RFI Calls on New Administration to Affirm Full and Equal Rights of Religious Freedom for American Muslims

January 18, 2017, Washington, D.C.—The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) calls upon the incoming administration to affirm that Muslim Americans—like all Americans—are entitled to religious freedom as articulated in our laws and in the First Amendment. The RFI opposes any immigration law or domestic policy that singles out Muslims or members of any other religious community and restricts their religious freedom.

The RFI is committed to achieving broad acceptance of religious liberty as a fundamental human right, the cornerstone of any successful society, and a source of national and international security.

RFI President Thomas Farr said today that “it is morally wrong and strategically unwise to attempt to identify dangerous immigrants based on their religion. A vigorous vetting should apply sensible criteria, such as a history of violence, expressions of violent intent, or intentional association with terrorists.” Farr was the first director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom. He also directs Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Research Project.   

“Any policy that stigmatizes an entire religion and all its adherents sends precisely the wrong message,” added RFI Senior Fellow Rebecca Shah. “Many thousands of Muslims have come to the U.S. seeking the same freedom and opportunity that motivated every previous generation of immigrants.” Shah is a London School of Economics-trained scholar whose pioneering work explores religion’s impact on the lives of poor and outcaste women.

For over two centuries, our nation has been committed to protecting the dignity and freedom of people of all faiths. In a political and cultural climate that is deeply divided, the Religious Freedom Institute recalls the timeless words of America’s first president. 

Writing to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, George Washington emphasized that the new nation would not flourish without religious freedom. All Americans “possess … liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship” he wrote. Washington continued:

[T]he Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
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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. www.religiousfreedominstitute.org

RFI Joins Broad Coalition to Condemn Government Sanctioned Discrimination

10/12/2016 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute) Thomas Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute, joined forces with a broad coalition of leaders from across the religious, ideological, and political spectrum to defend the right of all Americans to participate in the political life of their nation without being labeled – especially by their own government – as bigots because of their religious views. In a letter to President Barack Obama, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch, Farr and the other signatories ask them to reject publicly the statements of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and its Chairman that “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” are “code words” for intolerance.

In a startling display of a new and virulent form of state-sanctioned anti-religious prejudice, a report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, released last month, condemned America’s first freedom, the freedom of religion, as a front for racism, sexism, and “Christian supremacy.” The report, entitled Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Non-Discrimination Principles with Civil Liberties, stigmatizes tens of millions of Americans, their communities and institutions, and threatens the religious freedom of all citizens. The intent of the report appears to be to end the debate over critical issues concerning the nation’s common good, and to exclude millions of Americans from our public life.

RFI President Thomas Farr said in a statement today: “I was honored to join with Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i, Mormon, Evangelical and Catholic leaders, as well as the leaders of non-religious organizations, to call on our elected leaders to condemn the Commission's report. We took no position on the great cultural and moral debates facing our nation, except the position that in America everyone has a voice. Our founding generation would be scandalized that a government agency has asserted, in effect, that Americans who exercise their religious freedom are doing so with evil intent, and that the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion should be considered null and void.  Every American should condemn this report.”

The entire letter can be read here: Multi-Faith Letter
The USCCR report can be read here: Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties

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Jeremy P. Barker
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The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) is committed to achieving broad acceptance of religious liberty as a fundamental human right, the cornerstone of a successful society, and a source of national and international security. The Religious Freedom Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C. | www.religiousfreedominstitute.org

U.S. State Department Releases 2015 International Religious Freedom Report Highlighting Evolving Threats to Religious Communities Globally

08/10/2016 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute) Today the U.S. Department of State released its 2015 annual report on International Religious Freedom. The report highlights the evolving threats to religious communities globally and the work of the United States to advocate for religious freedom as part of its diplomatic efforts worldwide.

“A robust understanding of religious freedom is crucial not only as a fundamental human right that recognizes the dignity and worth of every individual, but also as a critical component to stability, security, and economic prosperity,” said Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute.

In this year’s report, the State Department highlighted two major trends that are driving many of the most severe abuses of religious communities: the role of non-state actors such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabab, who are carrying out religiously-motivated terrorist attacks; and the use of blasphemy and apostasy laws by governments that wrongfully imprison and punish those whose beliefs do not align with interpretations authorized by political and religious authorities.

Kent Hill, who will become the Executive Director of the Religious Freedom Institute later this month, and who just returned from the Middle East, added: “The absence of religious freedom allows for the growth of extremist ideologies that fuel much of the religiously motivated violence threatening the very existence of Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities across the Middle East and North Africa.”

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein said, “I want to highlight the chilling and sometimes deadly effect of blasphemy and apostasy laws in many places of the world, as well as laws that purport to protect religious sentiments from defamation.”

Blasphemy laws are present in nearly a quarter of the world’s countries and apostasy laws in ten percent of countries, according to the IRF Report.

“The use of blasphemy laws — as well as closely related laws restricting conversion and apostasy — places governments in the position of determining what are acceptable beliefs of religious communities and by criminalizing certain views, it often signals that communal violence against religious minorities is permissible in the eyes of the state,” said Timothy Samuel Shah, RFI Senior Advisor.

Farr also applauded this emphasis. “I particularly welcome the Department’s focus on blasphemy and apostasy laws. These laws do not just harm their immediate victims. Particularly troubling in the Middle East is that they ensure the voices of Muslim moderates are not heard, and that the public discourse over what Islam requires of its adherents is dominated by extremists.”

In their statements both Ambassador Saperstein and Deputy Secretary Blinken noted an increase in resources employed by the State Department in an effort to increase understanding of the role that religion plays in foreign affairs.

“It is encouraging to see that the State Department is recognizing the crucial role that religion plays globally both as a fundamental human right and a core aspect of stability and prosperity. Ambassador Saperstein has done tremendous work in championing these efforts, but much, much more remains to be done. The Frank R. Wolf Bill, H.R. 1150, that has passed the House with complete bipartisan support and is now in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, takes important steps to strengthen the American commitment to International Religious Freedom and address many of the issues raised by the report released today,” said Thomas Farr.

“In particular, the bill will focus U.S. attention on the advancement of religious freedom as a means of increasing international peace and stability, and enhancing the security of the American homeland. The Religious Freedom Institute calls upon the Senate to pass the bill immediately.” 

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


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) is committed to achieving broad acceptance of religious liberty as a fundamental human right, the cornerstone of a successful society, and a source of national and international security. The Religious Freedom Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.