United Nations

President Trump isn’t known as a champion of human rights, but on Monday he became the first American president to convene a meeting at the United Nations on religious freedom. He kicked off the U.N. General Assembly’s annual session with a “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom.”

Flanked by Secretary-General António Guterres and Vice President Mike Pence, the president declared: “No right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, flourishing society than religious freedom, yet it is rare around the world. As we speak, many people of faith are being jailed, murdered, often at the hands of their own government.” More than 80% of the world’s population lived in nations that restrict religious freedom as of 2009, and the situation hasn’t improved, according to Pew Research.

Mr. Trump’s call to action was the culmination of a series of advances on international religious freedom over the past two years. U.S. officials at the U.N. have repeatedly issued statements indicating that religious freedom is America’s top human-rights priority. In July the State Department hosted its second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington. Officials from more than 100 countries and more than 1,000 civil-society leaders gathered to discuss the subject. Mr. Trump played a pivotal role in several religious-freedom victories, including the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian accused of blasphemy, and the freeing of Pastor Andrew Brunson after two years in Turkish captivity. Mr. Brunson attended Monday’s event.

At the U.N., Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. is committing $25 million to religious-freedom efforts and launching a coalition of businesses for religious freedom. A few weeks ago the administration launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, the first international body devoted to advancing religious freedom. The alliance is intended to “build on efforts to date and bring like-minded countries together to confront challenges of international religious freedom,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in his keynote address at the July ministerial.

After the U.S. pulled out from the U.N. Human Rights Council last year, some wondered if the U.S. would withdraw from the U.N. altogether. Mr. Trump has now made clear that he intends to engage the U.N. system where it has potential to make a positive impact on those suffering human-rights abuses, particularly abuses of the right to freedom of religion. As the president said, it’s an issue of “urgent moral duty” for all nations.

Ms. Zorzi is president of the U.N.’s NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief and director of advocacy for global religious freedom for ADF International.

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