I spoke recently at an Army Chaplains’ Religious Leaders Symposium on our nation’s revolutionary understanding of religion, and of religious freedom. I contended that this understanding, which has served our nation so well since the founding, is under threat, and that all Americans – of whatever religion or none – should defend it.
My argument centered around the meaning and reach of the religious liberty protections in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On February 15, Archbishop Bashar Warda, of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, Iraq delivered a powerful speech at Georgetown University on the future of religious pluralism in Iraq. He spoke as a leader of a community that has, as he described, reached a point of extinction.
Former Canadian Ambassador Andrew Bennett has joined the Religious Freedom Instituteas a Senior Fellow with RFI’s International Religious Freedom Policy Action Team and North America Action Team. From 2013 to 2016, Ambassador Bennett served as Canada’s first Ambassador for Religious Freedom and head of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom.
We asked Dr. Bennett a few questions, including about his vision for his work with the Religious Freedom Institute and his passion for advancing religious freedom for all people.
As part of its work promoting religious freedom for all people, the Religious Freedom Institute is bringing together in key cities around the world diverse leaders who otherwise might not collaborate or even meet.
In a surprise move, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the former governor of Jakarta, has now appealed his conviction for blasphemy. Governor Purnama—known as “Ahok”—was convicted in May 2017. This appeal comes at a time when there is a strong pushback against some of the more radical religious forces in Indonesia.
Along with the influx of asylum seekers into Europe in recent years came a series of disturbing media reports on Danish asylum centers. According to these reports, asylum seekers, in most cases Christians, had been harassed and intimidated by other asylum seekers. Reportedly, some of the offenders were Muslims.
For the first time in its nearly 2000-year history, the Roman Colosseum was illuminated in red—along with churches in Syria, Iraq, and Portugal—in a display of solidarity with persecuted Christians around the globe. The symbolic initiative at the end of February was sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity that describes its mission as providing pastoral and humanitarian assistance to persecuted Christians throughout the world.
In response to President Trump’s announcement that CIA Director Mike Pompeo will replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Christianity Today considers what effect the change might have on the Trump administration’s promotion of religious freedom as an integral component of U.S. foreign policy.
In a piece at Crux, Journalist John Allen discusses a new survey conducted by Aid to the Church in Need on a topic of great interest here at Arc of the Universe, the persecution of Christians around the world. The survey assesses the attitudes of American Catholics towards this persecution and shows that they are aware of it but that they don’t think bishops are doing enough to address it.
The Trump administration released its first National Security Strategy (NSS) report at the end of last year. Unlike those of the previous administration, this National Security Strategy identifies the protection and promotion of religious freedom and religious minorities as a strategic priority of the United States.
But at present the NSS demonstrates only the Trump administration’s rhetorical support for the place of religious freedom in U.S. national security strategy. It remains to be seen whether this rhetorical commitment will translate into foreign policy directives and outcomes. The administration’s recent proposals to reduce the State Department’s operating budget suggest a general lack of emphasis on diplomacy, as opposed to military power.
In an opinion piece for CNN, RFI Senior Fellow and former Pakistani Parliamentarian, Farahnaz Ispahani, argues that Pakistan’s abuse of blasphemy laws disproportionately harms the most vulnerable in Pakistani society, such as Asia Bibi, and imperils those who would chose to stand up for them, like Rashid Rehman, a human rights lawyer murdered in 2014.
“If Muslims reject extremism, why don’t they say so?” This is a common refrain expressed by non‑Muslims in the West.
The reality is that Muslims often do express their rejection of extremism. But those protests rarely attract much attention. Many in the West are not aware that most of the victims of Islamist extremism and terrorism are Muslims themselves, many of them deliberately targeted by the terrorists. Increasingly, Middle Eastern Muslims are concluding that Islamist terrorism is threatening their own societies and the well-being of Islam itself.
When Asma Jahangir died in Lahore on February 11, Pakistan and the international human rights community lost a great champion of justice and freedom. Asma stood for and by the side of Pakistan's religious minorities as no one had ever done before. As a lawyer and a human rights activist, she was the greatest opponent of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which are the harshest in the world.
Asma founded the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and used it relentlessly to bring attention to the rights of Pakistan’s oppressed ethnic and religious minorities, women, children, and political dissidents.
Former U.S. Senator and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is the State Department’s new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Brownback has an extensive track record of working in a bipartisan manner to promote religious freedom and other human rights for people around the globe. He also possesses more extensive government experience than any other international religious freedom ambassador to date. Indeed, Brownback is unusually qualified to propel religious freedom into the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy.
During his sixteen years as a Congressman and U.S. Senator, Brownback was a leading advocate for international religious freedom. He was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). With his help, the Senate passed the act unanimously. IRFA passed the House with similarly overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Burma’s latest wave of religious and ethnic cleansing against its Muslim Rohingya community is, unfortunately, indicative of that nation’s broader religious freedom and human rights challenges. Indeed, Burma’s religious and ethnic minority communities have known little peace for over a half century.
The latest crisis escalated in August 2017 and has led to the destruction of hundreds of villages and the murder and rape of thousands. Many around the world have been appalled at these acts as the persecution has also forced the displacement of over 600,000 people, most of whom have fled across the border into Bangladesh.
This new video report from the Wall Street Journal provides exclusive interviews and rare images documenting the severe persecution of Uighur Muslims by China’s communist government. Most of China’s Uighurs live in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. In Xinjiang, the government has woven state-of-the-art technology in with its tried-and-true methods of totalitarian oppression.
Based in part on a massively intrusive census of residents’ personal information, the communist regime has created a system that assigns a national security score to every individual and family. It sends those it scores as “unsafe” to prison-like “study centers” for political indoctrination and re-education.
Across Central Asia, the landscape for religious freedom looks bleak. The tactics deployed by still largely authoritarian governments in the “Stans”—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and, to a lesser extent, Kyrgyzstan—reflect a continuation of Soviet-era policies of anti‑religious discrimination, intimidation, and control. The harm is not only to individuals and communities who are seeking to practice their faith in peace. It also is a loss to society as a whole because it limits the social contributions of these religious individuals and communities.
Over the long haul, nothing is more essential to ensuring the safety and security Iraq’s people, and securing the kind of pluralism that can make Iraq stable, than promoting religious freedom for its non-Muslim religious minorities, and for Iraqi Muslims.
Military victory over ISIS was a vital first step in creating the physical conditions necessary for stability. The victory has also created a pivotal moment for American diplomacy to strengthen civil society and foster the conditions for long-term freedom and security.
Why is this a pivotal moment? Not only has ISIS been removed as a military force, but the evidence indicates that its defeat in Iraq and Syria was in part also ideological.
U.S. International Religious Freedom diplomacy can improve our nation’s ability to combat Islamist terrorism. A growing body of research shows that more religious freedom abroad can help prevent the spread of terrorism and protect Americans here at home.
Religious freedom can protect fundamental U.S. interests here and abroad by enhancing political, economic, and strategic stability. Stability grounded in religious freedom can strengthen resistance to religious extremism of all kinds.
A religious freedom diplomacy that employs evidence-based self-interest arguments can reduce religious persecution more effectively than do our current diplomatic methods, which are highly rhetorical, reactive, and ad-hoc.
At a Religious Freedom Day event at the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, Religious Freedom Institute Senior Advisor Tim Shah spoke on key ideas Thomas Jefferson drew from the Bible when drafting his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The Virginia Statute is a foundational document that disestablished the Anglican Church in Virginia and led to full religious freedom in America for people of all faiths.