Governor Jared Polis and Senator Michael Bennet have an extraordinary opportunity to build a bridge and work with conservatives on a non-partisan issue. They need only attend the Western Conservative Summit next month to listen and speak.

The Colorado-based Centennial Institute, a non-profit public policy organization, hosts the summit each summer. Billed as the largest conservative conference beyond the Washington, D.C, beltway, it is similar to Washington's annual CPAC gathering.

This year’s summit, July 12 and 13 at the Colorado Convention Center, will focus on “Defending Religious Freedom & America’s First Amendment.”

“Religious freedom is a non-partisan issue,” said a written statement by Jeff Hunt, director of the Centennial Institute and vice president of public policy for Colorado Christian University.

Hunt invited all Democratic presidential candidates and Morgan Carroll, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party.

This is a friendly invitation for inter-party collaboration in a country divided by a cold civil war of political hostility. Conservatives, liberals and moderates have not always been at war. As recently as the 1990s, both major political parties worked together toward positive outcomes for humanity.

We cannot think of a better issue than defense of religious liberty and free speech to unite Americans of all political persuasions around something bigger than domestic political strife. The rights codified in the First Amendment inspired America’s founders to risk their lives creating a country that values individual liberty above all else.

Building on those liberties, our country eliminated slavery within its boundaries. We used these liberties to create a country welcoming to people associated with every religion in the world.

Meanwhile, humans remain enslaved, tortured and killed throughout the world for beliefs, words, and immutable traits. Tyranny festers where governments do not uphold fundamental human dignity and basic civil rights.

Christians, Jews, Muslims and others experience extreme persecution from the atheist government of North Korea. Hindu nationalism fuels persecution of religious minorities in India. Theocratic rulers impose Islamic law, while oppressing “infidels,” in Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Syria and more.

In Myanmar, Buddhist nationalism oppresses Muslims and other non-Buddhists.

Open Doors, a Christian organization that monitors religious persecution worldwide, identifies 50 countries in which people endure “high,” “very high” and “extreme” persecution.

“State authoritarianism is increasing in many parts of the world, supported by the ever-spreading availability of personal digital technology, which governments can increasingly track through facial recognition, electronic chips and so on,” explains the 2019 “World Watch Report” by the Christian organization Open Doors. “Places like Vietnam, Myanmar, China and North Korea all saw increases in stricter state control of religious rights.”

Human Rights Watch reports government persecution of Muslim Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Uzbeks on a mass scale in the northwesterly Xinjiang region.

During the organization’s 2019 reporting period, Open Doors found 4,136 instances of Christians killed for their faith. Hostile forces attacked or destroyed more than 1,260 churches or other Christian properties. They imprisoned at least 2,625 Christians for their beliefs, without trials.

The freedom to believe and speak without fear of authoritarian reprisal underscores all other liberty.

We don’t have the answers to resolve this crisis, as the United States cannot impose our First Amendment values internationally. We also cannot close our eyes and hope for the best, as theocratic thugs spread human rights atrocities from one country to the next. We must discuss the plight of fellow humans and share ideas for helping them.

That’s why Gov. Polis, Sen. Bennet, and other leading Democrats should bring their wisdom and ideas to the summit. They should work with conservatives to address a non-partisan crisis that is bad for all of humankind.

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