The internet promises both greater freedom and greater repression. It gives a chance of increased expression to millions of people whose views and voices have been and could still be silenced by politically repressive regimes or monopolistic media. But, it can also give those same repressive governments and media empires control so that they can erase contrary views.
Recent events suggest that currently the push for greater control is winning, sometimes abetted by major tech companies.
Contributors to this Cornerstone Forum series were asked to consider both the historical significance of recent developments in Ukraine, but also the practical implications for religious communities of the latest developments. What is the role religious communities can play in seeking to bring an end to the conflict and secure fundamental rights and freedoms, including religious freedom within a healthy denominationalism? What steps should policy makers take to promote peace and advance fundamental rights and freedoms for all in Ukraine.
Twenty years ago, the 105th Congress passed the landscape-changing International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). The Law established within the State Department an Office of International Religious Freedom, created the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom as the principal diplomat to advance religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy, and established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Today, the mechanisms created by that bill continue to shape U.S. foreign policy objectives promoting religious freedom for all people in all nations.
On November 9th, over 250 scholars and advocates of religious freedom, some of whom have suffered persecution for their faith, gathered in Washington, D.C. for a day-long conference to commemorate the 20th anniversary of IRFA.
Religious freedom advocates face this predicament: We fervently believe that our cause fosters justice and human dignity yet find that these qualities alone do little to persuade officials in the State Department, Defense Department, National Security Council, or the White House to make promoting religious freedom a high priority. In Washington, only the national interest talks.
Well, a formidable case that religious freedom affects our interests now emerges in a book by political scientist Nilay Saiya, Weapon of Peace: How Religious Liberty Combats Terrorism, published this year by Cambridge University Press. (Full disclosure: I was the adviser of Saiya’s doctoral dissertation, on which the book is based). Saiya’s thesis is simple: when governments violate the religious freedom of their citizens, they foment religious terrorism.
On October 16, Malaysian Member of Parliament, P. Kasthuriraani urged Malaysia to sign and ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The current assault on religion in China under President Xi Jinping is the most comprehensive attempt to manipulate and control religious communities since the Cultural Revolution. Xi’s policy should be seen as a particularly troubling aspect of the global crisis in religious freedom, one in which over three-quarters of the world’s people live in nations where religion is highly, or very highly, restricted. China is one of those nations. - Thomas Farr, President, Religious Freedom Institute
As Dr. Farr makes clear in his testimony, the situation is dire for China’s Muslim Uighers, Tibetan Budhhists, and Christians both Catholic and Protestant. Xi’s policy presents a major challenge to U.S. international religious freedom policy, which has to date had little impact in China. It is time to try a different approach.
Xinjiang Province of Western China represent a harrowing example of how government fears, in this case of separatism, terrorism, and religious extremism, can lead to disastrous religious restrictions justified as security measures but which ultimately act to the detriment of both the state and its citizens.
On the margins of the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the Religious Freedom Institute is hosting four events that explore various aspects of religious freedom and will equip and inform participants in the effort to advance religious freedom.
That Prime Minister Theresa May has seen fit to establish the special envoy role and to appoint Lord Ahmad to it demonstrates not only the importance that the British government gives to advancing international religious freedom within its foreign policy, but I would argue to the principle of freedom of religion generally as a fundamental freedom -a freedom with deep roots in the Anglo-American political tradition.
Wednesday July 11 concluded the Religious Freedom Institute’s 2018 Summer Speaker Series with “An Insider’s Look at Diplomacy and Religious Freedom.” Father Deacon Andrew Bennett, RFI Senior Fellow and former Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom, drew from his experience and faith to lead the discussion.
Our engagement with these professionals demonstrated the intense interest many Muslim leaders in the Middle East and North Africa have in the principles of freedom. They want to understand how freedom for all may be respected in society and protected in law without undermining Islamic beliefs and practice. We hope we persuaded some of our visitors that that this is indeed possible.
On Wednesday, June 20, the Religious Freedom Institute continued its 2018 Summer Speaker Series with a soccer-oriented discussion, “Exorcisms and Exercise, Crosses and Cross Passes: What Religious Freedom Has to Do with the World Cup”. The event was led by Dr. Jennifer Bryson Director of RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team.
In an April episode of the podcast “Think Biblically”, hosts Scott Rae and Sean McDowell from Biola University spoke with Former Solicitor General of the United States and Federal Judge Ken Starr and RFI President and Former Diplomat Tom Farr on the current challenges to religious freedom in the US and abroad.
In addressing these root causes, the role of religion should not be overlooked. In many cases, ethnic and political armed conflict is closely linked to differences in religious conviction, leading to troubling consequences.
An innovative resolution introduced last week by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) calls on the Trump Administration to target particular countries in Central Asia and Europe that historically have been among the worst violators of religious freedom in the world.
On Wednesday, June 13, the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) kicked off its NextGen Summer Speaker Series with an inaugural talk on “Humanitarian Aid, International Development, and Religious Freedom.” Keynote speaker Dr. Kent Hill, Executive Director of RFI, spoke on the importance of religious freedom in international development, drawing from his experience as Senior Vice President of World Vision and eight years as Assistant Administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Timothy Shah, Director of the Religious Freedom Institute's South and Southeast Asia Action Team has released a new co-edited book: Homo Religiosus: Exploring the Roots of Religion and Religious Freedom in Human Experience (Cambridge University Press, 2018).
The book explores the question of whether religion is natural to human beings. Despite a whole host of disagreement in the book, all of the contributors share the view that religious freedom and religion is important to human beings and societies and there is good reason to ensure its protection.
“When Rocket Man landed on Moon, the world held its breath – and then watched with amazement. The North Korean leader who had taken us to the brink of war just a few months ago, was subsequently delivering an unprecedented and historic message of peace and reconciliation for the Korean peninsula.
The Religious Freedom Institute is taking innovative steps to help increase support for religious freedom within Muslim communities in the United States and abroad. This month, we launched our fifth Action Team—the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team—to do just that. Among other benefits, this Action Team will accelerate our work with Islamic scholars and leaders to explore sources of support for religious freedom from within the traditions of Islam.