Religious Freedom

Press Release: RFI Welcomes Supreme Court’s Move to Restore Founder’s View of Establishment Clause

Press Release: RFI Welcomes Supreme Court’s Move to Restore Founder’s View of Establishment Clause

June 24, 2019, Washington, D.C. — The United States Supreme Court held on Thursday that the Bladensburg Cross, a forty-foot cross honoring World War I veterans on public land in Maryland, does not violate the Constitution’s prohibition of established religion.

The Court’s decision, issued in the case of American Legion v. American Humanist Association, relied on American tradition and history to hold that monuments with religious meaning on public land do not run afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause so long as they follow the Founders’ tradition of “respect and tolerance for differing views, an honest endeavor to achieve inclusivity and nondiscrimination.”

Press Release: Religious Freedom Institute Awarded 3-Year Templeton Grant for Pathbreaking Research Initiative

Press Release: Religious Freedom Institute Awarded  3-Year Templeton Grant for Pathbreaking Research Initiative

The John Templeton Foundation has awarded a $1.7 million grant to the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) to lead a first-of-its-kind international inquiry into the meaning and impact of institutional religious freedom.

RFI Denounces Sri Lanka Bombings

RFI Denounces Sri Lanka Bombings

April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. — The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) today denounced the horrific attacks on innocent people in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. This series of coordinated bombings at three churches, four hotels, and a housing complex took nearly 300 lives.

RFI Condemns New Zealand Massacre as Religious Persecution

RFI Condemns New Zealand Massacre as Religious Persecution

“The mass shootings at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand represent the worst form of evil imaginable,” said Timothy Shah, head of RFI’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team. “This act of terrorism is an offense against human dignity and religious freedom. All ideologies that foster or sanction such acts must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”

Press Release: Google Should Remove Indonesian Government App for Reporting Heresy

Last month the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) sent a letter to Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, calling for the removal of “Smart Pakem,” an app available on the Google Play Store. The Indonesian government created the app to enable mobile phone users to report individuals suspected of “religious heresy.”

While Google has yet to respond to the letter, or remove the app, it recently joined Apple in “promising to investigate a Saudi app that lets men control women's travel,” according to a recent report. Google should treat Smart Pakem with the same degree of scrutiny.

Press Release: Religious Freedom Institute Moves D.C. Office to Capitol Hill

Press Release: Religious Freedom Institute Moves D.C. Office to Capitol Hill

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) has relocated its Washington, D.C. office to the heart of Capitol Hill. The new address is 316 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, Suite 501, Washington, D.C. 20003.

RFI commemorated its move to the historic National Capital Bank building on Pennsylvania Avenue with an open house Wednesday attended by 200 friends and colleagues from government, business, media, higher education, and the NGO community.

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: Diverse Group of Religious Leaders Reminds U.S. Senators: Religious Tests for Public Office Are Wrong, Unlawful

A group of leaders from across a broad spectrum of American religious life urged Senators to pledge their opposition to religious tests of any kind for nominees for public office.  

A letter, organized by the Religious Freedom Institute, was delivered to the Senate majority and minority leaders today, the day after the United States celebrated “Religious Freedom Day.”

Signatories included representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints, Sikh, Muslim, Baha’is, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant traditions.

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.
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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

Congress Should Act to Protect the Conscience Rights of All Health Care Providers

Press Release

Congress Should Act to Protect the Conscience Rights of All Health Care Providers

November 13, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute urges Congress to ensure that the conscience rights of physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are fully protected in law. Religious Freedom Institute President Tom Farr stated today, “No physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional should be coerced to participate in procedures that violate his or her religious conscience. Congress should ensure that victims of unjust discrimination have direct and immediate recourse to legal remedies in the courts.”

Although federal law has long prohibited unjust coercion of healthcare professionals, current law restricts a healthcare professional’s ability to protect his or her conscience rights.

For example, employers have pressured nurses to participate in abortions or risk losing their jobs. The federal Weldon amendment prohibits discrimination against individual or organizational healthcare providers who do not participate in abortions but fails to include a method for them to vindicate this non-discrimination right in federal court. 

Currently, if a healthcare professional or other healthcare provider is threatened or otherwise suffers discrimination for not participating in an abortion, the only recourse under the Weldon amendment is to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

On Capitol Hill last Wednesday, nurses Cathy DeCarlo, Sandra Mendoza, and Fe Vinoya described how their conscience rights had been violated. After 18 years of service as a nurse with the Winnebago County Health Department in Rockford, Illinois, Ms. Mendoza lost her job for refusing to participate in an abortion. She stated that, while Americans may not all agree on abortion, hopefully all can “agree that no doctor or nurse should be forced out of employment on account of their faith.”

In Roe v. Wade (1973) itself, the Supreme Court cited with approval a policy that “neither physician, hospital, nor hospital personnel shall be required to perform any act violative of personally-held moral principles.” The same year, Congress enacted protections for health care professionals’ conscience rights in circumstances involving abortion. 

In 2004, the Weldon amendment provided additional protections for physicians and nurses – as well as hospitals and other healthcare entities – against discrimination for not performing or participating in abortions. Congresses and Presidents of both parties have approved the Weldon amendment every year since 2004.

Congress should act immediately to ensure that nurses and other healthcare professionals are free to vindicate their rights promptly through our justice system.

The Religious Freedom Institute urges Congress to protect the religion freedom that enables professionals of all faiths to contribute to our society their much-needed healthcare skills and expertise.


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

Press Release: Defending Religious Freedom at Georgetown

Press Release

Defending Religious Freedom at Georgetown

October 27, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— In recent years considerable confusion has emerged on American college campuses about the meaning and value of religious freedom. Religious belief and expression by Muslim, Jewish, Christian and other religious students have been declared hateful or bigoted.

This week the Georgetown University Student Activities Commission announced its intent to examine charges against Love Saxa, a Georgetown student organization that holds and promotes Catholic teachings on marriage and sexuality. A hearing is scheduled for October 30 to determine whether Love Saxa should be defunded and removed as a sanctioned student group at Georgetown.

Students at the University have charged that Love Saxa’s promotion of Catholic teachings violates Georgetown Student Organization Standards by sanctioning hatred and intolerance.

The Religious Freedom Institute stands for the right of all college students in America, and all student groups on college campuses, to make religion-based arguments about the common good. This right is protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of the “free exercise” of religion, and is at the core of American democracy.

"This is an opportunity for students at Georgetown to break out of the toxic paradigms that increasingly plague our public discourse, and to demonstrate that holding differing views or beliefs must not be viewed as fostering hatred or intolerance," said Abigail Galván, Director of Development for the Religious Freedom Institute, a Georgetown alumna, and a founding member of Love Saxa.

"I encourage Georgetown students, as the future leaders of our nation, to promote a full exchange of ideas and do so in an environment where religious freedom is fully embraced and flourishes,” said Galván.

The United States was founded on the proposition that religious freedom for all its citizens, protected in law and valued in culture, is necessary for the success of democracy. There are many reasons for its value, including its role in protecting equality and ensuring unity.

The Religious Freedom Institute urges all college students, and all Americans, to consider the value of religious freedom in combatting the abandonment of civil discourse in our colleges and universities. Our Constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion ensures that all voices, including those grounded in religion, are welcome in America.

The Institute also notes that the Constitution guarantees the right of free exercise for religion-based universities, such as Georgetown, which is a Catholic University in the Jesuit tradition. Among other things, this means that such institutions have the right to defend the teachings of the religion which defines their identity, and to offer those teachings to their students. This right extends to all faith-based colleges and universities.


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

Timothy Shah: What American History Teaches About Importance of Putting Principles into Practice

While the U.S. has strong principles of religious freedom, and a great diversity of religions have flourished, there have always been struggles in putting principle into practice.

Timothy Shah, Senior Director, Religious Freedom Institute (File Photo)

Timothy Shah, Senior Director, Religious Freedom Institute (File Photo)

Timothy Shah, Senior Director of the Religious Freedom Institute's South and Southeast Asia Action Team, on September 12 delivered a keynote address discussing America's long tradition of religious freedom and religious pluralism with a delegation of senior officials from the Republic of Georgia. 

The delegation was part of a State-Department funded program which brought senior Georgian religious and military officials to the United States to explore Human Rights and Religious Pluralism in the United States. The goal of the program was to examine best practices in promoting interfaith dialogue, as well as to look into how governments, non-governmental organizations, and faith-based groups promote diverse, tolerant, peaceful communities.

In the discussion, Dr. Shah examined the formulation of religious freedom principles such as those enshrined in the First Amendment or expressed in President Washington's letter to the Newport Hebrew Congregation in 1790. He also considered recent trends that demonstrate both growing religious diversity and tensions that have emerged such as anti-Muslim attacks on mosques or hateful rhetoric or anti-Semitic hate crimes. 

The Religious Freedom Institute in its work, both domestically in the United States and in countries around the world, seeks to bridge the gap between principle and practice to promote religious freedom that leads to the flourishing of all.