United States

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.


Thomas Farr Discusses Gov. Brownback's Confirmation Hearing for Ambassador-at-Large

On October 4, Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as nominee to serve as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. 

RFI President Thomas Farr spoke with Travis Wussow, Vice President for Public Policy of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, outside the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room about Governor Brownback and the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

The Senate Foreign Relations hearing, chaired by Senator Marco Rubio is available to watch here: Governor Sam Brownback Confirmation Hearing

Philpott: POLITE PERSECUTION (First Things)

Not all persecution for religious beliefs entails martyrdom or physical brutalization. Yet, the cost for religious belief and identity are real and can be devastating. Violations of religious freedom - in the United States and globally - can take the form of "Polite Persecution."

This is the subject of a recent article at First Things by Daniel Philpott. An excerpt is included below or read the full article here: "POLITE PERSECUTION" | First Things

Daniel Philpott is an RFI Senior Associate Scholar and professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and co-director of the project “Under Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution"

No American has suffered the fate of Helen Berhane, the Eritrean gospel singer whose evangelizing earned her two years in a shipping container in the middle of a hot desert. But in the last decades American Christians, like Christians across the West, have faced a rising trend of what Pope Francis has termed “polite persecution.” As the pope explains, “if you don’t like this, you will be punished: you’ll lose your job and many things or you’ll be set aside.” At the hands of bureaucrats, bosses, and judges, Christian merchants, universities, schools, hospitals, charities, campus fellowships, students, public officials, employees, and citizens have been fired, fined, shut down, threatened with a loss of accreditation, and evicted for living out traditional convictions about marriage and sexuality.
How ought Christians to respond? A twofold lesson arises from Christians who have faced persecution over the centuries. The first is an injunction to avoid cooperation with sin; the second is an obligation, overlooked all too often during an era of relative freedom, to bear witness. Christians are to manifest a love that communicates the truth about friendship with Christ through language and life. In the face of polite persecution, this witness is unlikely to beget martyrdom but may well incur costs. And the history of Christianity shows that when those costs are accepted, witness is brightened and amplified.

Read More: Polite Persecution (First Things)

"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:

Tom Farr Led Broad Coalition to Condemn Government Sanctioned Discrimination

Thomas Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute, joined forces with a broad coalition of leaders from across the religious, ideological, and political spectrum to defend the right of all Americans to participate in the political life of their nation without being labeled – especially by their own government – as bigots because of their religious views. In a letter to President Barack Obama, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch, Farr and the other signatories ask them to reject publicly the statements of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and its Chairman that “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” are “code words” for intolerance.

The letter and coalition, led by Farr and RFI, attracted support from a diverse group of leaders including: Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i, Mormon, Evangelical and Catholic, and non-religious organizations. There may be few areas of agreement between all the signatories of the letter, except for the fundamental belief that all voices are invited into the public square. 

Byron Johnson Moderates Debate Measuring Contribution of Faith to American Economy

United States Action Team Director, Byron Johnson, moderated a debate of new research measuring the contribution of faith to American society from Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom and Business Foundation and Associate Scholar at the Religious Freedom Project. 

While much conversation about religion in contemporary society focuses on the negative aspects of religion, from terrorism to clerical abuse, this new research, the first of its kind, seeks to quantify the contribution of faith to the American economy. Historically, religion has been viewed as a force for good in American society, and this research demonstrates by one measure, exactly how much good it does. 

The debate featured Brian Grim, John J. DiIulio, and Byron Johnson, who examined the merits of the study, as well as its limitations and opportunities for continued work on the topic.

The event: Measuring Faith: Quantifying and Examining Religion's Contributions to American Society was co-hosted by the Religious Freedom Project of Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Institute for the Studies of Religion at Baylor University. 

Learn More about the Faith Counts research: The Socio-Economic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis

Photo Credit: Religious Freedom Project / Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.