Summit Produces a ‘Pentecost’ Moment for International Religious Freedom

First IRF summit led by civilians not governments pulls off bipartisan participation as attendees welcome news on next ambassador.

One word floated forebodingly between parentheses throughout promotional material for the 2021 International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit:

Invited.

Following the names of Nancy Pelosi, Antony Blinken, and Samantha Power, it indicated uncertainty if the key Democratic stalwarts would participate.

As the approximately 1,200 registered attendees arrived, the distributed official program still did not include the current House speaker, secretary of state, or USAID administrator.

However, Mike Pompeo, Blinken’s predecessor at the US State Department, had a keynote address from the stage.

“There were a lot of questions heading into this summit, with a lot of hesitancy from the Biden people,” summit co-chair Sam Brownback told CT. “But we worked hard to make it bipartisan.”

Unlike the previous two ministerial meetings held in Washington, DC (and a third held virtually in Poland), this year’s IRF gathering was organized by civil society, not governments.

Brownback, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom during the Trump administration, was now a private citizen. He partnered with Katrina Lantos Swett, former chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, who was appointed by former Democratic senator Harry Reid.

Brownback chased the Republicans, and Lantos Swett the Democrats. Their friendship, Pam Pryor, senior advisor to the summit, told CT, is the “gold standard” in bipartisan cooperation.

In the end, Lantos Swett was relatively successful. Unable to appear in person, Pelosi, Blinken, and Power all provided prerecorded remarks.

“The summit demonstrates our ironclad commitment to international religious freedom,” stated Pelosi, “which …

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