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Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Speaks at 4th Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom

Michael R. Pompeo, the 70th Secretary of State of the United States from 2018 to 2021, was the keynote speaker at the Third Session of the 4th Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom, held on Tuesday afternoon, May 28, 2024 at the celebrated Zappeion Hall in Athens, Greece. The theme of the session was “Human Rights and Religious Freedom and Their Implications to the Geopolitical Order.”

Rev. Protopresbyter Alex Karloutsos, Spiritual Adviser of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, recounted that the Archbishop and he had informed Pompeo, while he was secretary of state, that no secretary of state in a Republican administration had ever visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. Pompeo immediately changed his schedule and went to meet with His All-Holiness in Constantinople, annoying Turkish authorities that he had not gone through Ankara.

Archon John Catsimatidis, Convener for the session, noted that the United States was under multifaceted attack, and stated that Americans faced some critically important choices. He warned that Russia, China, and Iran had joined forces, threatening the entire world, and stated that only the United States has the ability to keep the free world free. He also added that Secretary Pompeo was one of the five most intelligent people he had ever met.

Secretary Pompeo began his remarks by stating how honored he was to be speaking in the birthplace of democracy, adding that “democracy is at risk if we don’t get it right.” He emphasized his deep and abiding regard for the Orthodox Church and then outlined major global threats to freedom: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Oct. 7, 2023 attack on Israel, and Iran’s ongoing threat to people of all faiths. Secretary Pompeo stated that it was a singular mistake to talk of political developments without speaking of religious freedom and the centrality of faith.

“It is impossible to imagine human dignity,” said Secretary Pompeo, “without religious freedom.” He quoted Thomas Jefferson: “Almighty God hath created the mind free….No man shall be compelled to frequent or support religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.”

Secretary Pompeo praised His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, saying that this gave Ukrainians the ability to exercise their true faith. Pompeo criticized the Russian government for shamefully using the Church to justify war; he likewise noted that religion has been abused in Iran, and that the people of Iran deserve better than their regime.

The recent conversion of the Chora Church in Constantinople into a mosque, said Secretary Pompeo, is part of a longstanding effort by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to coerce people into abandoning their faith and their holy places. “There is no reason,” he declared, “that it should be desecrated.”

In this connection, Secretary Pompeo also noted that this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Turkish invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus. He noted that while he was secretary of state, he took efforts to push back against this, lifting an arms embargo on Cyprus.

Archon James Rockas, who was instrumental in bringing Secretary Pompeo to the Conference and who moderated the Session, then asked him a series of questions. Asked about his connection to the Orthodox Faith, the secretary described attending Orthodox services in his home city of Wichita, and deep love and respect for the Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In response to a question about alarming trends worldwide regarding religious freedom, Pompeo emphasized that the U.S. must articulate the reasons why religious freedom matters. If the U.S. is not working to defend religious freedom, he warned, it will decay around the world.

Secretary Pompeo warned that the Chinese Communist Party was making deep inroads in Africa, spreading its Marxist, atheistic values and its antagonism to religion. This could have enormous significance in the future, Pompeo said, because Africa’s population is growing rapidly and it has immense natural resources.

Regarding Vladimir Putin, Pompeo said that he had spent enough time with him to know that he firmly believed that Ukraine was an integral part of Greater Russia, and that the only thing that will stop him is deterrence.

Amid all the dangers that the world, and particularly people of faith, face, however, Secretary Pompeo said that a far greater risk would be to fail to teach the next generation about our Judeo-Christian heritage. This, he said, would quickly destroy Western civilization. However, he added that he would bet on Western civilization against China, Russia and Iran: decent, determined people would prevail against inhuman and immoral foes.

After his remarks, Secretary Pompeo was presented with an inscribed crystal obelisk in gratitude for his speaking and in recognition of his efforts to defend religious freedom.

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