WASHINGTON – Given his role as America's top diplomat, you never can predict where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might be.
CBN News met him back home in Washington overseeing an important priority: his second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Faith leaders from all over the world have come to the State Department to pursue better ways to fight worldwide religious persecution.
"We know we're blessed here. It's our first freedom, enshrined in the US Constitution. But that's not the case everywhere," Pompeo said.
That's for sure. Religious persecution is on the rise, but the number of refugees allowed into the US to escape is much lower than in previous administrations. Just 30,000 refugees will be gain asylum this year. Pompeo says a goal of this conference is to find solutions so refugees have a better life at home.
"Our mission set has been to try and create the conditions inside their own countries so that they can have that religious freedom. There'll be no need to leave their country, their friends, their people, their church, their synagogue, their mosque; all the things that they know and love."
Religious freedom is an essential human right. To that end, the Trump Administration is creating a new Commission on Unalienable Rights to help specifically define those freedoms. Liberal groups are concerned that it could mean a rollback of certain rights for women and minority groups.
"You know this, David, when you start to say that all, thousands of things, are rights, it diminishes these most fundamental freedoms," Secretary Pompeo said. "It diminishes these essential rights, the right to freedom of worship, the most powerful things that each create our dignity as human beings, and so we're going to go take a good look at that. We're going to ground it in the founding fathers' understanding. We're going to ground it in our Constitution."
Also grounded in the Constitution: a nation of faith.
For Pompeo, this Ministerial on Religious Freedom is personal. His Christian faith is at the center of his life and it compels him to act.
"As a Christian I, we, have these fundamental understandings from the Bible that talk about how you treat other human beings," he said.
That's a subject of criticism for this administration over the treatment of migrant families at detention centers. To handle the record number of illegal immigrants coming to America, the State Department and other agencies have just put in place a "third country rule" requiring immigrants to first apply for asylum in a country they travel through before trying America.
"Every country has a duty and it's under international law, too that says folks who travel have this obligation to stay in the first country that they can go to that is safe if they're seeking asylum," Pompeo told us. "I wish that Congress would pass laws that would make this simpler and more straightforward but the President has directed us each to use each legal method that we can find to try and achieve this outcome so that we can protect American sovereignty and to keep the American people safe."
America's safety and love of country are definitely in the headlines right now. This week President Trump is holding fast after telling certain freshman Congresswomen and others to leave the country if they don't like America. In our interview, Pompeo backed up the President on this issue.
"Look, when a handful of members of Congress say things that are in the tone of the fact that they blame America for so much of the trouble in the world, that's deeply troubling," he said. "We are a force for good in the world, not a force for evil. We are not the cause of these conflicts and I hear these members of Congress talk about this as if America had generated this trouble. And to blame America first for these things is deeply inconsistent with not only our founding and our tradition but with the facts on the ground."
The controversy started with President Trump's tweet saying certain "progressive" Congresswomen should "go back" to their countries if they didn't like it here. Democrats immediately called the President a racist. Pompeo, who is close to Trump, said absolutely not.
"Each and every time we've talked about a particularly difficult situation or how to respond to a threat that's imposed on us, it's been about data and facts, coming up with a set of policy options that are achievable. That is, we believe you have to be realistic, you have to take the world as it is. You can't pretend that something else is going to transpire, that you know is very unlikely. And we've worked on that, and he's done this in every country. He's done this regardless of the race of individuals in that country, the religion. It is about delivering these good outcomes."
He added that race has nothing to do with it. "Never seen it. Not once," Pompeo said.
What he has seen is an administration that has put the religious freedom right at the top of its agenda. That's something Pompeo takes special pride in.
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