Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, the Secretary-General of Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and President of the Divine Shakti Foundation in Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, India was invited to the U.S. State Department’s first ever ministerial for International Religious Freedom.
Hosted by Secretary Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Sam Brownback, the Ministerial was a three-day invite-only high level summit for government leaders and civil society partners from around the world to collaborate and advance international religious freedom.
It was attended by Vice President of the United States Mike Pence, the external affairs ministries of more than 80 nations, nearly 200 civil society organizations and approximately 100 international religious leaders.
In the main session, Sadhviji shared that her strongest suggestion for the U.S. State Department‘s international policy is that they should ensure that no American dollars or support go to any development organization that is giving care, whether its healthcare or education, to people of one religion, or urging people to change their religion in order to receive care.
She emphasized that when a mother must choose between her religion or medical care for her child, that mother no longer has freedom of religion.
“Although in America we are deeply committed to freedom of speech, we must look also at way and place in which freedom of speech impinges upon people’s right to life and right to be free of injury. We must be equally diligent about preventing hate speech which leads to atrocity crimes as we are about protecting freedom of speech,” Sadhviji explained.
In addition to the main sessions, there were breakout sessions in which Sadhviji shared a session on genocide prevention and how we must be very aware of the de-humanization and separation of ‘us versus them’ that frequently arises and expands before acts of violence against a religious or ethnic community.
Sadhviji also spoke in a panel discussion hosted by the United States Institute of Peace, the international Republican, and Search For Common Ground focused on the role of religion, religious leaders, and interfaith peace-building on religious freedom and countering violent extremism.
“We must connect on the fundamental level of our humanity. Before we are Hindus or Muslims or Christians or Buddhists or Jews, we are humans,” she said.
The other speakers at the event included:
- Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, President, Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies
- His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje
- Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria
- Frank Wolf (R-VA), Former U.S. Representative from Virginia
- Nancy Lindborg, President, U.S. Institute of Peace
- Tony Garrastazu, Senior Director, Center for Global Impact, International Republican Institute
- Humera Khan, President, Muflehun
- Oliver Wilcox, Deputy Director, Countering Violent Extremism, Bureau of Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State
- Prof. Fadi Daou, Chair and CEO, Adyan Foundation, Professor, Holy Spirit University of Kaslik
- Susan Hayward, Senior Advisor, Religion and Inclusive Societies, U.S. Institute of Peace
- Mike Jobbins, Senior Director of Partnerships and Engagements, Search for Common Ground