March 19, 2019
On March 18, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a briefing call on international religious freedom before a trip to the Middle East, and reportedly only allowed “faith-based media” to participate. The State Department reportedly blocked other news outlets from joining, even uninviting members of the media after they had RSVP’d. CREW requested records about the call including a transcript and communications about who requested to be on the call and who was ultimately allowed to participate.
The State Department refused requests for a transcript, a list of the faith-based media outlets allowed to participate, or the criteria to be invited. They also refused to answer questions about whether a wide range of faiths were represented by the media outlets on the call.
The requested records will shed light on why the State Department wanted to keep aspects of the call hidden, and whether they excluded groups or outlets from a call with the Secretary of State based solely on their religious affiliation. There is immense public interest in whether the State Department is cutting off access to the media based on religion, especially when they are supposedly briefing the press about religious freedom in the Middle East, in advance of a diplomatic trip.