Middle East Action Team

Press Release: Religious Freedom Institute Announces Executive Vice President and Additional Staff Changes

Press Release: Religious Freedom Institute Announces Executive Vice President and Additional Staff Changes

July 11, 2019, Washington, D.C. — The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) continues to grow and make important organizational changes to become even more well-positioned to advance religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. 

Dr. Eric Patterson recently joined RFI as its Executive Vice President. He comes to RFI from the Robertson School of Government at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia where he was dean and tenured full professor.

Press Release: RFI Report Highlights the Critical Need for Decisive Action to Provide Security and Support for Religious Minority Communities in Iraq

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) today issued a report, “Hanging by a Thread: Christians and Other Religious Minorities Are Fading into History on the Nineveh Plains.”

The report, based on a trip to Iraq’s Nineveh Plains last month, outlines the dire conditions in northern Iraq for Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. The report underscores the profound security and economic challenges religious minorities face in Sinjar and the Nineveh Plains and points to a looming threat to both Iraqi and American security.

Press Release: Congress Takes Action to Support Minorities in Iraq and Syria and Hold ISIS Accountable

Four years after ISIS laid siege to ethnic and religious minority communities in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. Congress voted unanimously late today to fund humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery assistance for victims of genocide. The bipartisan legislation will go to the President’s desk for signing before the end of the year.

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. 

Executive Director Kent Hill Joins VOA News to Discuss Religious Freedom Around the World

Kent Hill, Executive Director, joined VOA News host Carol Castiel on the Encounter program to discuss the release of the U.S. State Department's 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom and the global challenges to religious freedom around the world. 

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Dr. Hill was joined on the program by Katayoun Kishi, research associate at Pew Research Center, where she oversees the Center’s annual study on global restrictions on religion.

The conversation not only looked at the conclusions drawn from the report, but also critical issues related to religious freedom breaking down globally.

Religious freedom violations and religion-related violence are at the root of many global crises. Many of the more than 65 million people who have been displaced as refugees or internally displaced persons have fled from religion related conflicts. 

If we don’t do deal with root causes of conflict, refugees will keep spilling out. We need to be spending more time looking at what is causing folks to run.
— Kent Hill, Executive Director

Learn More about Pew Research Center's research on Global Restrictions on Religion: 

Global Restrictions on Religion Rise Modestly in 2015, Reversing Downward Trend

Study and Teach: New Educational Resources from Under Caesar's Sword

"Under Caesar’s Sword" is a three-year, global research project that investigates how minority Christian communities respond to religious persecution. A team of scholars conducted in-depth field research into more than 25 countries where Christians suffer oppression and persecution because of their religious beliefs. 

The fruit of this research is now available in two new educational resources: 

  • We Respond, a seven-session study series for high school students and adult groups, uses reflection questions, stories, and accessible research findings to allow your group to engage thoughtfully with Christians' responses to persecution today. Learn More
     
  • Christians Confronting Persecution, a six-week online course through Notre Dame's STEP program, brings together ministers, educators, and other adults to confront the reality of persecution through the lens of faith. The course features lectures on issues ranging from the meaning of religious freedom, the concept of martyrdom and strategies for response to persecution from Tom Farr, Timothy Shah, Daniel Philpott and Kristi Haas. The six-week course will begin its initial run on September 4. Learn More

Visit the Under Caesar's Sword website to find more information about the project and other resources including the report of findings: In Response to Persecution and documentary film: Under Caesar's Sword

Cornerstone: Religious Freedom and Counterterrorism

What is the relationship between counterterrorism strategies and religious freedom? Would greater religious freedom in Muslim countries have prevented the rise of ISIS, al-Qaeda and their supporters, by decreasing grievances in their societies? Or would this have made counterterrorism efforts harder, by decreasing states’ control over “extremist” religious voices? Some research on religion and counterterrorism finds that religious freedom can complicate counterterrorism efforts, but its promotion is ultimately preferable to support for repression, while others have demonstrated that religious freedom is the critical piece for addressing terrorism, and still others see security concerns as preeminent to protection of religious freedom or other rights.

In this series of articles, we asked authors to examine these challenging questions on the relationship between religious freedom and counterterrorism efforts.

Making a Case For Religious Freedom and America's National Security

In early May, the Religious Freedom Institute, together with members from the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, met with senior staff of the National Security Council to discuss the critical role that religious freedom can play in increasing America's national security.

The meeting was led by Greg Mitchell, co-chair of the IRF Roundtable and RFI President Thomas Farr. Farr, together with Dennis Hoover of the Institute for Global Engagement, presented a policy brief with recommendations for the new administration. These included practical steps for incorporating religious freedom into foreign policy, including as a critical component of the U.S. National Security Strategy. 

RFI Senior Advisor Timothy Shah offered historical evidence that religious freedom can undermine religious violence and terrorism. RFI Senior Fellow Nilay Saiya, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the SUNY Brockport, presented a data-driven analysis confirming the causal linkages between religious freedom and reductions in religious violence and terrorism. Together, Shah and Saiya made a powerful case that religious freedom can contribute to stability abroad and national security at home.

The meeting came at a critical time, as preparations were being made for President Trump's trip to Saudi Arabia. There he delivered a major speech on undermining Islamic extremism, and announced the launch of a new global center to counter extremism based in Riyadh. RFI will continue to press the administration to ensure that religious freedom becomes a significant part of its counter-extremism initiatives.

What is to be Done? Symposium of Under Caesar's Sword Project

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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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Cornerstone: Reflections from Under Caesar's Sword Project

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Under Caesar’s Sword is a three-year, collaborative global research project by a team of scholars to investigate how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated. A public report with the findings of this project will be launched at the Public Symposium: What is to be Done? on April 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. 

Research for this project centered around three core questions:

How do Christian communities respond to repression?

Why do they choose the responses that they do?

What are the results of these responses?

The program is an effort to discover and draw attention to the ways in which Christian communities around the world respond to the severe violation of their religious freedom. These strategies vary widely, ranging from nonviolent protest movements of the kind that Pope John Paul II led in communist Poland, to the complex diplomacy of Christian churches in China, to simply fleeing from persecution en masse, as Christians have in Iraq. Further, the project aims to raise solidarity with persecuted Christians worldwide and to help them respond justly and effectively.

One of the major outcomes from this project is to better inform faith leaders, civil society groups, and governments of concrete actions that can be taken to support those who suffer persecution. These responses will be varied, but should provide observations for supporting any community suffering for their religious beliefs.

This series of blog posts draws from scholars' research, personal reflections, and responses to current situations of religious persecution. 

EVENT: What Is To Be Done? Responding to the Global Persecution of Christians

What Is To Be Done? Responding to the Global Persecution of Christians

Symposium of the Under Caesar’s Sword Project

How do Christians respond to persecution? How can the rest of the world exercise solidarity with them? What can be learned from studying Christian persecution that can be applied by those who are concerned about the persecution of any individual or group.

This day-long public symposium will feature the launch of the report, In Response to Persecution, a screening of the documentary Under Caesar’s Sword, and will propose concrete recommendations for action by government, civil society organizations, and faith communities. It will feature globally prominent speakers on religious freedom and leading scholars of global Christianity, including former Ambassadors, U.S. State Department officials, and Parliamentarians.

Browse the schedule and speakers, mark your calendar, and register now.

April 20, 2017
9:00 a.m. - 5:15 p.m
National Press Club
Washington, D.C.

The symposium is hosted by the Under Caesar's Sword project and its primary partners, the Religious Freedom Institute and the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, in close collaboration with Aid to the Church in Need.

Catholic Herald Features Coverage of Under Caesar's Sword Documentary

The Arlington Catholic Herald published an extensive article on the issue of global persecution and the new documentary Under Caesar's Sword produced by RFI and the Notre Dame Center for Culture and Ethics. 

"Tens of thousands of Christians and Catholics, facing death or forced conversions, fled their homes in Iraq when the Islamic State group took control of the region. This past Advent, 25 people were murdered and many more were injured by a suicide bomber at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. The Muslim militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria has killed thousands. These horrific stories are well-known, but many others go untold. A recent documentary, also named “Under Caesar's Sword,” explores this worldwide persecution.

Though these experiences are unfamiliar to most Americans, the documentary hopes viewers find solidarity with their fellow Christians."

We can’t subcontract concern and compassion. We can’t expect our government to do what we’re not willing to do.
— Timothy Shah

Read the full article here: New documentary shows the worldwide persecution of Christians by Zoey Maraist (@ZoeyMaraist)

Watch the trailer and learn more about the project here: Under Caesar's Sword

Under Caesar's Sword: New Documentary Highlights Christian Response to Persecution

How do Christians globally respond to persecution? How will you respond? 

These questions are at the heart of a new documentary: Under Caesar's Sword

 

Under Caesar's Sword is a three-year, collaborative global research project that investigates how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated. A team of 14 scholars, representing the world’s leading scholars of Christianity in their respective regions, traveled around the world to study Christian communities in over 30 countries including China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and India. 

The effort is a joint-project of the Religious Freedom Institute, the Notre Dame Center for Culture and Ethics, and the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. 

The full film and accompanying resources are available at: ucs.nd.edu/film
Learn more about the Under Caesar's Sword project: http://ucs.nd.edu/

Tim Shah to Senior Military Leaders from the Middle East: Religious Freedom as a Strategy against Extremism

Senior Advisor and South and Southeast Asia Action Team Director, Timothy Shah, addressed a high level gathering of senior military leaders on the importance of religious freedom in the effort to combat violent extremism.  

The conference, “Religious Freedom: An Effective Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism,” was organized and sponsored by The Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies, in support of the US Army Central Command (ARCENT), at National Defense University in Washington, D.C on September 19, 2016.

Religious freedom is not only an individual right to be protected, but it is an important contributor to the safety, security, and stability of societies and nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East. 

Kent Hill Delivers Institute on Religion and Democracy Annual Diane Knipper's Lecture

RFI Executive Director Kent Hill delivered the Institute on Religion & Democracy Diane Knipper's Annual Lecture on Tuesday, October 4.

His lecture examined the past, present, and future of the Middle East, considering the question of whether Christianity will survive. The question is relevant not just for Christians, but for the region's other minorities. The question ultimately looks at the entire culture and whether plurality of religious beliefs, ethnicities, and political views will be allowed.

In short, it is a question of whether or not religious freedom will gain ground in this region.

“We need to understand that a multiethnic and multifaith Middle East is in the best interests of the United States and everyone else. To remove the religious minorities from the Middle East is to destroy the rich tapestry of its culture”
— Kent Hill

Photo Credit: Institute on Religion and Democracy

Kent Hill Speaks on Middle East Beyond Genocide

RFI Executive Director Kent Hill spoke alongside more than twenty members of Congress and other Middle East experts on the realities of the Middle East as part of the In Defense of Christians 2016 National Advocacy Convention.

The theme of the conference was "Beyond Genocide: Preserving Christianity in the Middle East"

In his address, Hill looked at the urgency not only of providing aid and assistance to those communities at risk of extinction in places like Iraq and Syria, but also of strengthening and supporting the communities in the region that are at risk, but not on life support.

Places like Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and even Turkey, present an opportunity to strengthen the presence of Christianity and demonstrate that diverse communities can live together again. 

There is no separating what happens in the Middle East from what happens in the rest of the world.
— Kent Hill

Photo Credit: In Defense of Christians

Executive Director Addresses Threats to Religious and Ethnic Minorities Under the Islamic State

Kent Hill addressed the role of international actors in assisting religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East as part of a panel of experts with experience in the region. Hill was joined in the discussion by Christine van den Toorn, Director of Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Sulaimani, and Sherri Talabany, President of SEED Foundation. 

The address came as part of a day-long conference that brought numerous speakers from the region to provide a first-hand account of the situation to inform policymakers about the continuing travail of religious and ethnic minorities threatened by the Islamic State, and to galvanize long-term thinking about addressing this crisis

The event was jointly hosted by the U.S. State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom and the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.