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International delegations head to D.C. to discuss religious freedom

Plus Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s views on Russia and refugees

President Donald Trump (right) talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Cabinet meeting at the White House Wednesday. Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

International delegations head to D.C. to discuss religious freedom

UNITED STATES: More than 80 countries will send high-level participants to Washington next week for the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The event is a high-water mark for international religious liberty advocates, whose efforts are “much more bipartisan, though smaller” and draw less passion than domestic debates, writes The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein. Vice President Mike Pence will speak at the gathering.

A half-dozen reporters spoke to Pompeo Thursday about the event, one he hopes will emphasize “religious freedom is an individual right, one that should be available to every citizen of the world.” Several questions focused on Russia, and it seemed apparent Pompeo had not been briefed or talked to President Donald Trump about the two-hour discussion on Monday between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Asked whether religious liberty was raised in the Helsinki meeting, Pompeo said, “We’ve spoken with the Russians about religious freedom. … This administration has been incredibly strong with respect to pushing back against Russian bad behavior across its broad range of bad behaviors.” I asked Pompeo about refugees, with State Department numbers showing a 99 percent decline in Christian refugees from the Middle East from 2016 to 2018. Pompeo said the United States has “accepted more refugees than any other country for years and years. We want them to experience religious freedom in their own countries, such that there will be fewer that have to travel to the United States to practice their faith.”

ISRAEL: The Knesset passed a new law with support from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring Israel a Jewish nation-state with Hebrew its official language and Jerusalem its united capital. The language provisions appear to cut both Arabic as an official language—with more than 20 percent Israeli citizens Arab Israelis (1.7 million)—and the more recently designated Aramaic, the language of descendants of the country’s ancient Christian population. One joint Arab-Jewish Knesset leader denounced it as the “death of our democracy.”

RUSSIA: A federal magistrate judge in Washington ordered alleged Russian agent Maria Butina jailed until her trial to prevent her from fleeing the country. Federal prosecutors accuse Butina of communicating with Russian intelligence agents and using religious groups and events—including the National Prayer Breakfast—to influence U.S. officials. Butina is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.

PAKISTAN: The latest polls show cricket star Imran Khan leading ahead of next Wednesday’s presidential election. Khan is a favorite of Pakistan’s military-dominated establishment, but his “knee-jerk anti-Americanism, record of pandering to fundamentalist clerics, and promise to create an ‘Islamic welfare state’ bode ill for Pakistan.” Khan is courting the new and extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party, which calls for tightening already stringent blasphemy laws authorities have used disproportionately against Christians.

TURKEY: The bizarre twists in the Andrew Brunson case show religious freedom has become a nominal right in Turkey, writes Kristina Arriaga, a commissioner with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

NIGERIA: Aid groups and church communities are still scrambling to restore normalcy in predominantly Christian areas of Plateau state after the June 23 Fulani herdsmen attack that killed more than 200 people.

BELGIUM: The scars of World War I in Ypres Salient “are so dense they practically form a contiguous strata in the soil.” At Messines Ridge, a key German stronghold, a remarkable project by archaeologists from former warring sides worked together to recover the remains of 42 German soldiers this year, reports Ypres tour operator Lionel Roosemont.

SWEDEN: More than half of Swedish children—53 percent—live in two-parent households (in the United States, 69 percent do). Without immigrant families, less than 40 percent of Swedish households would comprise intact families.

The worst wildfires in 12 years prompted Sweden to request international help this week. Lack of rain and unusually hot temperatures as far north as the Arctic Circle are allowing more than 40 wildfires to spread.

I’M READING The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan.

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Mindy Belz

Mindy wrote WORLD Magazine’s first cover story in 1986 and went on to serve as international editor, editor, and senior editor. She has covered wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Africa, and the Balkans, and she recounts some of her experiences in They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run From ISIS With Persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Mindy resides with her husband, Nat, in Asheville, N.C.



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