foreign policy

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

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:

Timothy Shah Addresses Military Leaders on Religious Freedom's Critical Role Against Violent Extremism

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, delivered a private briefing for military leaders from the Near East and South Asia region on the critical role religious freedom plays in addressing the rising challenges posed by religion-related violence and terrorism.

The Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University convened a seminar September 11-22, 2017 looking at the need to move beyond a "whole of government" approach to security and consider a "whole of society" approach. 

As Dr. Shah made clear in his presentation, drawing on a growing body of research, it is evident that religion-related violence is an increasing source of security concerns. There are two common approaches to this: 1) Greater restrictions on religion or 2) Greater religious freedom. The evidence makes clear that greater restrictions lead to an increase in religion-related violence both domestically and transnationally. 

The best environment for preventing and reducing violent extremism (both secular and religious) is an environment of real religious freedom and tolerance.

Therefore, the best thing religion can do to fight against violent extremism is to fight for religious freedom for everyone, including groups with which we do not agree.
— Timothy Shah, at National Defense University, Sept. 20, 2017

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

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

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.

RFI Leadership Promotes Religious Freedom at World Summit In Defense of Persecuted Christians

On May 10-13, more than 600 delegates from 130 countries gathered in Washington, D.C. to address the global challenge of Christian persecution. 

The event was filled with powerful testimonies of Christians around the globe - from the daughter of an Iranian martyr, to the brother of Coptic Christians killed by ISIS in Libya, to church leaders from South America, Africa, and Asia. 


Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, gave a plenary address to the summit on the topic of advocating for freedom. His remarks called for an urgency and a fierce commitment not just to the protection of Christians, but to the promotion of religious freedom. The principle that will enable them "to live in the world as his followers, as salt and light, as Christians." 

Kent Hill, Executive Director, and Tim Shah, Senior Advisor of the Religious Freedom Institute also participated in the event as Special Advisors and led breakout sessions to discuss the challenges and opportunities of advocating on behalf of Christians in particular contexts of persecution. 

Critical to any successful advocacy will be the principle of promoting religious freedom for all. This was one of the key findings of the Under Caesar's Sword project which studied in detail the responses of Christian communities to persecution in more than 25 of the world's most repressive countries. 

The World Summit In Defense of Persecuted Christians was organized by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and was organized as an opportunity to bring greater attention to the global plight of persecution around the world. 

Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Conference and Members of Congress including Senators James Lankford and Roy Blunt also participated. 

"I’m here on behalf of the President as a tangible sign of his commitment to defending Christians and, frankly, all who suffer for their beliefs across the wider world," said Vice President Pence in his opening remarks. 

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. 

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)


Six Prescriptions for International Religious Freedom in the President Trump Administration

On January 31, Tom Farr was the featured guest on the Faith & International Affairs Conference Call hosted by the Institute for Global Engagement. 

In his prepared remarks, Dr. Farr laid out six prescriptions for the new administration as it concerns international religious freedom policy. The call then concluded with a series of audience questions and discussion. 

Here are the six prescriptions: 

  1. The administration, and really the president, should state clearly not only that religious freedom is important to the United States, but that it is important to the world and as a consequence religious freedom for everyone will be consolidated and expanded under the Trump administration.
  2. The president should nominate quickly an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom with the personal credentials for success and give that Ambassador the authority and resources necessary to succeed.  
  3. The administration should begin to connect international religious freedom with international stability and, therefore, with U.S. national security. 
  4. The administration should look at international religious freedom as an "all of government" human rights and national security strategy, not simply the State department. 
  5. The administration should, within the Department of State, train and incentivize Foreign Service Officers and diplomats to advance religious freedom in our foreign policy. 
  6. The administration should not contribute to the decline of religious freedom in the United States by excluding Muslims and other non-Christian minorities from the administrations approach to religious freedom. 

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