Kent Hill

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/kormany.hu)

Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister (Photo: Gergely Botár/kormany.hu)

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. 

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

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

What is to be Done? Symposium of Under Caesar's Sword Project

4-20-17 Under Caeser's Sword National Press Club - photo Nathan Mitchell Photography-115.jpg

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 Sworddirected 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

logos_3.21.17-2 copy.jpg

Kent Hill Delivers Institute on Religion and Democracy Annual Diane Knipper's Lecture

RFI Executive Director Kent Hill delivered the Institute on Religion & Democracy Diane Knipper's Annual Lecture on Tuesday, October 4.

His lecture examined the past, present, and future of the Middle East, considering the question of whether Christianity will survive. The question is relevant not just for Christians, but for the region's other minorities. The question ultimately looks at the entire culture and whether plurality of religious beliefs, ethnicities, and political views will be allowed.

In short, it is a question of whether or not religious freedom will gain ground in this region.

“We need to understand that a multiethnic and multifaith Middle East is in the best interests of the United States and everyone else. To remove the religious minorities from the Middle East is to destroy the rich tapestry of its culture”
— Kent Hill

Photo Credit: Institute on Religion and Democracy

Kent Hill Speaks on Middle East Beyond Genocide

RFI Executive Director Kent Hill spoke alongside more than twenty members of Congress and other Middle East experts on the realities of the Middle East as part of the In Defense of Christians 2016 National Advocacy Convention.

The theme of the conference was "Beyond Genocide: Preserving Christianity in the Middle East"

In his address, Hill looked at the urgency not only of providing aid and assistance to those communities at risk of extinction in places like Iraq and Syria, but also of strengthening and supporting the communities in the region that are at risk, but not on life support.

Places like Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and even Turkey, present an opportunity to strengthen the presence of Christianity and demonstrate that diverse communities can live together again. 

There is no separating what happens in the Middle East from what happens in the rest of the world.
— Kent Hill

Photo Credit: In Defense of Christians

Executive Director Addresses Threats to Religious and Ethnic Minorities Under the Islamic State

Kent Hill addressed the role of international actors in assisting religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East as part of a panel of experts with experience in the region. Hill was joined in the discussion by Christine van den Toorn, Director of Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Sulaimani, and Sherri Talabany, President of SEED Foundation. 

The address came as part of a day-long conference that brought numerous speakers from the region to provide a first-hand account of the situation to inform policymakers about the continuing travail of religious and ethnic minorities threatened by the Islamic State, and to galvanize long-term thinking about addressing this crisis

The event was jointly hosted by the U.S. State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom and the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.