The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) welcomes the decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to vacate the conviction and death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy. The woman, Asia Bibi, was convicted in 2010 of insulting the Prophet of Islam during an argument with her neighbors.
On August 25, 2017, a wave of violence was unleashed against the Rohingya people in Rakhine state, Burma. In the nearly one year since those attacks the global response to this crisis has been shameful. In a new report, The Rohingya Crisis: The Shameful Global Response to Genocide and the Assault on Religious Freedom, the Religious Freedom Institute highlights this crisis and puts forward a call to action.
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.
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
"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.
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
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 Sword, directed 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
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.
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."
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.
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)
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.
April 20, 2017
9:00 a.m. - 5:15 p.m
National Press Club
"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.
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
The Arlington Catholic Herald published an extensive article on the issue of global persecution and the new documentary Under Caesar's Sword produced by RFI and the Notre Dame Center for Culture and Ethics.
"Tens of thousands of Christians and Catholics, facing death or forced conversions, fled their homes in Iraq when the Islamic State group took control of the region. This past Advent, 25 people were murdered and many more were injured by a suicide bomber at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. The Muslim militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria has killed thousands. These horrific stories are well-known, but many others go untold. A recent documentary, also named “Under Caesar's Sword,” explores this worldwide persecution.
Though these experiences are unfamiliar to most Americans, the documentary hopes viewers find solidarity with their fellow Christians."
Read the full article here: New documentary shows the worldwide persecution of Christians by Zoey Maraist (@ZoeyMaraist)
Watch the trailer and learn more about the project here: Under Caesar's Sword
Senior Advisor Tim Shah was invited to deliver the 23rd Annual Jackson Memorial Lecture as part of Baylor University's Honor College.
Shah's lecture was entitled "Religious Freedom in a World of Religious Fervor: The Human Rights issue of the Twenty-First Century."
"We are delighted to host Dr. Timothy Shah, the latest in a long line of distinguished speakers for the Laura Blanche Jackson Memorial Lecture,” said Thomas S. Hibbs, Ph.D., dean of the Honors College, director of the Baylor in Washington, D.C. program, and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture. “Shah is an expert on both domestic and global religious liberty with particular expertise on religion in India. Deeply learned, he is an engaging speaker, whose talk will be both accessible to undergraduates and edifying for faculty."
The Laura Blanche Jackson Endowed Memorial Lectureship in World Issues is dedicated to piecing together a larger picture of the individual issues that contribute to today's world affairs.
Past lectures have featured distinguished guests such as Robert P. George, Andrew H. Card, Jr., and George Weigel. The lectures focus on the individual issues that help to piece together a fuller understanding of world affairs.
Learn more about the Jackson Lectures.
How do Christians globally respond to persecution? How will you respond?
These questions are at the heart of a new documentary: Under Caesar's Sword
Under Caesar's Sword is a three-year, collaborative global research project that investigates how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated. A team of 14 scholars, representing the world’s leading scholars of Christianity in their respective regions, traveled around the world to study Christian communities in over 30 countries including China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and India.
The effort is a joint-project of the Religious Freedom Institute, the Notre Dame Center for Culture and Ethics, and the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
Senior Advisor and South and Southeast Asia Action Team Director, Timothy Shah, addressed a high level gathering of senior military leaders on the importance of religious freedom in the effort to combat violent extremism.
The conference, “Religious Freedom: An Effective Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism,” was organized and sponsored by The Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies, in support of the US Army Central Command (ARCENT), at National Defense University in Washington, D.C on September 19, 2016.
Religious freedom is not only an individual right to be protected, but it is an important contributor to the safety, security, and stability of societies and nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East.
RFI Senior Advisor Timothy Shah delivered a paper entitled, “Engaging the ‘New Critics’ of Religious Freedom,” at the Fourth International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies Conference. Shah's paper was part of a discussion on Freedom of Religion and International Law.
Shah's paper addresses recent literature that brings charges that religious freedom is a Western cultural construct being imposed on foreign cultures.
The fourth ICLARS conference brought together more than 150 experts from 37 countries to discuss the topic of “Freedom of/for/from/within Religion: Differing Dimensions of a Common Right?”, at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom, on Sept. 9, 2016.
The International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies is an international network of scholars and experts in law and religion begun in 2007 with Professor Silvio Ferrari of the University of Milan as President. The purpose of ICLARS is to provide a forum for exchange of information, data, and opinions among members — at present from more than 40 countries — which can be made available to the broader scientific community.
Learn more about ICLARS and the Conference: ICLARS IV: "Freedom of/for/from/within Religion: Differing Dimensions of a Common Right?"
Read: Timothy Shah and Daniel Philpott (2016): Engaging the "New Critics" of Religious Freedom
Photo Credit: ICLRS