religious freedom

RFI COMMENDS CONFIRMATION OF SAM BROWNBACK AS U.S. AMBASSADOR AT-LARGE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Press Release

RFI COMMENDS CONFIRMATION OF SAM BROWNBACK AS U.S. AMBASSADOR AT-LARGE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

January 25, 2018 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) commends the U.S. Senate for confirming Governor Sam Brownback as the new U.S Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. 

Religious Freedom Institute President Thomas Farr welcomed the Senate's decision: "Ambassador Brownback's deep experience, and his commitment to religious freedom for all people, will help ensure American leadership in the vital work of reducing global religious persecution. We believe he will make U.S. religious freedom policy an integral part of America's national security strategy." 

Ambassador Brownback will confront a host of daunting challenges and threats to stability and security. Rising levels of global religious persecution are being fueled by violent religious extremism, oppressive government policies, and aggressively anti-religious forms of secularism. Millions are suffering terrible depredations as a result. Nations and economies are being destabilized by the absence of religious freedom. 

Ambassador Brownback is the right choice to lead U.S. policy in addressing this global crisis. In his 16 years as a Congressman and U.S. Senator, Brownback built a reputation as a steadfast advocate for religious freedom. He was one of the key supporters of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which established in law the promotion of religious freedom as an element of U.S. foreign policy.  The Act also created the ambassadorship Brownback now holds. In the Senate, Brownback played an integral role in increasing and improving the U.S. response to the genocide in Darfur by introducing the legislation that became the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006. 

A policy brief released in early 2017 by the Religious Freedom Institute and the Institute for Global Engagement offers recommendations on international religious freedom policy to the Trump administration and Congress. The brief stresses the importance of integrating religious freedom into U.S. foreign policy and national security thinking.  

The brief notes that by placing religious freedom at the core of our foreign policy "the Trump administration has a remarkable opportunity, at low cost, to make a major contribution to international justice and stability, fundamental human rights, economic growth, and U.S. national security." RFI President Thomas Farr said that "Ambassador Brownback can make this vision a reality and deserves the support of all Americans in achieving it."
 


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
www.religiousfreedominstitute.org

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

Press Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
www.religiousfreedominstitute.org

Press Release: Defending Religious Freedom at Georgetown

Press Release

Defending Religious Freedom at Georgetown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
www.religiousfreedominstitute.org

Kent Hill Addresses International Consultation on Christian Persecution

The survival of Christianity in Iraq and Syria, the lands of its birth, is also a question of the survival of pluralism and religious freedom. The specter of Islamist extremist groups such as the Islamic state, brutal repression by authoritarian leaders, and a geopolitical conflict exacerbated by Sunni and Shi'a divisions have combined to threaten the presence of entire Christian communities.

These threats were the backdrop for the International Consultation on Christian Persecution – Finding the Appropriate Answers to a Long Neglected Crisis in Budapest hosted by the Hungarian Government's Ministry of Human Capacities and Deputy State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians. 

Patriarch Mar Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Church and Kent Hill, Religious Freedom Institute (Photo: RFI) 

Patriarch Mar Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Church and Kent Hill, Religious Freedom Institute (Photo: RFI) 

Kent Hill, Executive Director of the Religious Freedom Institute and Director of the Middle East Action Team, addressed the consultation in a panel discussion on the critical role of international organizations and countries to promote religious freedom and protection of religious minorities through their foreign policy and international commitments.

It is imperative that we make the ‘pragmatic’ case for religious freedom. The emperical evidence is absolutely clear that there is direct correlation between the existence of religious freedom and all sorts of other social goods. In addition, where there is an absence of religious freedom, the chances of terrorism increase greatly.
— Kent Hill, Budapest, Hungary, Oct. 12, 2017

Dr. Hill was joined in the discussion by Ján Figel’, the European Union's  Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and Supreme Head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Director of Aid to the Church in Need France Mr. Marc Fromager.

Implementing international commitments to protect religious minorities will be sustainable only if it includes religious freedom for all in the society, including a protections not just for religious minorities, but also for the majority community. 

Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister (Photo: Gergely Botár/kormany.hu)

Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister (Photo: Gergely Botár/kormany.hu)

Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister, delivered an opening speech to the consultation, calling on others to join their efforts of enabling Christian communities to return to their homelands. As he detailed the strategy his government has taken in working directly with churches, he acknowledged a larger goal that "we want Christian communities returning to Syria, Iraq and Nigeria to become forces for the preservation of their own countries, just as for us Hungarians Christianity is a force for preservation."

Prime Minister Orbán highlighted the provision of more than $2 million in assistance to provide for the reconstruction of homes in Teleskof, a Christian town on the Nineveh Plains. He urged other countries and international donors to follow suit, working with the Churches and their combined efforts such as the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee.

International Consultation on Christian Persecution – Finding the Appropriate Answers to a Long Neglected Crisis. Oct. 11-13,2017, Budapest, Hungary (Photo: MTI) 

International Consultation on Christian Persecution – Finding the Appropriate Answers to a Long Neglected Crisis. Oct. 11-13,2017, Budapest, Hungary (Photo: MTI) 

The discussion throughout the consultation focused on finding concrete action steps that will enable the sustainable return of Christian communities to their homelands and address the root causes that are driving conflict and displacement.

Hungarian Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, in his remarks cited the need for international cooperation to “give a clear and coordinated answer to the extremism spreading in the world and forcing millions to leave their homes.”

Any sustained effort will require the continued provision of humanitarian assistance for the reconstruction and revitalization of these communities and must also include the work of civil society and government to address the societal and political factors that have incubated religion-related violence and terrorism. 

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

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

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:

http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/index.cfm

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

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.

Past and Present Challenges to Religious Freedom in Pakistan

On May 16, the Religious Freedom Institute hosted a discussion on the past and present challenges to religious freedom in Pakistan. The conversation featured remarks from Yaqoob Bangash, Farahnaz Ispahani, and Jay Kansara and was moderated by RFI Senior Advisor Timothy Shah.

Bangash and Ispahani drew on their extensive knowledge of Pakistan's early history and present political dynamics in illuminating some of the most pressing threats to religious freedom in the country today, including challenges facing Hindu, Ahmadi, Shia, and Christian groups.

Mr. Bangash is a Senior Fellow of the Religious Freedom Institute and Director at the Centre for Governance and Policy at the Information Technology University, Lahore, Pakistan. 

Ms. Ispahani is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and former member of the Pakistani Parliament.

Mr. Kansara is Director of Government Affairs at the Hindu American Foundation

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. 

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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: http://ucs.nd.edu/public-events/launch/watch/

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: www.ucs.nd.edu

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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. 

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)

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

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. 

"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:

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