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Denis McDonough’s Address

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Remarks as Prepared for Delivery By Denis McDonough

Deputy National Security Advisor

International Religious Freedom Conference

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Catholic University of America

Washington, D.C.

 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

 

U.S. Policy and International Religious Freedom

 

Good evening.  Your Eminence, Cardinal McCarrick, thank you for your very

kind introduction.  Even more, thank you for your leadership as one of our

nation’s most eloquent voices for religious freedom and tolerance—here at

home and around the world.  As the tragic events of the past 24 hours remind

us, we need such voices now more than ever.

 

Indeed, before I begin I want to reiterate what President Obama and

Secretary Clinton said earlier today.  The attack on our consulate in Libya—

and the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans—was an

outrage; an act of senseless violence without any justification.  Our

thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Americans we lost, with

our diplomats and development experts who represent our nation every day,

and we reaffirm our determination to carry on their work.

 

That includes building a world that is safer, more secure and the work that

brings us together here: a world where the dignity of all people—and all

faiths—is respected.  This work takes on added urgency given the truly

abhorrent video that has offended so many people–Muslims, and non-Muslims

alike—in our country and around the world.  So I want to commend Cardinal

Dolan and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for your powerful

statement today that “we need to be respectful of other religious traditions

at the same time that we unequivocally proclaim that violence in the name of

religion is wrong,”  This message is being echoed by faith leaders across

our country, and we call on religious and community leaders, and all people

of good conscience, to continue speaking out publicly so we make it

absolutely clear that hateful and divisive messages do not reflect the

United States of America or our values.

 

So to Archbishop Kurtz, Cardinal McCarrick, Bishop Pates, Monsignor Jenkins

and everyone at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—thank you for

convening this discussion and for your tireless efforts to advance religious

freedom around the world—not only for Catholics and Christians, but for

people of all faiths.  I’m grateful to be among friends, including your

director of justice and peace, Dr. Steve Colecchi.  On behalf of President

Obama, I especially want to thank you for your partnership as we’ve worked

together on a whole range of challenges, including Sudan and South Sudan,

Cuba and Iraq.

 

To Bishop Kicanas, Carolyn Woo and everyone at Catholic Relief Services—

thank you for co-sponsoring this conference and for the life-saving work you

do around the world every day.  In particular, I want to commend you for

your mission—which we share in the United States government—to deliver

urgent medical care and emergency relief to Syrian refugees, a cause that

will receive renewed attention as Pope Benedict visits Lebanon.

 

I want to express our appreciation to President Garvey, Provost Brennan and

the Catholic University of America for hosting us and for your dedication to

“advancing the dialogue between faith and reason.”  I actually see this

tradition every day.  One of your graduates, Tom Donilon, the President’s

National Security Advisor, is my boss.  And I can attest—Tom has a lot of

faith and reason!

 

Finally, I want to acknowledge a leader who is guiding our efforts in this

area—a minister and faith leader in her own right—our dedicated Ambassador

at Large for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook.  Suzan,

thank you for being here.

 

Being with you tonight, my mind goes back to growing up in Stillwater,

Minnesota—a young boy, sitting in the pews at our home parish of St. Mike’s.

Back then, in my wildest dreams, I could have never imagined the journey

that has brought me here today.  I couldn’t have imagined traveling with

then-Senator Obama to Jerusalem, home to holy sites of three of the world’s

great religions.  I couldn’t have imagined traveling with President Obama,

the First Lady and their daughters to the Holy See, to the Apostolic Palace,

to meet His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.  And I could have never imagined

standing before such an august audience as this.

 

I come to you today as President Obama’s deputy national security advisor.

But I also stand before you as a proud Catholic, deeply grateful for all

that the Church has given me in my life.  I’m one of eleven kids for whom

Sunday, after Mass, meant afternoons at church festivals.  I’m indebted to

the teachers who shaped me—from the Sisters of St. Joseph at St. Croix

Catholic elementary to the monks of St. John’s in Minnesota to my professors

at Georgetown.  As a husband, father and public servant, I’m thankful for

the counsel and wisdom of my older brothers—Bill, who was a priest, and

Kevin, who is a priest.

 

I’m also honored to serve a President—a brother in Christ—whose faith has

been a guiding force in his own life.  President Obama has described how his

earliest inspirations were faith leaders of the civil rights movement,

including Dr. King, and Catholic leaders like Father Ted Hesburgh.

 

In fact, the President first entered public service through the Catholic

Church.  His work as a young community organizer on the South Side of

Chicago was funded in part by the Catholic churches of Chicago and their

Developing Communities Project.  He was inspired by the sermons and example

of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.  He was touched by the generosity of

congregations, of different faiths—in part, he admits, because he was broke

and they fed him.  As President Obama has said—after growing up in a

household that wasn’t particularly religious—it was that experience, working

with pastors and laypeople in service to others, that brought him to Christ.

 

Those of you who have attended the National Prayer breakfasts or Easter

prayer at the White House or our interfaith events have heard the President

speak of how he draws strength and comfort from prayer.  As a close advisor,

I’ve also seen how the President’s faith informs both his thinking and how

he confronts the challenges facing our nation.

 

As he’s said, “we can’t leave our values at the door.”  You see this in the

core beliefs that are at the root of his world view.  That we are all God’s

children.  That we are summoned to a sense of empathy—to see ourselves in

each other.  That—as he said at Notre Dame— we are “bound together in

service to others,” especially the least of these.  That in all our work, we

must be guided by that Golden Rule—that we do unto others as we would have

them do unto us.

 

Foreign policy is no exception.  The President has discussed how many of our

initiatives—promoting the development that lifts people from poverty,

strengthening the food security that reduces hunger, combating disease,

working to prevent atrocities in places like Libya and in central Africa—

these efforts advance American security and American interests.  At the same

time, they are rooted in the Biblical call to care for our fellow human

beings.

 

I share all this because the President’s faith—and his faith journey—is the

foundation for how he approaches the challenge of defending the freedom of

religion around the world.  And while I know this conference is focused on

freedom of religion internationally, I want to take a moment to discuss what

this means here in the United States.  Because President Obama has made it

clear that American leadership in the world starts at home, with fidelity to

our values.

 

President Obama understands that, as a nation founded by those who fled

religious persecution, freedom of religion is central to who we are as

Americans.  Our rights are not given to us by government, they are endowed

by our Creator.  We recognize, as does the Church, that we cannot live our

lives to their fullest—as authentic people—without the freedom to be true to

ourselves, including the right to worship as we choose.

 

Freedom of religion is enshrined in our Constitution, our very First

Amendment.  “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and

non-believers,” the President said in his Inaugural Address, and this

“patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.”  We were reminded of

this yesterday, as we marked the anniversary of the September 11th attacks,

and again today, when the President said that “we reject all efforts to

denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”

 

Indeed, it’s no coincidence that the United States is one of the freest

countries in the world and one of the most religious countries in the world.

From our Revolution to the abolition of slavery to the movements for women’s

rights and children’s rights and civil rights—our most significant reform

movements have often been led by men and women of faith.

 

Today, faith leaders and laypeople are at the forefront of the fights for

immigration reform in our own country and against poverty, mass atrocities,

human trafficking and modern day slavery around the world.  So President

Obama understands that freedom of religion—and the freedoms that go along

with it: freedom of expression, freedom of assembly—is what allows us to

advance as a nation.

 

This is one of the reasons the President expanded and strengthened the White

House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships—to make sure we’re

working closely with groups like Catholic Charities to better serve and lift

up our fellow Americans.  The strength that religion gives our nation is

also why—when Americans, or their houses of worship, have been targeted

because of their faith—President Obama has condemned such bigotry.  He’s

reaffirmed that every American has the right to practice their faith both

openly and freely, and that an attack on Americans of any faith is an attack

on the freedom of all Americans.

 

Even as we uphold the freedom of religion at home, we recognize that it is

not simply an American value.  It is a universal human right.  It is

codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—which

167 nations have committed to adhere to—and it is reflected in the Universal

Declaration of Human Rights.

 

Freedom of religion is central to the freedom and dignity of human beings —

our transcendental dignity.  At the same time, freedom of religion is not

only an end in itself, it is a key ingredient for stable, successful

societies and a just world.  We know that countries that truly protect

religious freedom are more likely to develop and prosper.  They’re more

likely to have stable democracies.  They’re more likely to protect the

rights of women and girls.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  After all, when

citizens can practice their faith freely, when they can find dignity and

fulfillment in worshiping as they choose, it’s easier for neighbors and

communities to come together to achieve progress together.  As the title of

this conference says, religious freedom is “an imperative for peace and the

common good.”

 

Likewise, we know that the lack of religious freedom—or discriminating

against people because of their faith–can be a recipe for instability.

When people of faith are denied the opportunity to worship freely, or

assemble in fellowship, grievances fester.  It creates fissures and mistrust

between faiths and sects.  It fuels sectarianism as people pull back to the

perceived safety of their fellow believers.  It emboldens extremists.  It

can increase instability and the likelihood of violence and war.  We’ve seen

this throughout history.  We’ve seen it during conflicts in our own time,

from Northern Ireland to Lebanon to the Balkans.  And we see the tensions it

causes today.

 

In China, government policies in Tibetan areas threaten the distinct

religious, cultural and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people, creating

tensions and contributing to a situation where dozens of desperate Tibetans

have resorted to self-immolation.  In Burma, preferential treatment for

Buddhists and prejudice against ethnic South Asians, particularly ethnic

Rohingya Muslims, fuels tensions between the Buddhist majority and Christian

and Muslim minorities.  In Pakistan, blasphemy laws and failures or delays

in addressing religious hostility has fueled acts of violence and

intimidation and emboldened violent extremists.

 

Put simply, religious pluralism, tolerance and freedom can help promote

stability, security, development and democratic progress.  And the lack of

religious freedom is itself destabilizing.  As Pope Benedict observed in his

Message for last year’s World Day of Peace, the absence of religious freedom

“is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of

authentic and integral human development.”

 

For all these reasons, advancing religious freedom around the world is not

only consistent with our values as Americans, it advances our national

security interests.  This is formalized in the President Obama’s National

Security Strategy.  The Strategy states—and I quote—“the United States

believes certain values are universal and will work to promote them

worldwide. These include an individual’s freedom to speak their mind,

assemble without fear, [and] worship as they please.”  As Secretary Clinton

has said, for the United States “religious freedom is a cherished

constitutional value, a strategic national interest, and a foreign policy

priority.”

 

This starts at the highest levels, at the very top, with the President

himself.  Through his words and his deeds, President Obama has been a fierce

advocate for the cause of religious freedom around the world—in public and

in private.  I know, because I’ve been there, and I’ve seen it.

 

On his first trip overseas as President, during his visit to Istanbul, he

met with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, Armenian Orthodox Archbishop

Aran Stesyan, Chief Rabbi of Istanbul Isak Haleva, Grand Mufti of Istanbul

Mustafa Cagrici and Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yusuf Cetin.  And in his

speech to the Turkish parliament, he publicly called on Turkey to reopen the

Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary in Istanbul—a message that President Obama and

other senior administration officials have raised with their Turkish

counterparts on numerous occasions.

 

When he went to Cairo and addressed Muslim communities around the world,

President Obama memorably called for a new beginning between Muslim

communities and the United States.  But often overlooked was his forceful

call for religious freedom in the Arab world.  “The richness of religious

diversity must be upheld,” he said, “whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon

or the Copts in Egypt.”  I would add that, more recently, as the Arab Spring

has unfolded, including in Egypt, President Obama has been clear that “for

this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to

worship freely.”

 

Also often forgotten is that he also used his speech in Cairo to condemn

anti-Semitism and denial of the Holocaust, which he called ignorant and

hateful, and he called upon nations to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and its

right to exist in peace.  In addition, he spoke out against the practice in

some Western countries of dictating what clothes Muslim women can and cannot

wear. “We can’t disguise hostility towards any religion,” he warned, “behind

the pretense of liberalism.”

 

When he went to China, and spoke in Shanghai, the President was unapologetic

about our advocacy for universal rights such as the freedom of religion.

“They should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious

minorities,” he said, “whether they are in the United States, China, or any

nation.”  And I assure you, when he has met with Chinese President Hu and

Vice President Xi Jinping, President Obama has spoken directly and candidly

about the importance of China upholding human rights, including the freedom

of religion.

 

In fact, at virtually every stop on his travels—from Brazil to Ghana, from

India to Indonesia, to the well of the United Nations General Assembly—

President Obama has called upon people of all faiths to remember our common

humanity; and to overcome differences of tribe and faith and sect, mindful,

as he said in his Nobel address, that the “spark of the divine lives within

each of us.”

 

In short, time and again—personally, forcefully, in public and in private—

President Obama has stood up for the freedom of religion around the world,

as he did again today.  In addition to meeting with faith leaders who

champion religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, he’s visited houses of

worship, such as the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior in San

Salvador, where he paid his respects to Archbishop Oscar Romero.  And I know

that when they were in Rio, the President and his family were moved by their

visit to the iconic statue Christ the Redeemer, which has inspired so many

people around the world.

 

Beyond the President, Secretary Clinton has elevated religious freedom as a

diplomatic priority.  Secretary Clinton raises this issue in every region of

the world, at the highest levels.  In addition to Ambassador Cook, this

truly is a team effort.  In Michael Posner—our Assistant Secretary of State

for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor—we have a lifelong advocate for human

rights, including religious freedom.

 

Rashad Hussain—our Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation—

and Farah Pandith—our Special Representative to Muslim Communities—advocate

for religious freedom as part of their engagement with Muslim communities

around the world.  Led by Hannah Rosenthal—who has served as our Special

Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism—we are standing up against the

rising tide of anti-Semitism.  That includes a remarkable event in which we

brought religious leaders—including several imams—to visit Auschwitz and

Dachau.  As a result of that visit, these interfaith leaders joined in a

powerful statement condemning all forms of anti-Semitism, including

Holocaust denial.

 

Our efforts have taken on a new sense of urgency because—as we all know—

around the world, freedom of religion is under threat.  In many countries,

the pressure—the restrictions, the suppression, the persecution of and

violence against religious minorities—is increasing.  Today, more than one

billion people live under governments that systematically suppress religious

freedom—more than one billion people.  It’s been estimated that the vast

majority of the world’s people—some 70 percent—live in countries with

serious restrictions on religious freedom.

 

Our most recent report on international religious freedom, released by

Secretary Clinton in July, documents this disturbing and growing trend.

Specifically, it documents eight states of particular concern because of

their severe violations of religious freedom—Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran,

North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

 

With the remainder of my time tonight I’d like to address several countries

that I know are of special interest to this conference.  And I want to

discuss the actions that the Obama Administration is taking in response—

sometimes in public, sometimes in private, but always guided by our

commitment to pursuing the most effective way to achieve results for those

who are persecuted because of their faith.

 

In Asia, China continues to outlaw and imprison the worshippers of religious

and spiritual groups, including unregistered Christian churches and Tibetan

Buddhists.  In addition to the President’s personal advocacy and engagement

that I’ve already mentioned, the need for China to uphold the freedom of

religion is a key element at other levels of our engagement with China.  At

our annual Human Rights Dialogue with China, for example, religious freedom

has been one of the main agenda items. And we brought Chinese officials to

meet with Cardinal McCarrick and Catholic Charities to see how religious

organizations provide critical social services.  Going forward, we will

continue to urge China to uphold universal rights, including freedom of

religion, as a vital ingredient of a stable and prosperous society.

 

In Burma, while some restrictions on religious activity have been eased,

others remain, including the continued imprisonment of Buddhist monks. As

part of our broader engagement to encourage reform, our new ambassador to

Burma continues to work on behalf of justice and dignity for victims of

religious persecution.  In Vietnam, despite some progress, threats and

harassment of the faithful continue—in particular, against Christians—and

worshipers are imprisoned, including Father Nguyen Van Ly. We therefore

continue to maintain close contact with religious leaders and dissidents,

and have made religious freedom a focus of the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights

Dialogue.

 

In Africa, sustained American diplomacy—including direct personal engagement

by President Obama himself—helped to avert a catastrophe in Sudan and usher

in the birth of the world’s newest nation, a free and independent South

Sudan.  And our efforts continue as we urge both Sudan and South Sudan to

protect religious minorities and resolve their differences peacefully.

 

Meanwhile, in Nigeria both Christians and Muslims continue to live in fear

of attacks by the extremist sect Boko Haram, and the incitement of communal

violence at times goes unpunished.  We therefore continue to engage with

Nigerian religious leaders, scholars and government officials to promote

interfaith dialogue, advance religious reconciliation and bring perpetrators

of violence to justice.

 

Across the Middle East and Southwest Asia—as today’s events in the region

remind us—we need to continue working on behalf of a future where people of

different faiths live side by side in peace—as they have done in many cities

and communities for many centuries.  In Iran, we welcome the release of

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faced execution solely because he refuses to

recant his Christian faith.  And we continue to call upon Iran to release

those in prison simply because of their religious beliefs and to end the

suppression of religious minorities, including Sufi Muslims, the Baha’i and

Christians.  In Iraq, where recent years have seen outrageous attacks on the

faithful—including Shia pilgrims and Christians—we continue to work closely

with our Iraqi partners on behalf of an Iraq where all faiths and all sects

are protected.

 

In Afghanistan, we welcomed the release last year of two converts from Islam

who had been charged with apostasy and sentenced to death.  And our work to

build an enduring partnership with the Afghan people includes a commitment

to the security and dignity of all Afghans, regardless of sect or faith.  In

Pakistan, we welcome the release of the young Christian girl charged with

blasphemy, and we welcome the steps Islamabad has taken to recognize

religious minorities and promote national harmony.  Still, we continue to

call on Pakistan to end the mistreatment of minorities and reform blasphemy

laws.

 

And, of course, this Arab Spring and the transitions now underway in several

countries present both opportunities and urgent challenges when it comes to

freedom of religion.  This includes Egypt.  We were all inspired last year

by the images in Tahrir Square—Egyptians coming together, Muslims and

Christians, to demand change; Christians protecting Muslims in prayer, and

Muslims protecting Christians during Mass.  Since then, we’ve seen some

signs of greater inclusiveness, including a new anti-discrimination law and

the re-opening of some churches.  President Morsi has pledged to be a

president for all Egyptians, and we will continue to look to him to follow

through on that commitment.

 

Unfortunately, even before yesterday’s protest at our embassy, we’ve also

seen a troubling rise in sectarianism and violence.  Innocent Egyptians,

including Coptic Christians, have lost their lives.  And while some alleged

instigators of rioting and violence have been prosecuted, others have not.

As we’ve seen around the world, when justice is not administered equally and

fairly it deepens resentments, risks further instability and makes it harder

for citizens to come work together for democratic and economic progress.

 

Protecting religious freedom and religious minorities in Egypt is therefore

a key element of our engagement with Cairo.  President Obama has raised it

in his conversations with Egyptian leaders, including the right of

Christians to build churches.  Secretary Clinton discussed it with President

Morsi and representatives of Christian communities during her visit in July.

It is a constant focus of Ambassador Patterson and our embassy staff, as it

has been again over the past 24 hours.

 

Last month, Rashad Hussain led an interfaith delegation to Egypt that

included Father Moises Bogdady, Senior Priest and Hegomen at the Coptic

Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, and Imam Mohamed Magid, President of

the Islamic Society of North America.  And earlier this week I called Samir

Morkos, President Morsi’s adviser on the democratic transition – and himself

a Copt – to express our commitment to working with him and the Egyptian

government on our shared interests.

 

As President Obama has said many times, the future of Egypt belongs to the

people of that proud nation.  So too in Syria.  As we continue to support

the aspirations of the Syrian people to determine their own future without

President Assad, we’ll continue to call for an inclusive Syria that protects

the rights of all Syrians, regardless of their religious identity.  In

Egypt, Libya, Syria, and all of the Arab Spring countries in transition, the

United States will continue to stand for a set of principles that history

shows leads to progress and opportunity.  That includes the protection of

universal rights, including the freedom of religion.  For these transitions

to succeed, and for these countries to achieve their full potential, all

faiths must be respected and protected.

 

Closer to home, in Cuba, there has been some easing of restrictions on faith

groups, but significant repression continues.  For example, during Pope

Benedict’s visit to Cuba in March, authorities conducted a deliberate

campaign of incarceration and harassment to silence the opposition and

prevent activists, journalists and dissidents from attending religious

events.  Worshippers, including Damas de Blanco, have been assaulted by

government sponsored mobs or detained to prevent them from attending church.

It happened again just last week as Cubans sought to mark the anniversary of

Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity.

 

Under President Obama’s leadership, we’ve therefore worked to help give the

Cuban people more independence from Cuban authorities.  We’ve made it easier

for Americans by removing restrictions and allowing nearly unlimited

religious remittances to Cuba.  We’ve made it easier for faith groups to

travel to Cuba in support of the Cuban people and civil society.  Going

forward, we’ll continue to look for ways to help the Cuban people realize

the freedom and liberty they deserve.

 

Beyond our efforts in specific countries, we’ve advanced the cause of

religious freedom through a variety of multilateral fora.  We have continued

to oppose efforts, including at the United Nations, to ban the so-called

“defamation of religion” because we believe that such measures, including

blasphemy laws, can be wielded to silence free expression and suppress

religious minorities.

 

Instead, after many years of stalemate, we worked successfully with

governments, international organizations and civil society at the U.N. Human

Rights Council to pass the landmark Resolution 16/18 to protect people

around the world who are targeted because of their faith.  It calls on

nations to take concrete actions against religious bigotry, and it

eliminates previous language that sought to penalize “defamation,” which

undermined free speech and expression.  Instead, it recognizes that the open

debate of ideas and interfaith dialogue “can be among the best protections

against religious intolerance.”

 

Building on this progress, Secretary Clinton and the OIC Secretary General

last year brought together some 20 nations, international organizations and

the Vatican in Istanbul to focus on combating religious intolerance.  The

United States hosted a follow-on meeting to pursue specific steps we can

take—as individual nations and as an international community.  And through

this “Istanbul Process” we’ll continue to work with our international

partners to reduce religious bigotry, discrimination and violence.

 

For our part—and in partnership with you—the United States will continue to

encourage the interfaith dialogue that promotes understanding around the

world.  This includes interfaith delegations, like those I’ve already

mentioned.   It includes campaigns like 2012 Hours Against Hate in which we

encourage young people to pledge their time to help a person of another

faith, culture or tradition.  It includes “interfaith diplomacy” and

outreach events organized by our dedicated embassy staffs around the world.

And it includes conferences like the one we are supporting in Morocco later

this year, which will bring together faith leaders to address minority

rights in Muslim-majority countries.

 

Finally, we’ll continue to encourage the interfaith cooperation that brings

different religions together to meet shared challenges.  As with our

faith-based initiatives here in the United States, we recognize that

religious leaders and organizations are uniquely positioned to serve

communities in need, whether it’s health, education, development or conflict

prevention.

 

So, for example, we’ve worked with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

in the effort to eradicate polio and respond to the famine in Somalia and

the drought across the Horn of Africa.   Through USAID, more than 90

faith-based organizations have pledged to support the most impactful health

interventions that save the lives of children around the world.  And

building on the President’s Interfaith Campus Challenge here in the U.S.,

we’re encouraging students abroad to come together, across faiths, in

service to their communities.

 

The focus of such efforts is on the tangible benefits they deliver in our

daily lives. Still, the lesson is unmistakable—our security, prosperity and

dignity as human beings are advanced when members of different religions

partner on common challenges.  As such, faith-based organizations will

continue to be indispensable partners of the President’s development agenda.

In closing, let me say that for President Obama and those of us serving in

his administration, protecting and advancing the freedom of religion will

remain a foreign policy priority.  As he has said, this is not just an

American right; it is a universal human right.  And we will defend the

freedom of religion, here at home and around the world.  We do this, not

only because it is in our national security interests, we do it because it

is right.  As President Obama has noted, Scripture gives us the

responsibility to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for

the rights of all who are destitute.”

 

I, for one, am reminded of the words of St. Augustine.  “Pray as though

everything depended on God,” he said, “work as though everything depended on

you.”  In the good and necessary work that brings us here tonight—and as we

mourn the violence and loss of life over the past 24 hours—I pray that the

God-given rights and liberties we cherish here in America will be enjoyed by

more and more people of the world.  Yet I’m mindful—as is the President—that

this will not happen on its own.  It depends on people—of all faiths— who

are willing to stand up for these freedoms when they are threatened. It

depends on us.  On behalf of President Obama and those of us in his

Administration, we are proud to be your partners in this important work.