congress

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/

RFI Calls for End to Ethnic and Religious Cleansing of Muslim Rohingya in Western Burma

Press Release

RFI Calls for End to Ethnic and Religious Cleansing of Muslim Rohingya in Western Burma

September 15, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute calls on the United States and the international community to take immediate steps to stop the outrageous injustices the Burmese military is committing against the Muslim Rohingya and to ensure they are accorded their basic human rights, including their right to religious freedom.  A brutal campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing carried out by the Burmese Army  has victimized some 300,000 people from the predominantly Muslim Rohingya ethnic community in western Burma (Myanmar).   In particular, the RFI calls on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution imposing a global arms embargo on Burma and calls on relevant countries  to consider  targeted sanctions against the Burmese military.

“The election of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy was viewed by many as the dawn of a new era of freedom in Burma,” notes Dr. Andrew Bennett, former Canadian Ambassador for International Religious Freedom and an RFI Senior Fellow. “Yet as leader of the Burmese government she has failed to halt the persecution in Rakhine state or to champion religious freedom as a key democratic freedom.”

In the past three weeks, hundreds have been killed by the Burmese Army, and the testimonies of refugees point to horrific crimes against humanity, including the burning of villages and shooting of women and children. The current crisis was precipitated by attacks on Burmese police posts by a small militant armed Rohingya group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) unequivocally condemns these attacks. 

However, “the Burma Army’s response to the attacks by ARSA has been grotesquely disproportionate,” observes Ambassador Bennett. While ARSA’s attacks cannot be justified, they were a predictable response to decades of persecution of the Rohingya. Research by RFI Senior Fellow Dr. Nilay Saiya, demonstrates that severe religious repression is the leading global cause of religion-related terrorism. Without an immediate end to the persecution of the Rohingya, a worsening cycle of religious militancy, Burmese military reprisals, and political instability may well occur and spread to neighboring countries.

In 1982, Burma stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship, rendering them stateless and vulnerable to increasingly severe restrictions on their basic human rights. In 2012, major outbreaks of violence against the Rohingya began to occur, with the latest military campaign being the most severe and widespread. 

The Religious Freedom Institute urges the international community, particularly the United States, the United Kingdom, and their allies, the UN, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to act to stop further crimes against humanity. It also calls on the Government of Burma to open all parts of Rakhine State, where the atrocities are being committed, to unrestricted access by international humanitarian aid agencies, human rights monitors, and the media.

At the same time, the Religious Freedom Institute calls on Pope Francis to use his visit to Burma in November to advocate forcefully for religious freedom, human dignity, and peace and reconciliation for all the peoples of Burma.

Benedict Rogers — East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organization CSW, author of three books on Burma, and an RFI Senior Fellow — observes, “This crisis must also be laid at the feet of General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, who is leading the current campaign of atrocities. He must not be permitted to hide behind Aung San Suu Kyi while she receives, albeit justly, global criticism. To move forward, the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan must be implemented, and efforts must be made to stop the violence and move towards accountability, reconciliation, and a peaceful and just resolution.”
 


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. 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: 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

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

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

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. 

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. 

Tom Farr Congressional Testimony: Religious Freedom Under Siege

On July 12, Tom Farr testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on religious freedom under siege worldwide.

In his testimony, Dr. Farr argued before the Congress that religious freedom stands at the core of what it means to be human. No person can live a fully human life with the right to seek God and to live in accord with the truth as he or she understands it.
 
Religious freedom protects this most fundamental right. It also promotes individual and societal human flourishing. When religious freedom is missing other social goods are missing, and when it is present human rights, democratic stability, and economic growth all are able to grow and undermine the causes that often drive violence and extremism. The work of promoting religious freedom really can work to keep Americans here at home safe.
 
You can read his full testimony and learn more about the hearing here:
Hearing: Human Rights Under Siege Worldwide

Thomas Farr Testimony: U.S. International Religious Freedom Policy: Addressing the Global Crisis in Human Rights and Increasing American National Security