The National Prayer Breakfast, a yearly event first held in 1953, is the largest gathering of religious leaders from across America and around the world held in Washington, D.C. The series of meetings, luncheons and dinners is always hosted by two members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican. It attracts leaders from state capitols, large Christian faith-based NGOs and ministries, international faith leaders, parliamentarians from around the world, and more. For the first time ever, events taking place throughout the week had a theme and it was International Religious Freedom. This represented an unparalleled opportunity to engage leaders with large constituencies on fundamental human rights issues around issues based on faith, belief, or religious identities.
A program co-hosted by 21Wilberforce and the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum titled “Religious Persecution 75 Years after the Holocaust,” focused on persecution of religious minorities. Even though the Holocaust ended nearly 75 years ago, persecution continues to this day against Jews, Christians, Yazidis, Muslims, Rohingya and others.
Naomi Kikoler, director of the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, moderated the event. She noted early warning signs that preceded acts of genocide against some of the communities represented— restriction of human rights, discrimination, dehumanizing language, and violent acts.
Senator Jacky Rosen (D) Nevada and Senator James Lankford (R) Oklahoma, Co-chairs of the Senate Task Force on Combating Anti-Semitism, each spoke on our responsibility to our neighbors, to our friends, to our community, and to our children to work together in a bipartisan way to prevent anti-Semitism before it starts – to educate, to explain, and to empower.
Speakers representing multiple faiths that have been targeted around the world discussed patterns of persecution and opportunities to engage on atrocity prevention. They included Yasmin Ullah, president of the Rohingya Human Rights Network; Nawaf Ashur from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and board member of the Free Yezidi Foundation; Loay Mikhael, head of foreign relations with the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council; Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project; and Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid
21Wilberforce Founder and President, Dr. Randel Everett, encouraged those attending and watching online to listen, learn and speak out against persecution. “Whether you are a faith leader, a student, a business professional, a teacher, a government official or staff, an office worker…whatever your position or status, those marginalized and persecuted need you. As Americans, we have a Congress who listens, a State Department that represents our interests, and networks within our local and faith communities that can be leveraged for the advancement of religious freedom. We can all do something to help stem the tide.”
You can watch the program here.
INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM HEADLINES
An estimated 5 million people from 26 states in Nigeria participated in a three-day fast concluding in a prayer walk. Launched on January 29 to protest the beheading of Brethren pastor Lawan Andimi, the chairman of a regional CAN chapter in Adamawa state, by Boko Haram two weeks earlier, the event drew attention to the Nigerian government’s failure to stop the abductions and killings.
Twenty-six countries have joined with the United States to launch the International Religious Freedom Alliance. The formation of the Alliance marks the first time in history an international coalition has come together at a national leadership level to push the issue of religious freedom forward around the world.
During our National Prayer Breakfast sideline event on religious persecution representatives from five religious groups affected by severe religious persecution identified the most pressing issues facing their communities and shared how we can help.
WHAT WE ARE READING
Erin Rodewald, a Los Angeles-based researcher, analyst, and former Digital Editor for 21Wilberforce, writes a thoughtful blog focused on international religious freedom, civil society, community engagement, foreign policy, and American politics.
A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew-The Faith Club. Free Press. This book about Americans searching for faith and mutual respect weaves the story of three women, their three religions, and their urgent quest to understand one another. Published in 2007, this book is still timely, deeply thoughtful, and full of hope.