Tim Shah Delivers Baylor University's Jackson Memorial Lecture

Senior Advisor Tim Shah was invited to deliver the 23rd Annual Jackson Memorial Lecture as part of Baylor University's Honor College. 

Shah's lecture was entitled "Religious Freedom in a World of Religious Fervor: The Human Rights issue of the Twenty-First Century."

"We are delighted to host Dr. Timothy Shah, the latest in a long line of distinguished speakers for the Laura Blanche Jackson Memorial Lecture,” said Thomas S. Hibbs, Ph.D., dean of the Honors College, director of the Baylor in Washington, D.C. program, and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture. “Shah is an expert on both domestic and global religious liberty with particular expertise on religion in India. Deeply learned, he is an engaging speaker, whose talk will be both accessible to undergraduates and edifying for faculty." 

The Laura Blanche Jackson Endowed Memorial Lectureship in World Issues is dedicated to piecing together a larger picture of the individual issues that contribute to today's world affairs.

Past lectures have featured distinguished guests such as Robert P. George, Andrew H. Card, Jr., and George Weigel. The lectures focus on the individual issues that help to piece together a fuller understanding of world affairs. 

Learn more about the Jackson Lectures.

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/

RFI President Addresses UK Foreign Office Conference on Religious Freedom vs. Violent Extremism

On October 19-20, 2016, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office hosted an important conference in London looking at the crucial role that religious freedom plays in disarming the ideologies that produce extremism and religiously motivated terrorism. Religious freedom is an important tool in undercutting the narratives that extremists use to motivate their followers to violent actions against minorities, the government, those of another faith, or even their co-religionists. 

RFI President Tom Farr was asked to address the conference as part of an opening panel to set the scene, illuminating: Why Freedom of Religion or Belief is Particularly Relevant. 

The conference gathered a diverse group of academics, activists, faith leaders, and political figures to look not only at the problem but to understand the crucial role of religious freedom in countering religiously motivated violence. 

This struggle is the biggest challenge of our generation. It is a struggle we must win. We need to build societies that are more resilient against violent extremism. We believe that protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief is an important part of building that resilience.
— Baroness Joyce Anelay, Minister of State, Foreign Commonwealth Office

Photo Credit: @FCOHuman Rights

Tom Farr joins Panel Discussing International Protection of Religious Freedom

On Friday, October 7, RFI President Tom Farr, joined U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, and the European Union’s first special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion and belief outside the European Union, Jan Figel, for a lively discussion moderated by Brett Scharffs, Francis R. Kirkham Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Research and Academic Affairs at the J. Reuben Clark Law School of Brigham Young University, on the status of protecting and promoting religious freedom globally. 

The event was hosted at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. and co-sponsored by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University and the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute.

Clearly religious freedom is a human right. It is important to be understood in that way. But religion is distinctive. We all share it in one way or another.

This is why I think religious freedom deserves its own niche: It is a source of other human and social goods. It contributes to the economy. It contributes to the stability of democracy. It can help undermine religious persecution and religious violence.
— Tom Farr, on why religious freedom matters on its own apart from other human rights


(Photo: Maria Bryk/Newseum)

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. 

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

Tom Farr Led Broad Coalition to Condemn Government Sanctioned Discrimination

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

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

Engaging the "New Critics" of Religious Freedom: Tim Shah Presents New Paper

RFI Senior Advisor Timothy Shah delivered a paper entitled, “Engaging the ‘New Critics’ of Religious Freedom,” at the Fourth International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies Conference. Shah's paper was part of a discussion on Freedom of Religion and International Law. 

Shah's paper addresses recent literature that brings charges that religious freedom is a Western cultural construct being imposed on foreign cultures.

[Religious freedom] does not rest upon western liberal notions of individual autonomy or any one theology, philosophy, ideology, or political doctrine. Religious freedom is rather a human claim. It is conceptually modest yet morally critical, rooted in every human being’s simple yearning to explore and embrace authentic answers to the most ultimate questions, free from coercive interference by others.
— Tim Shah, Engaging the “New Critics” of Religious Freedom: A Review Essay

The fourth ICLARS conference brought together more than 150 experts from 37 countries to discuss the topic of “Freedom of/for/from/within Religion: Differing Dimensions of a Common Right?”, at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom, on Sept. 9, 2016.

The International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies is an international network of scholars and experts in law and religion begun in 2007 with Professor Silvio Ferrari of the University of Milan as President. The purpose of ICLARS is to provide a forum for exchange of information, data, and opinions among members — at present from more than 40 countries — which can be made available to the broader scientific community. 

Learn more about ICLARS and the Conference: ICLARS IV: "Freedom of/for/from/within Religion: Differing Dimensions of a Common Right?"

Read: Timothy Shah and Daniel Philpott (2016): Engaging the "New Critics" of Religious Freedom

Photo Credit: ICLRS  

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

Byron Johnson Moderates Debate Measuring Contribution of Faith to American Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Farr Congressional Testimony: Religious Freedom Under Siege

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

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

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

Rebecca Shah: On Canonization of Mother Teresa and Her Legacy in India and Beyond

In honor of the canonization of Mother Teresa on September 4, 2016, RFI Senior Fellow Rebecca Samuel Shah wrote a powerful, personal reflection published at Christianity Today. Mother Teresa's legacy in the world, her profound acts of mercy to meet the physical and material needs and the even greater spiritual needs of the least of these, has left an impact in the world and on Rebecca's own life and work in India and beyond. 

My siblings and I spent much of our lives sharing our home with the young children whom our mother, Colleen Samuel, had scooped up from various parts of Bangalore City, often in the middle of the night. There was young Asha (a pseudonym)—who was rescued from being the “payment” to a greedy landlord because her mother couldn’t afford the rent—and Sara, sold by her husband to a brothel in Bombay, who arrived at our doorstep dying of AIDS. Not content with serving the poor from a distance, my mother’s work brought our family from a wealthy, middle-class neighborhood of Frazer Town, where my father was an Anglican priest, to the very seedy and often-violent neighborhood of Lingarajapuram. My parents believed that conveying the gospel to the poor meant living among them as Christ would, and serving the poor meant embracing them as part of our community and even part of our family.

My parents’ unwavering commitment to the poor in Bangalore was deeply shaped by the life and work of Mother Teresa. Every day on my way home from school, I walked past Shishu Bhavan—Mother Teresa’s home for abandoned children—and every day, I saw a steady stream of weary mothers pounding on the gates as they held listless babies draped over their shoulders. At once, young missionaries of charity would open the gates, and I would glimpse the scores of children playing and laughing in the courtyard. Through those open gates, and also in my own home, I saw mercy in action.

Read Full Article Here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2016/september/angel-of-mercy.html

RFI Joins Broad Coalition to Condemn Government Sanctioned Discrimination

10/12/2016 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute) Thomas Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute, joined forces with a broad coalition of leaders from across the religious, ideological, and political spectrum to defend the right of all Americans to participate in the political life of their nation without being labeled – especially by their own government – as bigots because of their religious views. In a letter to President Barack Obama, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch, Farr and the other signatories ask them to reject publicly the statements of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and its Chairman that “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” are “code words” for intolerance.

In a startling display of a new and virulent form of state-sanctioned anti-religious prejudice, a report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, released last month, condemned America’s first freedom, the freedom of religion, as a front for racism, sexism, and “Christian supremacy.” The report, entitled Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Non-Discrimination Principles with Civil Liberties, stigmatizes tens of millions of Americans, their communities and institutions, and threatens the religious freedom of all citizens. The intent of the report appears to be to end the debate over critical issues concerning the nation’s common good, and to exclude millions of Americans from our public life.

RFI President Thomas Farr said in a statement today: “I was honored to join with Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i, Mormon, Evangelical and Catholic leaders, as well as the leaders of non-religious organizations, to call on our elected leaders to condemn the Commission's report. We took no position on the great cultural and moral debates facing our nation, except the position that in America everyone has a voice. Our founding generation would be scandalized that a government agency has asserted, in effect, that Americans who exercise their religious freedom are doing so with evil intent, and that the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion should be considered null and void.  Every American should condemn this report.”

The entire letter can be read here: Multi-Faith Letter
The USCCR report can be read here: Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties

Media Contact: 
Jeremy P. Barker

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. www.religiousfreedominstitute.org

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. 

U.S. State Department Releases 2015 International Religious Freedom Report Highlighting Evolving Threats to Religious Communities Globally

08/10/2016 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute) Today the U.S. Department of State released its 2015 annual report on International Religious Freedom. The report highlights the evolving threats to religious communities globally and the work of the United States to advocate for religious freedom as part of its diplomatic efforts worldwide.


“A robust understanding of religious freedom is crucial not only as a fundamental human right that recognizes the dignity and worth of every individual, but also as a critical component to stability, security, and economic prosperity,” said Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute.

In this year’s report, the State Department highlighted two major trends that are driving many of the most severe abuses of religious communities: the role of non-state actors such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabab, who are carrying out religiously-motivated terrorist attacks; and the use of blasphemy and apostasy laws by governments that wrongfully imprison and punish those whose beliefs do not align with interpretations authorized by political and religious authorities.

Kent Hill, who will become the Executive Director of the Religious Freedom Institute later this month, and who just returned from the Middle East, added: “The absence of religious freedom allows for the growth of extremist ideologies that fuel much of the religiously motivated violence threatening the very existence of Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities across the Middle East and North Africa.”

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein said, “I want to highlight the chilling and sometimes deadly effect of blasphemy and apostasy laws in many places of the world, as well as laws that purport to protect religious sentiments from defamation.”

Blasphemy laws are present in nearly a quarter of the world’s countries and apostasy laws in ten percent of countries, according to the IRF Report.

“The use of blasphemy laws — as well as closely related laws restricting conversion and apostasy — places governments in the position of determining what are acceptable beliefs of religious communities and by criminalizing certain views, it often signals that communal violence against religious minorities is permissible in the eyes of the state,” said Timothy Samuel Shah, RFI Senior Advisor.

Farr also applauded this emphasis. “I particularly welcome the Department’s focus on blasphemy and apostasy laws. These laws do not just harm their immediate victims. Particularly troubling in the Middle East is that they ensure the voices of Muslim moderates are not heard, and that the public discourse over what Islam requires of its adherents is dominated by extremists.”

In their statements both Ambassador Saperstein and Deputy Secretary Blinken noted an increase in resources employed by the State Department in an effort to increase understanding of the role that religion plays in foreign affairs.

“It is encouraging to see that the State Department is recognizing the crucial role that religion plays globally both as a fundamental human right and a core aspect of stability and prosperity. Ambassador Saperstein has done tremendous work in championing these efforts, but much, much more remains to be done. The Frank R. Wolf Bill, H.R. 1150, that has passed the House with complete bipartisan support and is now in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, takes important steps to strengthen the American commitment to International Religious Freedom and address many of the issues raised by the report released today,” said Thomas Farr.

“In particular, the bill will focus U.S. attention on the advancement of religious freedom as a means of increasing international peace and stability, and enhancing the security of the American homeland. The Religious Freedom Institute calls upon the Senate to pass the bill immediately.” 

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Media Contact: 
Jeremy P. Barker