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Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis will become the first elected Democrat to address the Western Conservative Summit, Friday in Denver.

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Conservatives should welcome Gov. Jared Polis to their convention in Denver Friday, when he becomes the first elected Democrat to speak at the Western Conservative Summit — the largest conservative gathering west of Washington, D.C.

Polis is not crashing anyone’s party. The Centennial Institute, which runs the summit, invited him and other leading Democrats in June. The institute traditionally invites them; they reliably decline. Thursday morning, Polis surprised Colorado Republicans and other conservatives by accepting.

The Gazette’s editorial board encouraged Polis to accept this year's invitation for a good reason. The summit’s 2019 theme, religious liberty, is too important for partisan division.

As we said in June, there can be no better issue than defense of religious liberty to unite Americans of all political persuasions around something bigger than domestic political conflict. 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.

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Building on those liberties, our country eliminated the enslavement of minorities. Slavery continues at a record pace today in other parts of the world. Tyranny festers where governments do not uphold human dignity and basic civil rights.

The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Aid to the Church in Need and the U.K. government all document rising and widespread faith-based persecution.

Christians, Jews, Muslims and others experience extreme persecution and enslavement 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 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 Uyghurs, 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. Open Door President David Curry says the numbers are conservative, representing only that which they can document.

The freedom to believe and speak without fear of authoritarian reprisal underscores all other liberty. All other civil rights rest on the foundation of religious freedom.

Members of The Gazette’s editorial board have discussed all of this and more with Polis. He gets it, which probably explains more than anything else why he will walk into a political lion’s den Friday. Some in the crowd would like to recall him. At least on Friday morning, they should set it aside and listen.

Conservatives should take the high road, showing themselves as the most gracious of hosts. By merely showing up, the governor makes a bold statement of respect for people who mostly oppose him. More importantly, he shows respect for the summit’s 2019 theme — a cause that should transcend traditional left-right American political concerns.

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