus between the Religious Right and the treasonous activities of the president in his service to Russia.

  6. President Trump’s deplorables will no doubt see this as part of President Trump’s plan to Make the World Christian Again.

  7. Perkins is what America needs today. He is a straight shooter who speaks the truth. More power to him! (And to the FRC as well.)

    SPLC too often goes off the rails due to its radical left agendas.

  8. Perkins is a hateful turd who actively attacks the first amendment and seeks discrimination under color of law.

    “a straight shooter who speaks the truth”

    An expression having nothing to do with a person’s veracity. But instead really means a person who is open and obvious in their bigotry and seeks to attack others. Much like how it is used when referring to compulsive liar and white supremacist Donald Trump.

  9. “Much like how it is used when referring to compulsive liar and white supremacist Donald Trump.”

    Right, because Trump “tells it like it is.” Isn’t that the thing Trump voters find so appealing about him? What they really mean is, he speaks freely without any filter in a crude, vulgar, racist, sexist manner without suffering any penalty for it. That’s something they’d all like to be able to get away with.

  10. Specifically, their version of Christianity.

  11. Perkins said today that he thinks it ought to be just fine to criminalize gay people.

    Do you agree?

  12. Religious freedom? Russia?

    Something something jehovah’s witnesses something something Russian Orthodox Church.

  13. There’s a great New Yorker cartoon (the fact that I read it is of course proof of my Liberal Elite status) in which a group of sheep at pasture are looking up at a billboard of a wolf saying “I will eat you.” One sheep turns to the other and says, “I like him ’cause he tells it like it is.”

  14. It is interesting how the KGB and its successor agencies have sought to infiltrate religious groups. The show “The Americans,” while fictionalized, drew on the real-life KGB infiltration of left-leaning anti-nuclear Christian activists in the US, as well as of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USSR itself. I guess if it worked back then, why not continue it now?

  15. Could you provide some kind of reference or link so I can see what he actually said. I’ve learned not to take anybody’s word for things without a direct source, otherwise it’s hard to tell fact from spin.

  16. Here is the text of his press release.

    Via press release from hate group leader Tony Perkins:

    To most people, July 19th is just another day. If you asked them what happened on this date 25 years ago, only a handful would probably know that President Bill Clinton made “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” the policy for America’s military. Even fewer would know that the summer of 1993 help set into motion a quarter-century war on marriage and the family.

    Looking back on those days, most Americans are probably nostalgic for the days when sexuality wasn’t something people broadcasted. Back then, even the most liberal activists just wanted to “get the government out of their bedroom.” How far we’ve fallen. Now, two decades later, they want to take what happens in the bedroom and force Americans to celebrate it — at work, church, school, even (and especially) in government. Who knew 25 years ago that Christians would long for the days when everyone just went about their lives?

    There were groups like FRC who recognized “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for what it was: the first major crack in the foundation of marriage and human sexuality. Then, the next biggest shoe would drop — Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruling that struck down Texas’s ban on sodomy.

    The late Justice Antonin Scalia warned where their mistake would lead: “State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers‘ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.”

    Once you’ve rejected basic biology and 2,000 years of civilization, there are no boundaries. Surely, the world has learned its lesson since the first walls came tumbling down in 1993. First, activists said they just wanted to love who they loved. Then, they said they just wanted benefits — not marriage.

    When liberals got marriage through the courts, they vowed not to force it on the states. After they forced it on the states, they said it wouldn’t lead to religious persecution. Even after county clerks were sent to jail and Christian bakers fined up to $135,000, they claim there’s no slippery slope. But after a track record of such intentional deception, who could (or should) believe them?

  17. “…treasonous activities…”

    Hyperbole much?

    You’re starting to sound silly now.

  18. To be perfectly accurate, in THIS press release, he didn’t say it would be perfectly fine. But the gist of what he is saying is certainly a lament that gay people were decriminalized. “Once you’ve rejected basic biology and 2,000 years of civilization, there are no boundaries.”

  19. So my question is still there: Do you agree?

  20. Not at all. Your tone trolling is duly noted and promptly ignored. Your excuses for the wildly inappropriate, damaging and unlawful behavior of our president and supporters are pathetic.

    Collusion is the perfect word to cover such crimes’
    John W. Dean was Richard Nixon’s White House counsel. He served a four-month sentence for his role in Watergate.

    It was the fake legal analysis by Fox News in June—claiming that “collusion” with a foreign government violated no law—that prompted me to look. Surely Fox knows it fooled only fools. Collusion is the descriptive word the news media has settled on to cover many potential
    illegal actions by the Trump campaign, which could range from aiding and abetting (18 USC 2) to conspiracy per se (18 USC 371) to conspiring to violate several potentially applicable laws like: 18 USC 1030—fraud and related activity in connection with computers; 18 USC 1343—wire fraud;
    or 52 USC 30121—contributions and donations by foreign nationals. Also, 18 USC 2381—for, contrary to a widespread belief that there must be a declared war, the Justice Department as recently as 2006 indicted for “aid and comfort” to our enemies, the form of collusion better known as treason. Collusion is the perfect word to cover such crimes, pejorative and inclusive.

  21. If by “religious freedom” one means “relentless promotion of state Christianity, repression of dissident sects and non-belief, imposition of harsh blasphemy laws, and fierce targeting of gays,” then sure, Vlad “the Poisoner” Putin can definitely help with that. Yep, he’d sure as heck be your guy. No doubt! 

  22. Re: “SPLC too often goes off the rails due to its radical left agendas.” 

    As opposed to Perkins and his FRC, which espouses a radical Right agenda? 

    Sorry, but when you hurl terms like “agenda” around like that, those can come back to haunt you. Christianists have an agenda. Rightists have an agenda. You have an agenda. You can’t condemn a person or group for having an “agenda” if you have one of your own. To do so is hypocritical. If you happen to be Christian, that can be perilous, because the founder of Christianity himself explicitly and unambiguously forbid his followers ever to be hypocritical, at any time or for any reason, period. 

    So I’d be real careful if I were you, with this “agenda” talk. Really, really careful. 

  23. Everyone has an agenda, of one kind or another. ‘Fess up, so do you.

    So I do not “condemn a person or group for having an ‘agenda'”; what I condemn is the CONTENTS of some agendas.

    Agenda: the underlying intentions or motivations of a particular person or group. But you seem to think it is some kind of bad word, which one must be “Really, really careful” about.

  24. I read it more as a lament for a time when “sexuality wasn’t something broadcasted”, when people weren’t pressured to “celebrate” someone else’s sexuality, and people “just went about their lives”. A lament for simpler, less hypersexualized times.

    Justice Scalia’s warning would seem to be justified in light of subsequent developments.

  25. Sexuality was ALWAYSbroadcast. …Look at us. We’re getting married.”

    No one is pressured to celebrate anyone’s sexuality. That’s imaginary persecution.

    If you’re interested in less hypersexualized Times, then talk to heterosexuals, not us.

    what he is lamenting, and apparently you are lamenting, is that you no longer have dominion over our lives. You weren’t allowing us to simply go about our lives, and you’re doing your best not to now.

    I’m assuming you are in favor of sodomy laws, lest your delicate sensibilities about our lives be offended.

  26. “when people weren’t pressured to “celebrate” someone else’s sexuality”

    Like the time when people weren’t “pressured to celebrate racism equality”.

    A lament for a time when bigotry and discrimination was not only more open and obvious, but had color of law.

    Just the sort of thing the world doesn’t ever need.

  27. Re: “So I do not “condemn a person or group for having an ‘agenda'”; what I condemn is the CONTENTS of some agendas.” 

    You used the word “agenda” as a snarlword, so yes, that’s what you did: You condemned people for having an “agenda.” 

    Re: “But you seem to think it is some kind of bad word, which one must be ‘Really, really careful’ about.” 

    No, you are the one who used it as a snarlword. It wasn’t I who did that, I simply called you out for having done it. And I pointed out the hypocrisy of condemning others for having agendas when you, yourself, are very much caught up in one of your own. 

    As I explained, Jesus himself specifically and clearly condemned hypocrisy in any form in any of his followers. If you believe in him, you’ve disappointed him already. You run the risk of hearing from him, at the Judgement, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Mt 7:23b). That’s even more likely now than it was before, given that rather than admitting your hypocrisy, you doubled down on it instead. 

    One last thing: Cling all you like to the idea that it’s merely the content of others’ agendas that gets you riled up. But really, it’s not up to you to decide that. The US is a free country, and people are free to espouse any agendas they wish — so long as it’s not criminal in nature (as in e.g. the crime of conspiracy). You have no authority over other people’s agendas and cannot set yourself up as the “Agenda Police.” To assume you possess that power is the height of arrogance, not to mention more than a little childish. It’s absolutely hypocritical of you to say, “It’s fine for others to have an ‘agenda,’ but only so long as it’s one I’ve subjectively approved.” 

  28. Dear Citizens of the World, time to get real and promulgate the Great Kibosh, far and wide:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  29. “I’m assuming…” You assume too much. Why would I favor sodomy laws? I don’t want to hear about anyone’s bedroom antics, in or out of court.

    I would prefer everyone to simply go about their lives. I don’t care if they are banging men, women, or billy goats. But don’t expect me to “affirm” your choice of men, women or billy goats, and then call me out as a “bigot” if I don’t.

  30. Never heard of a “snarlword”, or any such claptrap. That sounds like an attempt to delegitimize in advance what I said without ever addressing it. I used it as a perfectly legitimate English word; don’t presume to tell me how I used it. Such arrogance! The “snarling” is in your own poor little imagination. Keep it to yourself, I’m not buying your load of hooey.

    “You have no authority over other people’s agendas and cannot set yourself up as the “Agenda Police”. So I cannot disagree with other people’s agendas? It sounds like YOU are acting as the real “Agenda Police”, telling me, in the height of your PC arrogance, what is and is not approved speech. I care not a fig for your imprimatur.

    As you say, “The US is a free country, and people are free to espouse any agendas they wish…” Amen to that, brother! I freely choose my own agenda, and am free to reject the agenda of others, including your own.

  31. I certainly don’t expect any affirmation from you. That’s a just a story that hyper conservative Christians tell themselves.

    What I want is what I have always said: mind your own business, and keep your theology out of my life. Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one and work to provide alternatives so that women don’t choose abortion. Don’t like gay sex? I haven’t invited you into my bedroom, and no one is telling you that you must have sex with another man. Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get gay married, don’t come to my wedding, and Don’t sent me a gift. Tell a lot of lies about me, how I am a danger to the republic, that my marriage is a danger to society, that I am a threat to children? Don’t be surprised if I push back, and push back hard. Tell me that it’s perfectly fine for you to discriminate against me on the basis of your religious beliefs, contrary to the laws that govern all of us, but whine that I am not allowed to discriminate against you? Expect pushback there as well.

    It’s all very simple.

  32. Agree with a lot of what you said regarding gays. But i don’t care for corporate human relation departments or college diversity officers giving re-education seminars which insist I must be supportive/affirming of lgbt (as opposed to tolerant/fair) , or I am marked as a “bigot” or the equivalent of Hitler. Let us agree to disagree, and try to get along with each other.

    Do not agree concerning abortion, as I consider it to be the unjust taking of an innocent human life,
    a human rights violation.

  33. Re: “Never heard of a ‘snarlword’, or any such claptrap.” 

    Your ignorance is irrelevant to me. 

    Re: “That sounds like an attempt to delegitimize in advance what I said without ever addressing it.” 

    Just like you dismissing what the SPLC says as a vile product of their “radical Left-wing agenda.” 

    Re: “I used it as a perfectly legitimate English word; don’t presume to tell me how I used it.” 

    Don’t tell me what I can and can’t say. 

    Re: “So I cannot disagree with other people’s agendas?” 

    When you use your subjective beliefs about their “agendas” to delegitimize what someone else says, that’s not mere “disagreement.” 

    Re: “It sounds like YOU are acting as the real ‘Agenda Police”‘, telling me, in the height of your PC arrogance, what is and is not approved speech.” 

    I’m not telling you you can’t have an “agenda.” I’m telling you you have one, which means that, for you, spouting off sanctimoniously about others having “agendas” of their own is hypocrisy. 

    Re: “Amen to that, brother! I freely choose my own agenda, and am free to reject the agenda of others, including your own.” 

    Bully for you! Have your “agenda.” Just stop telling other people they can’t have their own. For you to presume to control them based on your subjective assessments of their “agendas” is childish. 

  34. “Just stop telling other people they can’t have their own [agendas].”

    Since I never did that, I cannot “stop” doing it. Stop lying about what I said; no one with less than a three year old’s intelligence (obviously your target audience) would believe you.

    So I guess you find it easier to debate straw men than what people ACTUALLY SAID. Enjoy your conversation with yourself!

  35. Re: “Since I never did that, I cannot ‘stop’ doing it.” 

    You did it by implication. 

    Re: “Stop lying about what I said …” 

    I can’t “stop” doing something I never did. 

    Re: “So I guess you find it easier to debate straw men than what people ACTUALLY SAID.” 

    What YOU “actually said” carries implications. When you decry the statements of groups like the SPLC based on your subjective assessments about their “agendas,” what you’re saying is that — based on those perceived “agendas” — they shouldn’t be allowed to say anything and must remain forever silent. 

    That’s wrong, and flies in the face of the widespread assumption the US is a free country. 

    You can tell me until you’re blue in the face that you don’t want to silence people or groups based on their “agendas,” but in fact, that is precisely what you’ve done. It’s clearly implied in your condemnation of them. 

  36. Still arguing by yourself with your straw man? Have fun!

    Come back when you want to discuss things I ACTUALLY said.

  37. “Like the time when people weren’t ‘pressured to celebrate racism equality’.”

    That assumes that sexual dysfunction and race are alike in kind and quality.

    They demonstrably are not.

  38. Re: “Still arguing by yourself with your straw man?” 

    You’re the one who refuses to acknowledge the clear implications of your own words. Petulantly and childishly whining about me is not going to help you do that. Growing up and admitting it, will. 

  39. Still not paying attention, I see, and still petulantly, and childishly, refusing to take responsibility for your own words. Well done! 

    You, sir, are a prime example of why I am proud to be an ex-Religious Rightist. 

  40. Re: “I read it more as a lament for a time when ‘sexuality wasn’t something broadcasted’, when people weren’t pressured to “celebrate” someone else’s sexuality, and people ‘just went about their lives’.” 

    Not sure I buy this. Sexuality has always been “broadcast,” throughout history! It’s been pictured in art, and described in literature, going back millennia. And what is a marriage at all, except a very-public celebration for two people who are (ostensibly and traditionally) planning to have sex habitually? Are you telling me there’s nothing “broadcast” about that? 

    If what you mean is that Perkins would prefer for gays to keep themselves closeted, consider what that would mean in other venues. There was a time (i.e. the “Jim Crow” era) when African-Americans were required to keep to themselves as well; live in their own neighborhoods, patronize their own shops, work only for each other, attend their own schools, drink only from their own water fountains, etc. When they did have to interact with others, e.g. on city buses, they were required to stay at the back, well away from the precious-snowflake white folk. Was that right? Should we also go back to strict racial segregation? 

    We can’t. Not in the US anyway. It’s now a point of law that this is totally impermissible. So, why would one apply this “closeting” (aka “segregationist”) philosophy anywhere else? 

    Oh wait, I forgot … white evangelicals are usually racists, and would have no problem with reinstituting racial segregation. Forget I said anything. 

    At any rate — the idea that sex has always been “hidden,” therefore gays must remain forever in hiding, is patently absurd because that basic premise is as untrue as it could possibly be. 

Leave a Comment