Tom Farr

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

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

Protecting Human Dignity Across the Globe | AEI Values & Capitalism Fall Summit

Tom Farr will join Kristina Arriaga, Commissioner at U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Judge Ken Starr, former Solicitor General, and Elyse Anderson, Congressional-Executive commission on China, for a conversation on international religious freedom and its critical role in protecting human dignity across the globe at American Enterprise Institute's 2017 Values & Capitalism Fall Summit.

This unique gathering brings together leading voices from the Christian community for a one-day series of conversations on faith, public policy, and society. This year’s Summit will focus on the theme of human dignity and its implications for public policy and institutions of civil society, including conversations on the state of American communities, challenges in today’s workforce, international religious liberty, and Christian character and leadership.

The day-long event is available to watch: 

October 6, 2017: 3:30 PM EST Panel discussion II: International Religious Liberty: Protecting Human Dignity Across the Globe

Judge Ken Starr, Former US Solicitor General and Federal Judge
Kristina Arriaga, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Tom Farr, Religious Freedom Institute

Elyse Bauer Anderson, Congressional-Executive Commission on China

Promoting Religious Liberty Panel: J. Reuben Clark Law Society

What can be done to promote religious liberty? What is currently being done? This is the topic for one of two panels of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society (JRCLS) Religious Liberty Day, on October 5th in Washington, D.C. 

RFI President Thomas Farr, will join Elder Keetch (LDS Church), Tim Schultz (1st Amendment Partnership), and Montse Alvarado (Becket) for a discussion on ways to promote religious liberty within your own sphere of influence and current initiatives underway. 

The first panel of the day will examine the economic impact of religious liberty and the role of business in fostering religious liberty in the workplace. The discussion will include Brian Grim (Religious Freedom and Business Foundation), Debbie Marriott Harrison (Marriott International), Paul Lambert (Georgetown University McDonough School of Business), and Nathan Walker (1791 Delegates). 

The event begins at 4:00 PM and is open to the public. 

Mayflower Hotel
1127 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036

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

Press Release: RFI Welcomes Nomination of Governor Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom

Press Release

RFI Welcomes Nomination of Governor Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom

July 27, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute applauds the nomination of Governor and former U.S. Senator Sam Brownback as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and calls upon the Senate to confirm him quickly.  

Governor Brownback’s wealth of experience, influence, and passion for religious liberty make him an outstanding choice to elevate international religious freedom to the front ranks of U.S. foreign policy, and to involve all U.S. foreign affairs agencies in that process.  

“With 16 years in Congress – including 14 in the U.S. Senate – Governor Brownback is well-known throughout Washington for his staunch commitment to religious freedom for people of all faiths around the globe,” said Tom Farr, president of the Washington-based Religious Freedom Institute. “He merits bipartisan support and swift confirmation from his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate.”  Farr also directs Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Research Project and served as the founding Director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.  

“A growing body of social science research demonstrates that robust protections for religious freedom promote economic growth, increase political and social stability, and undermine violent religious extremism and terrorism,” said Religious Freedom Institute Senior Advisor Byron Johnson.

“Under Governor Brownback’s leadership, U.S. international religious freedom policy can advance human rights and, at the same time, make substantial contributions to the national security of the United States at very low cost.”  Johnson is Director of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion. He also directs RFI’s United States Action Team.

The Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom coordinates international religious freedom policies across all U.S. agencies, is to report directly to the Secretary of State, and oversees the Office of International Religious Freedom at the U.S. State Department. Governor Brownback will be the fifth person to hold the position, succeeding Rabbi David Saperstein who vacated the position in January 2017.

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

Fortnight of Freedom: Defending Religious Freedom

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops celebrates its annual "Fortnight of Freedom" from June 21-July 4. The annual event highlights the importance of defending religious freedom.

In this short film, RFI President Thomas Farr joins other experts and church leaders to explain how the understanding of religious freedom for everyone is grounded in the dignity of every human being.

Watch Here:

Press Release: Preserving Minorities and the Possibility for Stability in Iraq and Syria

Press Release

Preserving Minorities and the Possibility for Stability in Iraq and Syria

June 07, 2017, Washington, D.C.— In response to ISIS genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, the House of Representatives yesterday passed unanimously the Iraq and Syria Relief and Accountability Act (H.R. 390), co-authored by Republican Chris Smith and Democrat Anna Eshoo.

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) urges the Senate to move this bill, and the President to sign it, immediately. It will ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches the victims of genocide whose very survival is at risk. 

Sustaining these minority communities is a critical first step in enabling them to remain in their homelands. If Christians, Yazidis, Shabak, Kakai, Turkomen, Shi’a Muslims and other communities are not preserved in Iraq and Syria, the possibility that pluralism and stability might emerge in the future will be eliminated. A second critical step will be holding accountable those who have sought to destroy these communities.

Last year both the U.S. Congress and the Department of State labeled as “genocide” the actions of ISIS. But U.S. aid has not gone systematically to genocide victims. H.R. 390 directs that humanitarian assistance be provided to those in greatest need, especially genocide survivors. It requires the U.S. to work with the most effective relief organizations, including faith-based entities. It supports criminal investigation into perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Iraq.

RFI President Tom Farr hailed H.R. 390 as legislation that will relieve terrible human suffering while at the same time enhancing the national security of the United States. “HR 390 is an example of American values and American interests converging. Both the Senate and, in turn, the President should seize this opportunity to support both justice and peace in Iraq and Syria.”     

Tim Shah, an RFI Senior Director and Research Professor at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, praised Representatives Smith and Eshoo. “In a country and a Congress so deeply divided, we are gratified at the spirit of unity and non-partisanship demonstrated by these two stalwarts of religious freedom. The people of Iraq and Syria, as well as the American people, will owe them a debt of gratitude if this bill becomes law. We urge its passage.”

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

Tom Farr Honored at 15th Annual Religious Liberty Dinner

Thomas F. Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute and Melissa Reid, Executive Director, North American Religious Liberty Association (Photo Credit: Maria Bryk)

Thomas F. Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute and Melissa Reid, Executive Director, North American Religious Liberty Association
(Photo Credit: Maria Bryk)

On June 1, 2017 RFI President Tom Farr was honored at the 15th Annual Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington, D.C. Farr received the 2017 International Award for Religious Liberty, presented by a consortium of religious liberty groups.

In presenting the award, Melissa Reid, Executive Director of the North American Religious Liberty Association, cited Dr. Farr's long history of service to others, as well as his two decades of work on behalf of religious freedom at the U.S. State Department, as a professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, as Director of the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center, and as President of the Religious Freedom Institute.

The keynote address was given by Dr. Benjamin Carson, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In his remarks, Secretary Carson highlighted the vital contribution to America's history of the First Amendment. Among other things, it has empowered religious ideas and actors to solve many of the nation’s and the world’s most challenging problems.

The annual Religious Liberty Dinner is sponsored by the International Religious Liberty Association, North American Religious Liberty Association, Liberty Magazine, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The event was co-sponsored and hosted by the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute. 2017 marked the 15th year for the event which annually gathers diplomats, government officials, religious leaders, and religious liberty advocates to celebrate religious freedom and honor those who defend it.

Also honored at this year’s event with the National Award was Ms. Kimberlee Colby, Director, Center for Law and Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society. Dr. Bert B. Beach received the Liberty award for his lifetime of service, including as Vice President of the Board of the International Religious Liberty Association and Former Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Past honorees have included Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator John McCain, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, Senator John Kerry, Congressman Trent Franks, and White House Director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Melissa Rogers.

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:

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:

logos_3.21.17-2 copy.jpg

Experts and Policy Makers Join to Launch Policy Brief for New Administration and Congress

On March 20, more than 110 lawmakers, congressional staffers, and religious freedom advocates gathered on Capitol Hill for the release of a new policy brief entitled: U.S. Foreign Policy And International Religious Freedom: Recommendations For The Trump Administration And U.S. Congress. 

A core group of Senators and Representatives gave their support for the recommendations which make the case that religious freedom is a critical component of foreign policy not only as a human rights issue, but also because of its implications for security and stability for the United States and across the globe. 

Senator Bob Corker, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opened the event highlighting the need to prioritize religious freedom and to implement the legislation that exists, both in the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act and in the newly enacted Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. 

Expressing his own concern for the issue, Senator Cory Gardner, said, "Religious freedom is not simply an academic policy concern, it is one that is deeply personal." 

Reflecting a core premise of the policy brief, Representative Bill Flores made the case that "promoting religious freedom is critical for not only human rights, but for any hope for global peace."

Representative Francis Rooney, who is a former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, expressed from his experience as a diplomat the critical conviction that"you cannot advance religious freedom for one, without advancing religious freedom for all."

In addition to the reflections given by members of Congress, a panel of seasoned religious freedom experts discussed the implications for the recommendations made by the policy brief. Former Congressman Frank Wolf, Former Canadian Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Andrew Bennet, and USCIRF Commissioner Kristina Arriaga joined the co-authors of the brief, RFI President Thomas Farr and Dennis Hoover, Vice President for Research and Publications at the Institute for Global Engagement. 

The discussion focused on the need to further prioritize religious freedom for all communities in American foreign policy, a process that will involve the work of civil society and lawmakers, and also to increase the skill with which that policy is implemented by American diplomats and the administration. 

EVENT: March 20 U.S. Foreign Policy and International Religious Freedom


Please join us on March 20 for the launch of U.S. Foreign Policy and International Religious Freedom: Recommendations for the Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress, a new Policy Brief co-published by the Religious Freedom Institute and the Institute for Global Engagement.

Monday March 20, 2017
Kennedy Caucus Room (SR-325)
Russell Senate Office Building
Light refreshments served

The Brief will be presented by its co-authors, Tom Farr of RFI and Dennis Hoover of IGE. This will be followed by responses from Members of Congress and other advocates and scholars of religious freedom.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Senator Bob Corker, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Senator Cory Gardner, Chairman, Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Congressman Trent Franks, Co-Chairman, Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus
  • Congressman Francis Rooney, Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee
  • Congressman Bill Flores, Member, House Energy and Commerce Committee
  • Frank Wolf, Former Congressman and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative
  • Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, Commissioner at U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
  • Andrew Bennett, former Canadian Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, senior fellow at Cardus, Senior Research Fellow of the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown University

Past administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have started very slowly in implementing international religious freedom policy. Regrettably they have also had very limited success in addressing the alarming increase in religious persecution, radicalization, and violence around the world. The Trump Administration has an opportunityat low cost, to make a major contribution to religious freedom for all—and at the same time advance America’s interests in national security, international stability, fundamental human rights, and economic growth worldwide.

RSVP required:

To register please visit:
or contact: Mr. Jeremy Barker,

The event is co-sponsored by the Religious Freedom Institute and the Institute for Global Engagement, in partnership with the International Religious Freedom Roundtable.

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)


RFI Announces $1.6 million Grant

Press Release

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

What President Trump Should—and Shouldn’t—Do About International Religious Freedom - Farr To Join Faith and International Affairs Conference Call

RFI President Tom Farr will be the featured guest for the January Faith and International Affairs Conference Call, hosted by the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) on January 31, 2017.

Conference Call Title: "What President Trump Should—and Shouldn’t—Do About International Religious Freedom"

Dr. Farr will share insights and recommendations for the Trump administration, particularly in light of the recently-enacted Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act.

Details: Tuesday, January 31, 1:00pm EST

Visit IGE's website to RSVP and learn more about the Faith and International Affairs Conference Call series:

"The Future of Religious Liberty" - Mount Saint Mary Panel Event

RFI President Thomas Farr joined a diverse group of speakers at a panel event hosted by Mount Saint Mary University discussing the present and future challenges of religious liberty. 

The evening was opened by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori. Archbishop Lori, who cited not just the historical commitment to religious freedom of the institution, the country, but also the positive impact that the exercise of religious freedom has had and continues to have on the world. Yet he warned of the seeming "tightening of the noose" around the freedom for individuals to act on the basis of their convictions. While this has happened at the level of court decisions and government policies, these  governmental decisions, in his view, follow on from changes in culture. 

The panelists then looked to provide both insight into the future challenges and a call to action to strengthen and promote religious freedom, both domestically and internationally.

Speakers included:

Archbishop William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore

Daniel Hartman, Associate, WilmerHale LLP

Cheryl Mitchell Gaines, Founder and Senior Pastor, ReGeneration House of Praise

Nathan Diament, Executive Director, Orthodox Union Advocacy Center

Thomas Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute, Director, Religious Freedom Project, Georgetown University

You have a right and a responsibility to exercise as well as talk about religious freedom.
— Thomas Farr

Watch the event:

RFI President Addresses UK Foreign Office Conference on Religious Freedom vs. Violent Extremism

On October 19-20, 2016, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office hosted an important conference in London looking at the crucial role that religious freedom plays in disarming the ideologies that produce extremism and religiously motivated terrorism. Religious freedom is an important tool in undercutting the narratives that extremists use to motivate their followers to violent actions against minorities, the government, those of another faith, or even their co-religionists. 

RFI President Tom Farr was asked to address the conference as part of an opening panel to set the scene, illuminating: Why Freedom of Religion or Belief is Particularly Relevant. 

The conference gathered a diverse group of academics, activists, faith leaders, and political figures to look not only at the problem but to understand the crucial role of religious freedom in countering religiously motivated violence. 

This struggle is the biggest challenge of our generation. It is a struggle we must win. We need to build societies that are more resilient against violent extremism. We believe that protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief is an important part of building that resilience.
— Baroness Joyce Anelay, Minister of State, Foreign Commonwealth Office

Photo Credit: @FCOHuman Rights

Tom Farr joins Panel Discussing International Protection of Religious Freedom

On Friday, October 7, RFI President Tom Farr, joined U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, and the European Union’s first special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion and belief outside the European Union, Jan Figel, for a lively discussion moderated by Brett Scharffs, Francis R. Kirkham Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Research and Academic Affairs at the J. Reuben Clark Law School of Brigham Young University, on the status of protecting and promoting religious freedom globally. 

The event was hosted at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. and co-sponsored by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University and the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute.

Clearly religious freedom is a human right. It is important to be understood in that way. But religion is distinctive. We all share it in one way or another.

This is why I think religious freedom deserves its own niche: It is a source of other human and social goods. It contributes to the economy. It contributes to the stability of democracy. It can help undermine religious persecution and religious violence.
— Tom Farr, on why religious freedom matters on its own apart from other human rights


(Photo: Maria Bryk/Newseum)

Religious Freedom and the Next President of the United States

As November 8 draws near, RFI leadership has made the case to both the Republican and Democratic Presidential Campaigns that religious freedom is a vital part of American foreign policy. 

RFI President Tom Farr briefed Presidential candidate Donald Trump on the crisis of religious freedom here and abroad at a closed-door meeting in New York. Farr was part of an invitation-only meeting of Catholics and Evangelicals who have not endorsed Trump.

Farr's central point was that our government is not doing enough to address the international crisis, and is part of the problem here at home. Focusing on the global problem, he told Trump that the next President would have a moral and statutory obligation to advance religious freedom in US foreign policy. Farr said that succeeding in that task would not only help stabilize regions such as the Middle East, but would undermine violent religious extremism and increase the national security of the United States.

In a separate initiative, a group of experts on international religious freedom met with senior officials in both campaigns to deliver a series of recommendations for the next president on religious freedom and American foreign policy. 

RFI President Tom Farr and Dennis Hoover, Editor-in-Chief, The Review of Faith & International Affairs, were primary authors of the recommendations delivered to the campaigns: U.S. Foreign Policy & International Religious Freedom: Recommendations for the Next President

The effort was led by Open Doors USA and the Institute for Global Engagement. See this to learn more about the initiative and see a full list of individuals who signed on: EXPERTS BRIEF BOTH CLINTON AND TRUMP CAMPAIGNS ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM