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Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain Addresses the Opening Plenary

Ambassador Rashad Hussain addressed the Opening Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

August 14, 2023 (Transcript) – Good morning, what a beautiful, beautiful audience. I can’t think of a group that represents our country better than you, and I can’t think of a group that represents our world better than you. 

And I have to say, the choir so beautifully captures the spirit of this incredible city, and I could sit here and listen to them all day. It’s truly an honor to be with you among such incredible leaders from all around the globe, including the mayor of the city, Mayor Johnson. I want to thank him and I want to thank you all for your wonderful hospitality. 

This is a city that’s known around the world, not just for bringing us one of the greatest and most beautiful skylines that we have on our planet, not only for bringing us Michael Jordan, President Obama, some of the world’s greatest universities and scholars, Nobel laureates, but also the birth of the modern interfaith movement. 

This is also the city that my own father came to when he came to the United States. He grew up in a village with no electricity in India, and came to the United States first to Chicago in the late 1960s, 130 years after the world’s first Parliament right here in Chicago, and 25 years after the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act, we meet again at a crossroads. 

Religious freedom is challenged. It’s challenged in so many places around the world, but the growing movement that you all represent is responding. And your movement is growing stronger and stronger as evidenced by all of you who are gathered here today.

Chicago is also one of the most diverse cities in the world, including one of the most religiously diverse cities. And it is a testament to the principles that we stand for when we answer the following question, which is, who are you as Americans? Who are you as the United States to stand up for human rights and for religious freedom for people everywhere in the world?

I believe we are uniquely situated to answer that question for a number of reasons. 

First of all, many of our founding fathers of our great country came to the United States themselves fleeing religious persecution. And religious freedom was so important to them that they ingrained, they enshrined in our Constitution a bill of rights that begins with the First Amendment, which promises us all the freedom of religion.

We are also a country that is made up of people from literally every corner of this planet. And when they come here to the United States, they don’t forget where they came from. They advocate, they stand up to defend the rights of their families, of their loved ones, from wherever they came. And they speak clearly to us as government officials, and they would have no other way than for us to stand up and to defend religious freedom for all people around the world.

So when this question is asked, who are you to defend religious freedom, in many ways the answer is that we are representatives of people from all around the world here in the United States and we will never shy away from defending our values all around the world I’m honored to serve on behalf of the American people for President Biden for Secretary Blinken and to stand up for human rights and for religious freedom everywhere and to continue a bipartisan tradition of exposing countering and preventing violations of religious freedom around the world. I do so working closely with my predecessors Ambassador Sam Brownback, Ambassador David Saperstein and others and I think it sends a powerful signal around the world that the last three ambassadors for religious freedom are from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslims communities. It sends a powerful signal about what our country represents and we stand up for the rights of all people everywhere regardless of their beliefs. 

As a part of our work every day it is our job to expose the oppression that is occurring around the world each year our office issues a report that goes country by country and outlines the repression that people face so if you ever wonder whether the oppression of any people in any part of the world escapes our attention the answer is in those reports that we issue every single year. We’re also steadfast and standing up for individuals who are facing persecution. It’s not uncommon that in the middle of the night we receive messages about someone who may be unfairly detained or imprisoned and we know that every minute every hour that we wait can cost that person their lives.

And so we do this work of communicating with governments and working with civil society around the world to address discriminatory laws and discriminatory policies including the use of apostasy laws including the use of blasphemy laws. And we’re working to counter the dangerous tide of restrictions that we’re seeing on religious freedom around the world including the scourge of anti-semitism.

I traveled recently with our second gentleman Douglas Emhoff to the Holocaust sites along with our anti -semitism envoy, Professor Deborah Lipstadt, as we’ve done with delegations of religious leaders from around the world. We’re standing up against anti-Muslim hatred that we’re seeing as well. We have recognized that the two most recently declared genocides and crimes against humanity are occurring against Rohingya and the Uyghurs at the hands of the People’s Republic of China.

We’re also deeply involved in efforts to prevent and to educate one of the most important declarations that you all have led as religious leaders was in 2016 the Marrakesh Declaration which is a declaration on the rights of people of all faiths particularly in Muslim majority countries.

It was you that came together as civil society leaders and made that happen. So this work is impossible without you, without your expertise, without your leadership. It is necessary to address some of the most pressing challenges that our planet faces, including the climate crisis, poverty, attacks on human rights, challenges to development, and the rise in hate fueled violence. 

Later today, in addition to visiting with many of you, I’ll have the chance to go to see the Inner City Muslim Action Network, right here in the South Side of Chicago, that is a testament on the ground to so much of the work that you’re doing, and represents the transformative impact that we can have as we’re driven by our values that are rooted in faith as we address some of the major challenges that we face.

So now is a critical time. It is not a time for us to be fixated on our differences, but it is a time for us to come together, recognizing that we don’t seek uniformity. We celebrate our differences, we celebrate our traditions, but we must have a unity and purpose.

And as all of you are gathered here today, I ask that you continue to work together, and we’re honored to continue to work with you as we build partnerships that will be essential to addressing the challenges of our time.

 Thank you so very much. Thank you for being here, and for all the work that you’re doing.

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