On Wednesday, June 13, the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) kicked off its NextGen Summer Speaker Series with an inaugural talk on “Humanitarian Aid, International Development, and Religious Freedom.” Keynote speaker Dr. Kent Hill, Executive Director of RFI, spoke on the importance of religious freedom in international development, drawing from his experience as Senior Vice President of World Vision and eight years as Assistant Administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Hill emphasized that while it is important to feed, clothe, and provide shelter, human beings are more than animals, more than just a composite of physical needs. They have spiritual needs, and they ask questions about ultimate meaning; religious freedom protects the right of human beings to ask those questions regardless of what religion they profess or do not profess.
In addition, Hill noted how religious freedom fosters economically prosperous and peaceful societies – ones much less likely to be threatened by religious extremism. Dollars spent on international development and promoting religious freedom can reduce dollars needed for defense – even if the benefits of international development require years to realize.
In response to follow up questions, Dr. Hill gave examples from the field to illustrate the importance of involving members of religious communities in development work. In the campaign to eradicate polio, it was the credibility of Imams encouraging vaccinations which was critical. There have been cases in Egypt where Muslims joined hands around Coptic churches to protect them from further violence from Islamist extremists. He shared a powerful story from his recent participation in the Interfaith Coalition to Stop Genocide in Burma’s fact-finding mission to the refugee camps of Bangladesh, which he attended as the RFI representative. He was deeply moved by Buddhist members of the delegation apologizing to Rohingya Muslims for the crimes committed by fellow Buddhists.
At the end of the session, young professionals mingled and networked with RFI leadership and interns over refreshments.
RFI’s NextGen Summer Speaker Series is a program that provides an opportunity for interns and young professionals in Washington, D.C. to network and to explore how religious freedom impacts their diverse fields of interest.
The NextGen Summer Speaker Series will continue next week with “Exorcisms and Exercise, Crosses and Cross Passes: What Religious Freedom Has to Do with the World Cup.”
The event will begin with an 8:00 am Morocco vs. Portugal Watch Party to be followed by a 10:00 am discussion led by the Director of RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, Jennifer Bryson. There is still time to register for this event.