Kent Hill Addresses International Consultation on Christian Persecution

The survival of Christianity in Iraq and Syria, the lands of its birth, is also a question of the survival of pluralism and religious freedom. The specter of Islamist extremist groups such as the Islamic state, brutal repression by authoritarian leaders, and a geopolitical conflict exacerbated by Sunni and Shi'a divisions have combined to threaten the presence of entire Christian communities.

These threats were the backdrop for the International Consultation on Christian Persecution – Finding the Appropriate Answers to a Long Neglected Crisis in Budapest hosted by the Hungarian Government's Ministry of Human Capacities and Deputy State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians. 

Patriarch Mar Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Church and Kent Hill, Religious Freedom Institute (Photo: RFI) 

Patriarch Mar Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Church and Kent Hill, Religious Freedom Institute (Photo: RFI) 

Kent Hill, Executive Director of the Religious Freedom Institute and Director of the Middle East Action Team, addressed the consultation in a panel discussion on the critical role of international organizations and countries to promote religious freedom and protection of religious minorities through their foreign policy and international commitments.

It is imperative that we make the ‘pragmatic’ case for religious freedom. The emperical evidence is absolutely clear that there is direct correlation between the existence of religious freedom and all sorts of other social goods. In addition, where there is an absence of religious freedom, the chances of terrorism increase greatly.
— Kent Hill, Budapest, Hungary, Oct. 12, 2017

Dr. Hill was joined in the discussion by Ján Figel’, the European Union's  Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and Supreme Head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Director of Aid to the Church in Need France Mr. Marc Fromager.

Implementing international commitments to protect religious minorities will be sustainable only if it includes religious freedom for all in the society, including a protections not just for religious minorities, but also for the majority community. 

Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister (Photo: Gergely Botár/

Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister (Photo: Gergely Botár/

Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister, delivered an opening speech to the consultation, calling on others to join their efforts of enabling Christian communities to return to their homelands. As he detailed the strategy his government has taken in working directly with churches, he acknowledged a larger goal that "we want Christian communities returning to Syria, Iraq and Nigeria to become forces for the preservation of their own countries, just as for us Hungarians Christianity is a force for preservation."

Prime Minister Orbán highlighted the provision of more than $2 million in assistance to provide for the reconstruction of homes in Teleskof, a Christian town on the Nineveh Plains. He urged other countries and international donors to follow suit, working with the Churches and their combined efforts such as the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee.

International Consultation on Christian Persecution – Finding the Appropriate Answers to a Long Neglected Crisis. Oct. 11-13,2017, Budapest, Hungary (Photo: MTI) 

International Consultation on Christian Persecution – Finding the Appropriate Answers to a Long Neglected Crisis. Oct. 11-13,2017, Budapest, Hungary (Photo: MTI) 

The discussion throughout the consultation focused on finding concrete action steps that will enable the sustainable return of Christian communities to their homelands and address the root causes that are driving conflict and displacement.

Hungarian Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, in his remarks cited the need for international cooperation to “give a clear and coordinated answer to the extremism spreading in the world and forcing millions to leave their homes.”

Any sustained effort will require the continued provision of humanitarian assistance for the reconstruction and revitalization of these communities and must also include the work of civil society and government to address the societal and political factors that have incubated religion-related violence and terrorism. 

Timothy Shah: What American History Teaches About Importance of Putting Principles into Practice

While the U.S. has strong principles of religious freedom, and a great diversity of religions have flourished, there have always been struggles in putting principle into practice.

Timothy Shah, Senior Director, Religious Freedom Institute (File Photo)

Timothy Shah, Senior Director, Religious Freedom Institute (File Photo)

Timothy Shah, Senior Director of the Religious Freedom Institute's South and Southeast Asia Action Team, on September 12 delivered a keynote address discussing America's long tradition of religious freedom and religious pluralism with a delegation of senior officials from the Republic of Georgia. 

The delegation was part of a State-Department funded program which brought senior Georgian religious and military officials to the United States to explore Human Rights and Religious Pluralism in the United States. The goal of the program was to examine best practices in promoting interfaith dialogue, as well as to look into how governments, non-governmental organizations, and faith-based groups promote diverse, tolerant, peaceful communities.

In the discussion, Dr. Shah examined the formulation of religious freedom principles such as those enshrined in the First Amendment or expressed in President Washington's letter to the Newport Hebrew Congregation in 1790. He also considered recent trends that demonstrate both growing religious diversity and tensions that have emerged such as anti-Muslim attacks on mosques or hateful rhetoric or anti-Semitic hate crimes. 

The Religious Freedom Institute in its work, both domestically in the United States and in countries around the world, seeks to bridge the gap between principle and practice to promote religious freedom that leads to the flourishing of all.


RFI President Thomas Farr Testifies at Congressional Hearing Reviewing U.S. IRF Policy

The National Security Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to review the U.S. Government's role in advancing International Religious Freedom.

The hearing looked back at the impact of international religious freedom policy since the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, through to the amendment in the 2016 Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, and recommendations for how to improve the policy to meet current challenges. 

RFI President Thomas Farr testified both of the strategic value and moral imperative for promoting religious freedom. It is intimately connected with American national security interests, along with being a vital humanitarian right. 

My message to you today is straightforward and hopeful: advancing religious freedom successfully in our foreign policy can help the victims of religious persecution abroad and increase the security of the American people.
— Thomas Farr

In his testimony (full text), Dr. Farr highlighted the need for developing arguments and action plans to effectively engage governments and societies to demonstrate that religious freedom is a strategic good not only for the United States but for every country. Religious freedom has direct links to undermining religion-related terrorism, boosting stability and economic growth, and protecting vulnerable communities. 

Opening Statement by RFI President Thomas Farr in testimony before the National Security Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee on October 11, 2017.

Kristina Arriaga, Co-Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, testified of the need for increased resources to implement the tools that exist to target violators of religious freedom. She also highlighted the unjust imprisonment of American Pastor Andrew Brunson who has been held in a Turkish jail for over a year on false charges. 

The hearing was chaired by Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Ranking Member Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and heard testimony from the following witnesses: 

  • Thomas Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute and first Director of the Office of International Religious Freedom - Written Testimony
  • Ambassador Michael G. Kozak, Senior Advisor, Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor - Written Testimony
  • Kristina Arriaga, Co-Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) - Written Testimony
  • Rob Berschinski, Senior Vice President for Policy, Human Rights First - Written Testimony

Executive Director Kent Hill Joins VOA News to Discuss Religious Freedom Around the World

Kent Hill, Executive Director, joined VOA News host Carol Castiel on the Encounter program to discuss the release of the U.S. State Department's 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom and the global challenges to religious freedom around the world. 

Encounter Religious Freedom VOA News.jpg

Dr. Hill was joined on the program by Katayoun Kishi, research associate at Pew Research Center, where she oversees the Center’s annual study on global restrictions on religion.

The conversation not only looked at the conclusions drawn from the report, but also critical issues related to religious freedom breaking down globally.

Religious freedom violations and religion-related violence are at the root of many global crises. Many of the more than 65 million people who have been displaced as refugees or internally displaced persons have fled from religion related conflicts. 

If we don’t do deal with root causes of conflict, refugees will keep spilling out. We need to be spending more time looking at what is causing folks to run.
— Kent Hill, Executive Director

Learn More about Pew Research Center's research on Global Restrictions on Religion: 

Global Restrictions on Religion Rise Modestly in 2015, Reversing Downward Trend

Timothy Shah Addresses Military Leaders on Religious Freedom's Critical Role Against Violent Extremism

Timothy Shah, Senior Director, Religious Freedom Institute (File Photo)

Timothy Shah, Senior Director, Religious Freedom Institute (File Photo)

Timothy Shah, Senior Director of the Religious Freedom Institute's South and Southeast Asia Action Team, delivered a private briefing for military leaders from the Near East and South Asia region on the critical role religious freedom plays in addressing the rising challenges posed by religion-related violence and terrorism.

The Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University convened a seminar September 11-22, 2017 looking at the need to move beyond a "whole of government" approach to security and consider a "whole of society" approach. 

As Dr. Shah made clear in his presentation, drawing on a growing body of research, it is evident that religion-related violence is an increasing source of security concerns. There are two common approaches to this: 1) Greater restrictions on religion or 2) Greater religious freedom. The evidence makes clear that greater restrictions lead to an increase in religion-related violence both domestically and transnationally. 

The best environment for preventing and reducing violent extremism (both secular and religious) is an environment of real religious freedom and tolerance.

Therefore, the best thing religion can do to fight against violent extremism is to fight for religious freedom for everyone, including groups with which we do not agree.
— Timothy Shah, at National Defense University, Sept. 20, 2017

Protecting Human Dignity Across the Globe | AEI Values & Capitalism Fall Summit

Tom Farr will join Kristina Arriaga, Commissioner at U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Judge Ken Starr, former Solicitor General, and Elyse Anderson, Congressional-Executive commission on China, for a conversation on international religious freedom and its critical role in protecting human dignity across the globe at American Enterprise Institute's 2017 Values & Capitalism Fall Summit.

This unique gathering brings together leading voices from the Christian community for a one-day series of conversations on faith, public policy, and society. This year’s Summit will focus on the theme of human dignity and its implications for public policy and institutions of civil society, including conversations on the state of American communities, challenges in today’s workforce, international religious liberty, and Christian character and leadership.

The day-long event is available to watch: 

October 6, 2017: 3:30 PM EST Panel discussion II: International Religious Liberty: Protecting Human Dignity Across the Globe

Judge Ken Starr, Former US Solicitor General and Federal Judge
Kristina Arriaga, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Tom Farr, Religious Freedom Institute

Elyse Bauer Anderson, Congressional-Executive Commission on China

Thomas Farr Discusses Gov. Brownback's Confirmation Hearing for Ambassador-at-Large

On October 4, Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as nominee to serve as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. 

RFI President Thomas Farr spoke with Travis Wussow, Vice President for Public Policy of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, outside the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room about Governor Brownback and the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

The Senate Foreign Relations hearing, chaired by Senator Marco Rubio is available to watch here: Governor Sam Brownback Confirmation Hearing

Promoting Religious Liberty Panel: J. Reuben Clark Law Society

What can be done to promote religious liberty? What is currently being done? This is the topic for one of two panels of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society (JRCLS) Religious Liberty Day, on October 5th in Washington, D.C. 

RFI President Thomas Farr, will join Elder Keetch (LDS Church), Tim Schultz (1st Amendment Partnership), and Montse Alvarado (Becket) for a discussion on ways to promote religious liberty within your own sphere of influence and current initiatives underway. 

The first panel of the day will examine the economic impact of religious liberty and the role of business in fostering religious liberty in the workplace. The discussion will include Brian Grim (Religious Freedom and Business Foundation), Debbie Marriott Harrison (Marriott International), Paul Lambert (Georgetown University McDonough School of Business), and Nathan Walker (1791 Delegates). 

The event begins at 4:00 PM and is open to the public. 

Mayflower Hotel
1127 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036

Cornerstone: Trinity Lutheran, Blaine, and the First Amendment

On June 26, the Supreme Court held 7-2 that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources violated the First Amendment’s free-exercise guarantee when it deemed Trinity Lutheran Church categorically ineligible to receive a grant under Missouri’s Scrap Tire Program simply because it is a church. 

Trinity Lutheran’s Child Learning Center ranked fifth among 44 competing applicants for grants to purchase playground surfaces made from recycled tires, improving playground safety and increasing recycling. Seven grants were awarded, but Trinity Lutheran’s application was denied.

The Department of Natural Resources asserted this denial was required by a provision of the Missouri constitution directing that “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.” This and similar provisions in 37 other states are known as Blaine Amendments. 

The Trinity Lutheran decision, however, strongly suggests that the Court may be likely to conclude other applications of Blaine amendments violate the First Amendment.

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In this series of articles, we asked authors to consider the implications of the Court’s ruling are for other applications of Blaine Amendments and similar state-law restrictions. 

Is this likely to impact other religious entities, including those that are not strictly speaking a “church, sect or denomination of religion” such as faith-based hospitals, schools, or social-service providers (homeless shelters, elder-care homes, adoption providers, etc.)? What are the broader implications, if any, for American democracy, the free exercise of religion, and the constitutional ban on establishments of religion? 

RFI Calls for End to Ethnic and Religious Cleansing of Muslim Rohingya in Western Burma

Press Release

RFI Calls for End to Ethnic and Religious Cleansing of Muslim Rohingya in Western Burma

September 15, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute calls on the United States and the international community to take immediate steps to stop the outrageous injustices the Burmese military is committing against the Muslim Rohingya and to ensure they are accorded their basic human rights, including their right to religious freedom.  A brutal campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing carried out by the Burmese Army  has victimized some 300,000 people from the predominantly Muslim Rohingya ethnic community in western Burma (Myanmar).   In particular, the RFI calls on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution imposing a global arms embargo on Burma and calls on relevant countries  to consider  targeted sanctions against the Burmese military.

“The election of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy was viewed by many as the dawn of a new era of freedom in Burma,” notes Dr. Andrew Bennett, former Canadian Ambassador for International Religious Freedom and an RFI Senior Fellow. “Yet as leader of the Burmese government she has failed to halt the persecution in Rakhine state or to champion religious freedom as a key democratic freedom.”

In the past three weeks, hundreds have been killed by the Burmese Army, and the testimonies of refugees point to horrific crimes against humanity, including the burning of villages and shooting of women and children. The current crisis was precipitated by attacks on Burmese police posts by a small militant armed Rohingya group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) unequivocally condemns these attacks. 

However, “the Burma Army’s response to the attacks by ARSA has been grotesquely disproportionate,” observes Ambassador Bennett. While ARSA’s attacks cannot be justified, they were a predictable response to decades of persecution of the Rohingya. Research by RFI Senior Fellow Dr. Nilay Saiya, demonstrates that severe religious repression is the leading global cause of religion-related terrorism. Without an immediate end to the persecution of the Rohingya, a worsening cycle of religious militancy, Burmese military reprisals, and political instability may well occur and spread to neighboring countries.

In 1982, Burma stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship, rendering them stateless and vulnerable to increasingly severe restrictions on their basic human rights. In 2012, major outbreaks of violence against the Rohingya began to occur, with the latest military campaign being the most severe and widespread. 

The Religious Freedom Institute urges the international community, particularly the United States, the United Kingdom, and their allies, the UN, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to act to stop further crimes against humanity. It also calls on the Government of Burma to open all parts of Rakhine State, where the atrocities are being committed, to unrestricted access by international humanitarian aid agencies, human rights monitors, and the media.

At the same time, the Religious Freedom Institute calls on Pope Francis to use his visit to Burma in November to advocate forcefully for religious freedom, human dignity, and peace and reconciliation for all the peoples of Burma.

Benedict Rogers, author of three books on Burma and an RFI Senior Fellow, observes, “This crisis must also be laid at the feet of General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, who is leading the current campaign of atrocities. He must not be permitted to hide behind Aung San Suu Kyi while she receives, albeit justly, global criticism. To move forward, the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan must be implemented, and efforts must be made to stop the violence and move towards accountability, reconciliation, and a peaceful and just resolution.”

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

Study and Teach: New Educational Resources from Under Caesar's Sword

"Under Caesar’s Sword" is a three-year, global research project that investigates how minority Christian communities respond to religious persecution. A team of scholars conducted in-depth field research into more than 25 countries where Christians suffer oppression and persecution because of their religious beliefs. 

The fruit of this research is now available in two new educational resources: 

  • We Respond, a seven-session study series for high school students and adult groups, uses reflection questions, stories, and accessible research findings to allow your group to engage thoughtfully with Christians' responses to persecution today. Learn More
  • Christians Confronting Persecution, a six-week online course through Notre Dame's STEP program, brings together ministers, educators, and other adults to confront the reality of persecution through the lens of faith. The course features lectures on issues ranging from the meaning of religious freedom, the concept of martyrdom and strategies for response to persecution from Tom Farr, Timothy Shah, Daniel Philpott and Kristi Haas. The six-week course will begin its initial run on September 4. Learn More

Visit the Under Caesar's Sword website to find more information about the project and other resources including the report of findings: In Response to Persecution and documentary film: Under Caesar's Sword

Press Release: State Department’s Latest International Religious Freedom Report Underscores Need for All-of-Government Strategy

Press Release

State Department’s Latest International
Religious Freedom Report
Underscores Need for All-of-Government Strategy

August 15, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute welcomes the State Department’s 19th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom and applauds Secretary Tillerson and the Office of International Religious Freedom responsible for producing it.

President of the Religious Freedom Institute Thomas Farr stated: “The Secretary correctly observed that growing religious persecution not only poses a grave moral problem, but also implicates the national security of the United States. Advancing religious freedom can enhance stability and undermine the violent religious extremism that threatens us all. For these reasons, U.S. religious freedom policy should be part of a coherent, all-of-government national security strategy. The Senate should quickly confirm Governor Sam Brownback as the new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. We need someone of his stature and experience to develop and implement the religious freedom elements of such a strategy.”

The Annual Report, required by the International Religious Freedom Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law, is sobering and disturbing. It catalogs the growing crisis of religious persecution that is causing immense human suffering.

The report emphasizes that governments violently repress religious groups through blasphemy and apostasy laws, destruction and seizure of property, or imprisonment of religious leaders. The worst offenders include North Korea, Russia, Cuba, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Religious freedom should be central to our relations with these countries, and even with allies such as Turkey, where an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, remains in prison. 

Increasingly the most violent persecution has come from terrorist groups. The most visible threat has been the proliferation of ISIS and affiliated groups across the Middle East – and increasingly into Southeast Asia, Africa, and even into Europe and North America.

“I am encouraged to see Secretary Tillerson reemphasize that ISIS is responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims and that the Trump administration seeks to assist and protect them,” said Kent Hill, Executive Director of the Religious Freedom Institute.

“The U.S. must ensure that humanitarian assistance is in fact reaching these genocide survivors.  Beyond that, we must help them rebuild their homelands and create the religious and ethnic pluralism that can forestall the return of violent religious extremism,” said Hill.

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

Press Release: RFI Welcomes Nomination of Governor Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom

Press Release

RFI Welcomes Nomination of Governor Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom

July 27, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute applauds the nomination of Governor and former U.S. Senator Sam Brownback as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and calls upon the Senate to confirm him quickly.  

Governor Brownback’s wealth of experience, influence, and passion for religious liberty make him an outstanding choice to elevate international religious freedom to the front ranks of U.S. foreign policy, and to involve all U.S. foreign affairs agencies in that process.  

“With 16 years in Congress – including 14 in the U.S. Senate – Governor Brownback is well-known throughout Washington for his staunch commitment to religious freedom for people of all faiths around the globe,” said Tom Farr, president of the Washington-based Religious Freedom Institute. “He merits bipartisan support and swift confirmation from his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate.”  Farr also directs Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Research Project and served as the founding Director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.  

“A growing body of social science research demonstrates that robust protections for religious freedom promote economic growth, increase political and social stability, and undermine violent religious extremism and terrorism,” said Religious Freedom Institute Senior Advisor Byron Johnson.

“Under Governor Brownback’s leadership, U.S. international religious freedom policy can advance human rights and, at the same time, make substantial contributions to the national security of the United States at very low cost.”  Johnson is Director of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion. He also directs RFI’s United States Action Team.

The Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom coordinates international religious freedom policies across all U.S. agencies, is to report directly to the Secretary of State, and oversees the Office of International Religious Freedom at the U.S. State Department. Governor Brownback will be the fifth person to hold the position, succeeding Rabbi David Saperstein who vacated the position in January 2017.

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

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:

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

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. 


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.