IRF Action Team

Press Release: The Religious Freedom Institute Observes the UN’s First International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

Press Release: The Religious Freedom Institute Observes the UN’s First International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

August 22, 2019, Washington, D.C. – The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) today observes the UN’s inaugural International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. Earlier this year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming this day of commemoration in response to the alarming rise in persecution of religious persons and communities around the world. 

Press Release: RFI Announces Groundbreaking Report, “Surveying the Landscape of International Religious Freedom Policy”

Press Release: RFI Announces Groundbreaking Report,  “Surveying the Landscape of International Religious Freedom Policy”

July 15, 2019, Washington, D.C. — The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) today officially releases a first-of-its kind report titled, “Surveying the Landscape of International Religious Freedom Policy.”

To commemorate the report’s release, RFI is holding a public event today at the National Press Club from 1:30-2:00 PM.

Press Release: U.S. State Department to Hold High-Level Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom for Second Year in a Row

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) welcomes the U.S. Department of State’s recent announcement that it will host a second consecutive Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom July 16-18, 2019.

“We are grateful for Secretary Pompeo’s commitment to advancing religious freedom around the world,” said Thomas Farr, President of RFI and founding Director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.

Press Release: RFI Report Highlights the Critical Need for Decisive Action to Provide Security and Support for Religious Minority Communities in Iraq

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) today issued a report, “Hanging by a Thread: Christians and Other Religious Minorities Are Fading into History on the Nineveh Plains.”

The report, based on a trip to Iraq’s Nineveh Plains last month, outlines the dire conditions in northern Iraq for Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. The report underscores the profound security and economic challenges religious minorities face in Sinjar and the Nineveh Plains and points to a looming threat to both Iraqi and American security.

Press Release: Congress Takes Action to Support Minorities in Iraq and Syria and Hold ISIS Accountable

Four years after ISIS laid siege to ethnic and religious minority communities in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. Congress voted unanimously late today to fund humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery assistance for victims of genocide. The bipartisan legislation will go to the President’s desk for signing before the end of the year.

Press Release: RFI Welcomes “Long Overdue” Decision by Pakistan Supreme Court to Vacate Asia Bibi’s Death Sentence

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.

The Rohingya Crisis: The Shameful Global Response to Genocide and the Assault on Religious Freedom

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.

Unprecedented Ministerial Tees Up the Crisis and the Solutions: Now the Work Begins

The Religious Freedom Institute applauds the successful conclusion of the three-day Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. The remarkable gathering of government and civil society representatives from across the world drove home the brutal nature of international religious persecution, and was marked by historic multilateral commitments to do more to stop it.

First-Ever Ministerial Offers Historic Opportunity to Make Religious Freedom a Global Policy Priority

July 24, 2018, Washington, D.C.— The Religious Freedom Institute welcomes the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The unprecedented three-day gathering of high-level government officials, civil society representatives, and religious leaders presents an opportunity to elevate the foreign policy priority of religious freedom for the United States, for participating nations, and for the world.  

“The twenty years since the passage of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act have confirmed its premise that religious freedom is a universal moral good. Unfortunately, these years have also demonstrated that the absence of religious freedom is destabilizing and dangerous. The Ministerial will focus on the strategic importance for international security and economic prosperity of this fundamental right,” said Thomas Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute and founding Director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.

Global threats to religious freedom have never been greater. Over 6.1 billion people, 83% of the world’s population, live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion, according to the latest findings from the Pew Research Center. Millions are subject to violent persecution, including torture, rape, forced expulsion, and murder because of their religious beliefs or those of their tormentors. From Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to Russia, India, Myanmar, and China, to Nigeria, Nicaragua and Venezuela, violations of religious freedom are causing vast human suffering, undermining entire societies, and encouraging violent religious extremism.

These sobering realities form the backdrop to the global summit being convened by Secretary of State Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. More than 80 nations are expected to send delegations, along with hundreds of representatives from civil society organizations, and religious communities from every corner of the globe.

In announcing the Ministerial, Secretary Pompeo stressed that “where fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, peace and peaceful assembly are under attack, we find conflict, instability, and terrorism. On the other hand, governments and societies that champion these freedoms are more secure, stable, and peaceful.”

RFI President Thomas Farr, who advised the State Department in planning the Ministerial, praised the Secretary and Ambassador Brownback for the action-orientated nature of the three days, as well as the emphasis on undermining terrorism and advancing economic development: “This gathering represents an historic opportunity for the United States. The time is now for our nation to lead a global effort in advancing this fundamental right, without which no human being, and no society, can flourish.”


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.
RFI_Logo_RGB white back.jpg

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

In Trinity Western University Decision The Supreme Court of Canada Relegates Freedom of Religion and Conscience to the Private Sphere

In a decision that could have implications for the United States, Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that any student graduating from Trinity Western University’s planned law school can be barred from the practice of law. The Court decided that a school covenant requiring its faculty, staff, and students to live in accord with the traditional Christian understanding of marriage was sufficient cause to refuse licensing for the law school.

While the court recognized a religious freedom interest on the part of the school, it said the “public interest” demanded religious freedom be set aside.

Human Rights and Religious Freedom Should Be on the North Korea Agenda for Any Trump – Kim Summit

As a high-profile drama unfolds around a possible summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, American leaders are urging the President to include human rights and religious freedom on the agenda.

More than fifty foreign policy professionals, human rights advocates, and Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders sent a letter to President Trump urging him to incorporate human rights in general, and religious freedom in particular, into America’s summit strategy.

Secretary Pompeo Announces International Religious Freedom Summit Ambassador Brownback Plots New Course for U.S. International Religious Freedom Strategy

Press Release

Secretary Pompeo Announces International Religious Freedom Summit
Ambassador Brownback Plots New Course for U.S. International Religious Freedom Strategy

05/30/2018 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute) — The Religious Freedom Institute welcomes the State Department’s 20th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback.

Like its predecessors, the Report makes for grim reading. It details the vicious religious persecution taking place in countries around the world, including (but not limited to) North Korea, Burma, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Nigeria. The Report portrays a global crisis in which innocent people are brutalized for their religious beliefs and practices.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Sam Brownback announce the first-ever "Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom" along with the release of the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report in Washington, May 29, 2018. Photo: State Department/Public Domain

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Sam Brownback announce the first-ever "Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom" along with the release of the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report in Washington, May 29, 2018.
Photo: State Department/Public Domain

None of this is new. But Ambassador Brownback appears to be leading the United States to address the crisis in new ways. In an unexpected move, Secretary Mike Pompeo announced yesterday that he would hold his first ministerial on the subject of religious freedom. On July 25-26 he will host in Washington a “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.”

Such a high-level U.S. gathering has never been held, including in the twenty years since the creation of the Ambassador’s position and the legislative mandate that the State Department advance religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.

The Secretary said invitees would include his counterparts from “like-minded governments,” plus representatives from international organizations, religious communities, and civil society. He stressed that “where fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, peace and peaceful assembly are under attack, we find conflict, instability, and terrorism. On the other hand, governments and societies that champion these freedoms are more secure, stable, and peaceful.”

Brownback said the ministerial will focus on how religious freedom can reduce terrorism and increase economic development: “The intent is really to drive the issue of religious freedom more aggressively globally, and the outcomes are really twofold that we intend to get out of it: less terrorism, more economic growth.”

RFI President Tom Farr praised the Secretary and the Ambassador for holding a ministerial that ties religious freedom to terrorism and economic development: “Religious freedom is the God-given right of every person. But that truth alone has not stopped religious persecution. Convincing nations that more religious freedom can help them undermine terrorism and increase economic growth is a bold new approach that has great promise in actually reducing the global scourge of religious persecution.”


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

Former Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom Dr. Andrew Bennett Joins the Religious Freedom Institute

Press Release

Former Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom Dr. Andrew Bennett Joins the Religious Freedom Institute

04/10/2018 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute) — The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) is delighted to announce that Canada’s former Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, has joined RFI as a Senior Fellow. He will serve as a leader of the Institute’s Action Teams for International Religious Freedom Policy and for North America.

Religious Freedom Institute President Thomas Farr welcomed the appointment. “Dr. Andrew Bennett is deeply committed to religious freedom for all people, and his commitment is matched by superb diplomatic credentials. His experience dealing with disparate threats to religious freedom around the world, including in Western democracies, strengthens the Religious Freedom Institute’s ability to address the growing international crisis in religious freedom.”  

Dr. Bennett served in the Canadian Foreign Service as Canada’s first Ambassador for Religious Freedom and Head of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom. During his tenure, he traveled worldwide to defend and advance this fundamental human right as a core element of Canada’s foreign policy. Rev. Dr. Bennett is an ordained deacon in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the Eparchy (Diocese) of Toronto and Eastern Canada.

Dr. Bennett also serves as Program Director of Cardus Law in Ottawa, a program of Cardus, a Canadian think tank dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture. In that capacity, Dr. Bennett examines issues of religious freedom and public faith in Canada, providing a complement to his work with the Religious Freedom Institute on advancing religious freedom in North America.    

Dr. Bennett responded to his appointment: “I am delighted to be joining the Religious Freedom Institute in this critical moment for the future of religious freedom around the world, including in North America. The Religious Freedom Institute has the leadership, vision, and policy savvy to be the leading institute in the Western world engaging questions of religious freedom at both a theoretical and practical level. Within North America, we are deeply committed to reviving in law and culture the meaning and value of religious freedom for all citizens as we seek to inhabit the public square where we live out our deeply held beliefs.” 

As a member of the International Religious Freedom Policy Action Team, Dr. Bennett will lead RFI’s efforts to drive strategic thinking on the value of religious freedom in foreign policy. The Religious Freedom Institute promotes a robust understanding of the many ways in which religion and religious freedom make contributions to public life and the common good.


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

RFI COMMENDS CONFIRMATION OF SAM BROWNBACK AS U.S. AMBASSADOR AT-LARGE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Press Release

RFI COMMENDS CONFIRMATION OF SAM BROWNBACK AS U.S. AMBASSADOR AT-LARGE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

January 25, 2018 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) commends the U.S. Senate for confirming Governor Sam Brownback as the new U.S Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. 

Religious Freedom Institute President Thomas Farr welcomed the Senate's decision: "Ambassador Brownback's deep experience, and his commitment to religious freedom for all people, will help ensure American leadership in the vital work of reducing global religious persecution. We believe he will make U.S. religious freedom policy an integral part of America's national security strategy." 

Ambassador Brownback will confront a host of daunting challenges and threats to stability and security. Rising levels of global religious persecution are being fueled by violent religious extremism, oppressive government policies, and aggressively anti-religious forms of secularism. Millions are suffering terrible depredations as a result. Nations and economies are being destabilized by the absence of religious freedom. 

Ambassador Brownback is the right choice to lead U.S. policy in addressing this global crisis. In his 16 years as a Congressman and U.S. Senator, Brownback built a reputation as a steadfast advocate for religious freedom. He was one of the key supporters of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which established in law the promotion of religious freedom as an element of U.S. foreign policy.  The Act also created the ambassadorship Brownback now holds. In the Senate, Brownback played an integral role in increasing and improving the U.S. response to the genocide in Darfur by introducing the legislation that became the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006. 

A policy brief released in early 2017 by the Religious Freedom Institute and the Institute for Global Engagement offers recommendations on international religious freedom policy to the Trump administration and Congress. The brief stresses the importance of integrating religious freedom into U.S. foreign policy and national security thinking.  

The brief notes that by placing religious freedom at the core of our foreign policy "the Trump administration has a remarkable opportunity, at low cost, to make a major contribution to international justice and stability, fundamental human rights, economic growth, and U.S. national security." RFI President Thomas Farr said that "Ambassador Brownback can make this vision a reality and deserves the support of all Americans in achieving it."
 


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

Thomas Farr Gives Congressional Testimony on Advancing Human Rights to Combat Extremism

On Wednesday, December 6, Thomas Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute, testified before Congress on the ways in which U.S. International Religious Freedom diplomacy can improve our nation’s ability to combat Islamist terror.

In short: more religious freedom abroad can help prevent the rise of terrorism and protect Americans here at home.

Full testimony: Employing Religious Freedom Diplomacy to Combat Extremism, Thomas F. Farr and hearing video is below. 

Thomas F. Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute

Thomas F. Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute

In marking World Human Rights Day (which takes place on December 10th, 2017), the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations of the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing examining the strategic contribution of human rights to addressing issues of extremism

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the subcommittee said, "The advancement of fundamental human rights – in particular, freedom of religion – should be a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. By emphasizing such principles, we counter extremist messaging, support moderate voices, and promote the popular aspirations of people around the world who wish to live in freedom and peace. We need to encourage such voices of moderation in the Islamic world, while waging a full-throated war of ideas with radical extremists such as ISIS. The ideological battlefield is just as important as the territorial one.”

Other Speakers included: John Lenczowski, Ph.D. (Founder and President, The Institute of World Politics), Sayyid Syeed, Ph.D., (Senior Advisor, Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances Islamic Society of North America), and Mr. Neil Hicks (Director, Human Rights Promotion, Human Rights First). 

Event Details: 
Wednesday, December 6 at 10:00 AM
2172 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-hearing-advancing-human-rights-combat-extremism/

Congressional Commission Hearing Examines Religious Freedom in OSCE

On November 15, 2017 the U.S. Helsinki Commission hosted a briefing titled “Religious Freedom Violations in the OSCE Region: Victims and Perpetrators.”

The briefing opened with remarks from Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State. It was then followed by a second panel of experts, including, Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Dr. Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, and Philip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nathaniel Hurd, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission, moderated the event. The full event video is available below. 

Nathaniel Hurd, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission (Moderator), Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State, Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Dr. Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, and Philip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses (Left to Right, Photo Credit: U.S. Helsinki Commission)

Nathaniel Hurd, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission (Moderator), Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State, Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Dr. Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, and Philip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses (Left to Right, Photo Credit: U.S. Helsinki Commission)

Dr. Collins, a scholar of the Under Caesar's Sword Project, highlighted many of the findings of her research on Christian responses to persecution in Central Asia.

Dr. Collins concentrated her time on the evolving situation in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. She suggested that governments in the region are looking towards each other and Russia to justify extremism laws that are really just another form of religious persecution.

Based on her research, the recent actions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have taken steps similar to Soviet-era tactics of repression and control of all groups not approved by the government. Societal discrimination continues to be high across the region and remains worth addressing. 

The Under Caesar's Sword project studied response where Christians face persecution. Predominant strategies in Central Asia represent decades of Soviet-style repression. Primarily they hide and seek to merely survive. For those who seek public engagement they do so with enormous risk. Positive steps have been seen through engagement in humanitarian and social services, filling gaps that government has often overlooked.

Ambassador Kozak highlighted the important connections between enhanced security and religious freedom and efforts currently underway at the State Department to advance religious freedom. 

Religious freedom is not only good human rights doctrine, it is good counterterrorism doctrine.
— Ambassador Michael Kozak

Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, expressed that trends in the region are not encouraging. He said that, "Unfortunately, we at USCIRF are not optimistic with regard to the outlook for religious freedom in the OSCE countries we monitor. Generally speaking, the trend has been toward authoritarian governments imposing more written and unwritten restrictions on expressions of religion."

Phillip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses, highlighted particular challenges his community has faced across the region due to government restrictions that have limited their ability to practice their faith. 

To see more on the briefing visit: https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/events/religious-freedom-violations-osce-region

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. 

---

Full Testimony - Dr. Thomas F. Farr: "Religious Freedom and American National Security" 
A Hearing of the National Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, September 5, 2017

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