Cornerstone: Religious Freedom and Counterterrorism

What is the relationship between counterterrorism strategies and religious freedom? Would greater religious freedom in Muslim countries have prevented the rise of ISIS, al-Qaeda and their supporters, by decreasing grievances in their societies? Or would this have made counterterrorism efforts harder, by decreasing states’ control over “extremist” religious voices? Some research on religion and counterterrorism finds that religious freedom can complicate counterterrorism efforts, but its promotion is ultimately preferable to support for repression, while others have demonstrated that religious freedom is the critical piece for addressing terrorism, and still others see security concerns as preeminent to protection of religious freedom or other rights.

In this series of articles, we asked authors to examine these challenging questions on the relationship between religious freedom and counterterrorism efforts.

Fortnight of Freedom: Defending Religious Freedom

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops celebrates its annual "Fortnight of Freedom" from June 21-July 4. The annual event highlights the importance of defending religious freedom.

In this short film, RFI President Thomas Farr joins other experts and church leaders to explain how the understanding of religious freedom for everyone is grounded in the dignity of every human being.

Watch Here:

http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/index.cfm

Press Release: Preserving Minorities and the Possibility for Stability in Iraq and Syria

Press Release

Preserving Minorities and the Possibility for Stability in Iraq and Syria

June 07, 2017, Washington, D.C.— In response to ISIS genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, the House of Representatives yesterday passed unanimously the Iraq and Syria Relief and Accountability Act (H.R. 390), co-authored by Republican Chris Smith and Democrat Anna Eshoo.

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) urges the Senate to move this bill, and the President to sign it, immediately. It will ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches the victims of genocide whose very survival is at risk. 

Sustaining these minority communities is a critical first step in enabling them to remain in their homelands. If Christians, Yazidis, Shabak, Kakai, Turkomen, Shi’a Muslims and other communities are not preserved in Iraq and Syria, the possibility that pluralism and stability might emerge in the future will be eliminated. A second critical step will be holding accountable those who have sought to destroy these communities.

Last year both the U.S. Congress and the Department of State labeled as “genocide” the actions of ISIS. But U.S. aid has not gone systematically to genocide victims. H.R. 390 directs that humanitarian assistance be provided to those in greatest need, especially genocide survivors. It requires the U.S. to work with the most effective relief organizations, including faith-based entities. It supports criminal investigation into perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Iraq.

RFI President Tom Farr hailed H.R. 390 as legislation that will relieve terrible human suffering while at the same time enhancing the national security of the United States. “HR 390 is an example of American values and American interests converging. Both the Senate and, in turn, the President should seize this opportunity to support both justice and peace in Iraq and Syria.”     

Tim Shah, an RFI Senior Director and Research Professor at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, praised Representatives Smith and Eshoo. “In a country and a Congress so deeply divided, we are gratified at the spirit of unity and non-partisanship demonstrated by these two stalwarts of religious freedom. The people of Iraq and Syria, as well as the American people, will owe them a debt of gratitude if this bill becomes law. We urge its passage.”


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
www.religiousfreedominstitute.org

Tom Farr Honored at 15th Annual Religious Liberty Dinner

Thomas F. Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute and Melissa Reid, Executive Director, North American Religious Liberty Association (Photo Credit: Maria Bryk)

Thomas F. Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute and Melissa Reid, Executive Director, North American Religious Liberty Association
(Photo Credit: Maria Bryk)

On June 1, 2017 RFI President Tom Farr was honored at the 15th Annual Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington, D.C. Farr received the 2017 International Award for Religious Liberty, presented by a consortium of religious liberty groups.

In presenting the award, Melissa Reid, Executive Director of the North American Religious Liberty Association, cited Dr. Farr's long history of service to others, as well as his two decades of work on behalf of religious freedom at the U.S. State Department, as a professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, as Director of the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center, and as President of the Religious Freedom Institute.

The keynote address was given by Dr. Benjamin Carson, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In his remarks, Secretary Carson highlighted the vital contribution to America's history of the First Amendment. Among other things, it has empowered religious ideas and actors to solve many of the nation’s and the world’s most challenging problems.

The annual Religious Liberty Dinner is sponsored by the International Religious Liberty Association, North American Religious Liberty Association, Liberty Magazine, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The event was co-sponsored and hosted by the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute. 2017 marked the 15th year for the event which annually gathers diplomats, government officials, religious leaders, and religious liberty advocates to celebrate religious freedom and honor those who defend it.

Also honored at this year’s event with the National Award was Ms. Kimberlee Colby, Director, Center for Law and Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society. Dr. Bert B. Beach received the Liberty award for his lifetime of service, including as Vice President of the Board of the International Religious Liberty Association and Former Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Past honorees have included Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator John McCain, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, Senator John Kerry, Congressman Trent Franks, and White House Director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Melissa Rogers.

Making a Case For Religious Freedom and America's National Security

In early May, the Religious Freedom Institute, together with members from the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, met with senior staff of the National Security Council to discuss the critical role that religious freedom can play in increasing America's national security.

The meeting was led by Greg Mitchell, co-chair of the IRF Roundtable and RFI President Thomas Farr. Farr, together with Dennis Hoover of the Institute for Global Engagement, presented a policy brief with recommendations for the new administration. These included practical steps for incorporating religious freedom into foreign policy, including as a critical component of the U.S. National Security Strategy. 

RFI Senior Advisor Timothy Shah offered historical evidence that religious freedom can undermine religious violence and terrorism. RFI Senior Fellow Nilay Saiya, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the SUNY Brockport, presented a data-driven analysis confirming the causal linkages between religious freedom and reductions in religious violence and terrorism. Together, Shah and Saiya made a powerful case that religious freedom can contribute to stability abroad and national security at home.

The meeting came at a critical time, as preparations were being made for President Trump's trip to Saudi Arabia. There he delivered a major speech on undermining Islamic extremism, and announced the launch of a new global center to counter extremism based in Riyadh. RFI will continue to press the administration to ensure that religious freedom becomes a significant part of its counter-extremism initiatives.

Past and Present Challenges to Religious Freedom in Pakistan

On May 16, the Religious Freedom Institute hosted a discussion on the past and present challenges to religious freedom in Pakistan. The conversation featured remarks from Yaqoob Bangash, Farahnaz Ispahani, and Jay Kansara and was moderated by RFI Senior Advisor Timothy Shah.

Bangash and Ispahani drew on their extensive knowledge of Pakistan's early history and present political dynamics in illuminating some of the most pressing threats to religious freedom in the country today, including challenges facing Hindu, Ahmadi, Shia, and Christian groups.

Mr. Bangash is a Senior Fellow of the Religious Freedom Institute and Director at the Centre for Governance and Policy at the Information Technology University, Lahore, Pakistan. 

Ms. Ispahani is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and former member of the Pakistani Parliament.

Mr. Kansara is Director of Government Affairs at the Hindu American Foundation

RFI Leadership Promotes Religious Freedom at World Summit In Defense of Persecuted Christians

On May 10-13, more than 600 delegates from 130 countries gathered in Washington, D.C. to address the global challenge of Christian persecution. 

The event was filled with powerful testimonies of Christians around the globe - from the daughter of an Iranian martyr, to the brother of Coptic Christians killed by ISIS in Libya, to church leaders from South America, Africa, and Asia. 

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Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, gave a plenary address to the summit on the topic of advocating for freedom. His remarks called for an urgency and a fierce commitment not just to the protection of Christians, but to the promotion of religious freedom. The principle that will enable them "to live in the world as his followers, as salt and light, as Christians." 

Kent Hill, Executive Director, and Tim Shah, Senior Advisor of the Religious Freedom Institute also participated in the event as Special Advisors and led breakout sessions to discuss the challenges and opportunities of advocating on behalf of Christians in particular contexts of persecution. 

Critical to any successful advocacy will be the principle of promoting religious freedom for all. This was one of the key findings of the Under Caesar's Sword project which studied in detail the responses of Christian communities to persecution in more than 25 of the world's most repressive countries. 

The World Summit In Defense of Persecuted Christians was organized by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and was organized as an opportunity to bring greater attention to the global plight of persecution around the world. 

Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Conference and Members of Congress including Senators James Lankford and Roy Blunt also participated. 

"I’m here on behalf of the President as a tangible sign of his commitment to defending Christians and, frankly, all who suffer for their beliefs across the wider world," said Vice President Pence in his opening remarks. 

What is to be Done? Symposium of Under Caesar's Sword Project

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How do Christians respond to persecution and advance religious freedom for everyone? How can the rest of the world exercise solidarity with those especially persecuted?

These questions were at the heart of the one day symposium of the Under Caesar's Sword project hosted at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on April 20, 2017. 

More than 225 attendees gathered for the launch of the public report: In Response to Persecution: Findings of the Under Caesar's Sword Project on Global Christian Communities

This report was one of the fruits of the work done by a team of 17 scholars who studied the response to persecution by Christian communities in more than 25 countries across the globe. The results were captured in a report that includes not only the analytical findings of this research, but substantial recommendations for action by a host of actors from international advocacy and assistance organizations, academics, religious communities, government agencies, and even persecuted communities themselves. 

The event featured keynote addresses from His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C. and Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and former member of the Pakistani parliament. 

A wide number of speakers including project scholars, advocates for religious freedom, and representative from Christian communities around the globe provided analysis both on the findings of the project and more importantly - and the theme of the symposium - what is to be done. 

His Excellency Sebastian Francis Shaw, Archbishop of Lahore, Pakistan provided a powerful testimony from his own life experience of shepherding a church in the context of incredible challenge and opposition. 

The event also featured a special screening of the documentary Under Caesar's Sworddirected by award-winning director Jason Cohen. 

The full videos of event are available from the Under Caesar's Sword website here: http://ucs.nd.edu/public-events/launch/watch/

The symposium was hosted by the Under Caesar's Sword project and its main partners the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture and the Religious Freedom Institute, in collaboration with Aid to the Church in Need USA.

Co-sponsoring the event were the Program on Church, State & Society at the University of Notre Dame, the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, In Defense of Christians, and the Institute for Global Engagement

To learn more about the Under Caesar's Sword project and to access additional resources visit: www.ucs.nd.edu

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Experts and Policy Makers Join to Launch Policy Brief for New Administration and Congress

On March 20, more than 110 lawmakers, congressional staffers, and religious freedom advocates gathered on Capitol Hill for the release of a new policy brief entitled: U.S. Foreign Policy And International Religious Freedom: Recommendations For The Trump Administration And U.S. Congress. 

A core group of Senators and Representatives gave their support for the recommendations which make the case that religious freedom is a critical component of foreign policy not only as a human rights issue, but also because of its implications for security and stability for the United States and across the globe. 

Senator Bob Corker, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opened the event highlighting the need to prioritize religious freedom and to implement the legislation that exists, both in the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act and in the newly enacted Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. 

Expressing his own concern for the issue, Senator Cory Gardner, said, "Religious freedom is not simply an academic policy concern, it is one that is deeply personal." 

Reflecting a core premise of the policy brief, Representative Bill Flores made the case that "promoting religious freedom is critical for not only human rights, but for any hope for global peace."

Representative Francis Rooney, who is a former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, expressed from his experience as a diplomat the critical conviction that"you cannot advance religious freedom for one, without advancing religious freedom for all."

In addition to the reflections given by members of Congress, a panel of seasoned religious freedom experts discussed the implications for the recommendations made by the policy brief. Former Congressman Frank Wolf, Former Canadian Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Andrew Bennet, and USCIRF Commissioner Kristina Arriaga joined the co-authors of the brief, RFI President Thomas Farr and Dennis Hoover, Vice President for Research and Publications at the Institute for Global Engagement. 

The discussion focused on the need to further prioritize religious freedom for all communities in American foreign policy, a process that will involve the work of civil society and lawmakers, and also to increase the skill with which that policy is implemented by American diplomats and the administration. 

Cornerstone: Reflections from Under Caesar's Sword Project

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Under Caesar’s Sword is a three-year, collaborative global research project by a team of scholars to investigate how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated. A public report with the findings of this project will be launched at the Public Symposium: What is to be Done? on April 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. 

Research for this project centered around three core questions:

How do Christian communities respond to repression?

Why do they choose the responses that they do?

What are the results of these responses?

The program is an effort to discover and draw attention to the ways in which Christian communities around the world respond to the severe violation of their religious freedom. These strategies vary widely, ranging from nonviolent protest movements of the kind that Pope John Paul II led in communist Poland, to the complex diplomacy of Christian churches in China, to simply fleeing from persecution en masse, as Christians have in Iraq. Further, the project aims to raise solidarity with persecuted Christians worldwide and to help them respond justly and effectively.

One of the major outcomes from this project is to better inform faith leaders, civil society groups, and governments of concrete actions that can be taken to support those who suffer persecution. These responses will be varied, but should provide observations for supporting any community suffering for their religious beliefs.

This series of blog posts draws from scholars' research, personal reflections, and responses to current situations of religious persecution. 

Shah: Religious Perspectives On Democracy, Civil Society And Constitutional Issues Today

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On March 14, RFI Senior Advisor Timothy Shah presented the opening keynote presentation at the Religious Perspectives On Democracy, Civil Society And Constitutional Issues Today conference organized by the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM) and the Kairos Dialogue Network. 

In his paper, Shah argued that many of the secularist aims, rather than protecting the rights of all have been controlling of religious claims and a threat to limit freedom and democracy in drastic ways. He argues that there is a way to go "beyond secularism" but not "beyond religious freedom." 

In order to make progress towards the legitimate goals of authentic religious freedom and religious tolerance as well as an authentic and genuinely liberal form of democracy premised on equal citizenship for all, it is necessary to go “beyond secularism” — though not “beyond religious freedom” — by recovering a sound understanding of religious liberty rooted in (and not hostile to) the world’s religious, cultural, and philosophical traditions.
— Timothy Shah

Cornerstone: Pakistan: Religious Identity and Religious Freedom

The role of religious identity in Pakistan has been an important part of the history of Pakistan. Many of the present day conflicts, from intercommunal violence to blasphemy laws, occur along the fault lines of religious communities. As Farahnaz Isphani has argued in her recent book, Purifying the Land of the Pure, there has been a sense in which rather than protecting the rights of all religious groups, the Pakistani state and society has sought to “purify” the community.  From its pre-independence population of 20.5% non-Muslims, the present number of non-Muslim minorities is estimated at less than 4%. The factors that have contributed to this are numerous and the present day implications for all Pakistanis – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – are concerning. Hostilities and restrictions have been directed not only at non-Muslims, but non-Sunnis or those who would defend views considered outside the accepted orthodoxy.

What are the current challenges that are faced by Pakistan’s religious minorities? What can be done to promote a religious freedom that protects the rights of all Pakistani’s to freely believe as they wish, act on those beliefs, and participate in all of life?

A series of experts from Pakistan and around the world have contributed articles answering these questions. 

Philpott: POLITE PERSECUTION (First Things)

Not all persecution for religious beliefs entails martyrdom or physical brutalization. Yet, the cost for religious belief and identity are real and can be devastating. Violations of religious freedom - in the United States and globally - can take the form of "Polite Persecution."

This is the subject of a recent article at First Things by Daniel Philpott. An excerpt is included below or read the full article here: "POLITE PERSECUTION" | First Things

Daniel Philpott is an RFI Senior Associate Scholar and professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and co-director of the project “Under Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution"

No American has suffered the fate of Helen Berhane, the Eritrean gospel singer whose evangelizing earned her two years in a shipping container in the middle of a hot desert. But in the last decades American Christians, like Christians across the West, have faced a rising trend of what Pope Francis has termed “polite persecution.” As the pope explains, “if you don’t like this, you will be punished: you’ll lose your job and many things or you’ll be set aside.” At the hands of bureaucrats, bosses, and judges, Christian merchants, universities, schools, hospitals, charities, campus fellowships, students, public officials, employees, and citizens have been fired, fined, shut down, threatened with a loss of accreditation, and evicted for living out traditional convictions about marriage and sexuality.
How ought Christians to respond? A twofold lesson arises from Christians who have faced persecution over the centuries. The first is an injunction to avoid cooperation with sin; the second is an obligation, overlooked all too often during an era of relative freedom, to bear witness. Christians are to manifest a love that communicates the truth about friendship with Christ through language and life. In the face of polite persecution, this witness is unlikely to beget martyrdom but may well incur costs. And the history of Christianity shows that when those costs are accepted, witness is brightened and amplified.

Read More: Polite Persecution (First Things)

EVENT: What Is To Be Done? Responding to the Global Persecution of Christians

What Is To Be Done? Responding to the Global Persecution of Christians

Symposium of the Under Caesar’s Sword Project

How do Christians respond to persecution? How can the rest of the world exercise solidarity with them? What can be learned from studying Christian persecution that can be applied by those who are concerned about the persecution of any individual or group.

This day-long public symposium will feature the launch of the report, In Response to Persecution, a screening of the documentary Under Caesar’s Sword, and will propose concrete recommendations for action by government, civil society organizations, and faith communities. It will feature globally prominent speakers on religious freedom and leading scholars of global Christianity, including former Ambassadors, U.S. State Department officials, and Parliamentarians.

Browse the schedule and speakers, mark your calendar, and register now.

April 20, 2017
9:00 a.m. - 5:15 p.m
National Press Club
Washington, D.C.

The symposium is hosted by the Under Caesar's Sword project and its primary partners, the Religious Freedom Institute and the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, in close collaboration with Aid to the Church in Need.

EVENT: March 20 U.S. Foreign Policy and International Religious Freedom

U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND INTERNATIONAL
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM:
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION and U.S. Congress

Please join us on March 20 for the launch of U.S. Foreign Policy and International Religious Freedom: Recommendations for the Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress, a new Policy Brief co-published by the Religious Freedom Institute and the Institute for Global Engagement.

Monday March 20, 2017
3:00pm-5:00pm
Kennedy Caucus Room (SR-325)
Russell Senate Office Building
Light refreshments served


The Brief will be presented by its co-authors, Tom Farr of RFI and Dennis Hoover of IGE. This will be followed by responses from Members of Congress and other advocates and scholars of religious freedom.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Senator Bob Corker, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Senator Cory Gardner, Chairman, Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Congressman Trent Franks, Co-Chairman, Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus
  • Congressman Francis Rooney, Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee
  • Congressman Bill Flores, Member, House Energy and Commerce Committee
  • Frank Wolf, Former Congressman and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative
  • Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, Commissioner at U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
  • Andrew Bennett, former Canadian Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, senior fellow at Cardus, Senior Research Fellow of the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown University

Past administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have started very slowly in implementing international religious freedom policy. Regrettably they have also had very limited success in addressing the alarming increase in religious persecution, radicalization, and violence around the world. The Trump Administration has an opportunityat low cost, to make a major contribution to religious freedom for all—and at the same time advance America’s interests in national security, international stability, fundamental human rights, and economic growth worldwide.

RSVP required:

To register please visit: http://bit.ly/IRFmarch20
or contact: Mr. Jeremy Barker,
 jeremy.barker@religiousfreedominstitute.org


The event is co-sponsored by the Religious Freedom Institute and the Institute for Global Engagement, in partnership with the International Religious Freedom Roundtable.

Shah and Philpott: In Defense of Religious Freedom

"Not so very long ago, the idea of religious freedom enjoyed all the self-evident virtue of a Norman Rockwell painting. Sure, Americans disagreed about what it meant in practice, leaving their Supreme Court to hash out the details. Still, however Americans differed in their religious beliefs, they espoused religious freedom and insisted that it cannot be government's job to promote any one religious sect over others or coerce anyone's conscience in religious matters." 

The reality is that this has changed. New critics have emerged about the value of religious freedom as a fundamental right. In this article Timothy Shah, RFI Senior Advisor, and Daniel Philpott, Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, review some of the arguments against religious freedom and make a case in defense of this "beleaguered human right." 

Philpott, Daniel and Timothy Samuel Shah. "IN DEFENSE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: NEW CRITICS OF A BELEAGUERED HUMAN RIGHT". Journal of Law and Religion 31.03 (2016): 380-395.

Download Full Text

Editorial: What Trump can do to Secure Religious Freedom (The Hill)

RFI President, Thomas Farr published an editorial with recommendations for the administration of President Trump on international religious freedom, and particularly the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom:

As a candidate, Donald Trump said very little publicly about rising threats to religious freedom abroad. But recent reports suggest that President Trump may be moving quickly to nominate the official charged by law to lead that element of United States foreign policy: the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.
Given that President George W. Bush took well over a year to get his nominee in place, and President Barak Obama more than two, it appears that Trump may be placing a higher priority on international religious freedom than his predecessors.
He has ample reason to do so. Studies show that religious freedom can make substantial contributions to democratic stability, economic growth, and the undermining of religious violence and terrorism. 
Unfortunately, studies also show that religious freedom is in global decline, while religious persecution and terrorism are spreading.
In the Middle East, Christians, Yezidis, disfavored Muslims, and other minorities are still being savaged by ISIS and its jihadist cohorts. In Asia and Africa, millions more are persecuted by governments or terrorists. Religious persecution causes terrible human suffering, destroys economies, destabilizes societies, and abets the spread of jihadism.
Last September, candidate Trump invited religious-freedom advocates who had not endorsed him to meet at Trump Tower. At the time a Trump victory appeared unlikely, but it seemed a good opportunity to brief him anyway.
I’m glad I took that opportunity. Now I’d like to remind the president of what he said and suggest the steps he must take if his administration is to succeed where its predecessor failed. 
I offered my view then that the Obama administration had not prioritized religious freedom in its foreign policy and had missed a golden opportunity to promote stability and human flourishing. A Trump administration should not make the same mistake. 

Read More: What Trump Can Do To Secure Religious Freedom (The Hill)

 

RFI Announces $1.6 million Grant

Press Release

RFI Announces $1.6 million Grant

February 07, 2017, Washington, D.C.— The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) is pleased to announce the award of a $1.6 million grant from the Templeton Religion Trust. The funding will be used to advance RFI’s goal of achieving broad acceptance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right, the cornerstone of a successful society, and a source of national and international security. The grant will focus in particular on RFI’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team.

Religious freedom is in deepening global crisis. Outside the West, a dearth of religious freedom is driving political instability, economic stagnation, intellectual paralysis, religious conflict, and terrorism. Millions are subject to violent religious persecution by governments and non-state actors. Inside the West, religious freedom is increasingly misunderstood and degraded to a right of private worship. The crisis is multifaceted, complex, and serious.

“In the twenty-first century we are witnessing the emergence of a ‘perfect storm’ of skepticism, hostility, indifference, and ignorance concerning the meaning and value of religious freedom,” said Tom Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute. “Some Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist groups overseas view it as Western cultural imperialism. Secular authoritarian regimes see it as a threat to power and authority. Western democracies increasingly understand it as an illegitimate claim of privilege by religious people who seek to deny the equality of others.”

With its four Action Teams, the RFI is working to overcome opposition to religious freedom in South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the United States, and in the foreign policies of Western governments.

With the generous support of the Templeton Religion Trust, RFI’s South and Southeast Asia (SSEA) Action Team will be led by RFI Senior Advisor Timothy Shah and RFI Senior Fellow Rebecca Shah. They will work in that region to make religious freedom a priority for governments, civil society, religious communities, businesses, and the general public, with the ultimate aim of convincing stakeholders that religious freedom can help them achieve their own goals—political, economic, strategic, and religious.

"We are proud to embark on this project at a critical time in the region and the world," said Timothy Shah, SSEA Action Team leader. "The SSEA region hosts a large and dynamic population and is home to one third of the world's population and, in Indonesia and India, respectively the world's largest Muslim and Hindu countries. These countries represent both challenges and opportunities for strengthening religious freedom to protect the fundamental rights of all."

The SSEA Action Team will build a coalition of religious freedom actors in the region, produce a comprehensive report on the landscape of relevant actors, threats, and opportunities in the region, devise strategies to advance religious freedom, and take action to implement those strategies.

Learn More: South and Southeast Asia Action Team


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
www.religiousfreedominstitute.org

Celebrating Religious Freedom and the Common Good

On November 15, 2016, the Religious Freedom Institute and the Religious Freedom Project of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University co-hosted a private dinner to celebrate six years of the Religious Freedom Project and the launch of the Religious Freedom Institute. 

The dinner came at the conclusion of the day-long Religious Freedom Project Symposium highlighting the accomplishments of thirteen scholars around the theme of: Religious Freedom and the Common Good.

Senator Ben Sasse gave the keynote address at the daylong symposium and shared additional remarks at the private dinner, highlighting the need for both intellectual scholarship and practical application of religious freedom.

Also at the dinner, Tim Shah moderated a panel discussion with Robert Wilken, Allen Hertzke, and Rebecca Shah discussing the philosophical and practical impact that religious freedom has around the world.