US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underlined the importance of religious freedom, saying it is a fundamental American value and that supporting it was a priority for US President Joe Biden when he hosted a Diwali reception on Wednesday.
Addressing Indian Americans, including community leaders and those who served in the Biden administration, Blinken said, “It’s also an invaluable part of United States diplomacy because it really helps us build ties with other nations and with people all over the world.”
Sharing anecdotes about supporting religious diversity, Blinken said: “One way we show our support for religious diversity is by helping to preserve vital pieces of cultural heritage around the world. Through efforts such as the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, we are helping to restore damaged historic buildings or recover lost or stolen cultural objects, such as paintings and sculptures,” he said.
“In February, the US government recovered a 500-year-old stolen statue of Hanuman, a Hindu deity, and returned it to the Indian government,” Blinken added.
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He added that another way to show support for religious freedom was through celebrations such as the Diwali held by him.
“Diwali is a celebration of the most sacred values, love for family, kindness to loved ones and strangers, forgiveness, mercy, new beginnings. The holiday also reminds us of the importance of dharma, good behavior, both in individual interactions and through service to our communities,” said Blinken.
“That last obligation to spread light is perhaps more important than it has ever been. So even as we celebrate tonight, we remember those around the world who were unable to celebrate their cultural and religious holidays freely, even in light of the challenges,” he added.
Organized by the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Foggy Bottom headquarters, the Diwali reception started with Ajay Tejasvi of the Art of Living Foundation reciting a prayer while Blinken lit the traditional diya at the reception.
MR Rangaswami, the founder of Indiaspora, said the Indian diaspora in the US has grown in size and influence, and it is gratifying to see how Diwali is now celebrated on a national scale across the country. From Times Square to the new World Trade Center to Washington, DC and beyond, he said.
Rashad Hussain, the United States Grand Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, also emphasized religious freedom for every individual. Religious freedom guaranteed by our constitution is at the heart of our mission. We continue to work every day to promote this freedom around the world. This mission includes our advocacy for Hindu communities, in countries like Pakistan and in Bangladesh, where earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit a temple in Ghazipur that was attacked during the Durga Puja. We are inspired by those who have shown incredible strength and ensured hospitality even in the face of tragedy, he said.