IRFA

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

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. 

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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

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
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
www.religiousfreedominstitute.org

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

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

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

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