Ambassador Remarks at Bangladesh Christian Association

Thank you President Rozario and the Bangladesh Christian Association for your kind invitation to celebrate the occasion of the association’s Golden Jubilee.  Congratulations to the Association for reaching this special milestone, and for the success you have achieved in assisting Christians throughout Bangladesh since 1967.  Well done.

During my time as U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh I have visited multiple Christian churches, Muslim mosques, and Hindu and Buddhist temples, all across the country.  Every time I visit a religious site, I am encouraged to see the freedom Bangladeshis have to practice their individual faiths.  It is encouraging to see this respect for religious freedom, and respect for the rights of individual Bangladeshis to follow their consciences.  Both the Bangladeshi laws and constitution protect religious minorities and seek to create harmony among all faiths.

The United States strongly supports and admires the goal and spirit of these efforts.  As President Trump said during the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom this past July, “Each of us has the right to follow the dictates of our conscience and the demands of our religious conviction.”  This protection is enshrined in the U.S constitution, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Today, I would also like to call greater attention to communities of faith across the country and the world that have suffered terrible acts of violence in their places of worship.  Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and others have faced violence and persecution, simply for expressing their deeply held religious beliefs.

We remain greatly concerned by the government’s highly repressive campaign against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang, including detention in concentration camp-like conditions.  We welcome all partners from all faiths to press and urge China to end the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of the people in Xinjiang.

Too often, people in positions of power preach diversity while ignoring, silencing, shunning, or censoring the faithful.  True tolerance means respecting the right of all people to express their beliefs, or even their lack of faith.

Continued religious persecution around the globe prompts the United States to continue our fight to combat intolerance and religious prejudice.  This past summer, the State Department hosted its second Religious Freedom Ministerial, during which more than 100 governments and religious leaders – including President Nirmol Rozario – committed to fight religious persecution.  Just last week, I announced an additional allocation of $127 million in humanitarian assistance, beyond the over $500 million the United States had already provided for Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution.

We are all interconnected and accountable to one other, and responsible for protecting each individual’s right to religious expression.  It does not matter whom you worship, or how you do it.  We must all look deep inside ourselves and fight not just prejudice, but also the more insidious sin of indifference.

About thirty years ago, Holocaust survivor and philosopher Elie Wiesel accepted the Nobel Peace Prize and warned the world about the dangers of indifference.  He said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.  We must take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  Sometimes we must interfere.  Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

And so, today, in closing, I want to commend all of you for your work and for the successes you have accomplished in supporting faith communities.  You have not been silent.  And so, as you look forward to the next fifty years, I urge you to continue working to protect communities of every faith.  As President Rozario recently told me, “We have the responsibility for the next generation where people can live without any hate speech.”  I completely agree.    I look forward to partnering with your association, and all faith-based organizations in our fight to eliminate religious intolerance, and promote acceptance.

Thank you.