To increase national security and secure your rights and freedoms, the Firm has been working to advance international religious freedom since 2010. Greg Mitchell serves as Co-Chair and Coordinator of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable in Washington, D.C. Chris Seiple of the Institute for Global Engagement co-founded the Roundtable and serves as the other Co-Chair.
We are currently working with participants of the Roundtable to advance the following international religious freedom legislation:
- The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2015.
- To amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to improve the ability of the United States to advance religious freedom globally through enhanced diplomacy, training, counterterrorism, and foreign assistance efforts, and through stronger and more flexible political responses to religious freedom violations and violent extremism worldwide, and for other purposes.
- The bill was introduced on February 27, 2015, by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) for himself and one original cosponsor: Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA).
- On April 15, 2015, the bill was marked up and passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations by Unanimous Consent.
- It currently has 112 cosponsors.
- House Concurrent Resolution 75.
- Expressing the sense of Congress that those who commit or support atrocities against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities, including Yezidis, Turkmen, Sabea-Mandeans, Kaka’e, and Kurds, and who target them specifically for ethnic or religious reasons, are committing, and are hereby declared to be committing, “war crimes”, “crimes against humanity”, and “genocide”.
- The resolution was introduced on September 9, 2015, by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) for himself and five original cosponsors: Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), and Jeff Denham (R-CA).
- It currently has 181 cosponsors.
- The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
- To impose sanctions with respect to foreign persons responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, and for other purposes.
- The bill was introduced on January 30, 2015, by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) for himself and one original cosponsor: Congressman James McGovern (D-MA).
- It currently has 56 cosponsors.
- House Resolution 290.
- Calling for the global repeal of blasphemy laws.
- The resolution was introduced on June 2, 2015, by Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) for himself and one original cosponsor: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX).
- It currently has 13 c0sponsors.
Prior to this work, we were instrumental in getting several international religious freedom bills passed and signed into law. See our results.
As convener of the Roundtable, the Firm continually works with participants of all faiths and none—always in informal groups of organizations and individuals who are scholars, religious leaders, human rights advocates and practitioners—to engage the U.S. government and urge its leaders to make religious freedom a higher priority in foreign policy and national security; and to directly engage authoritarian governments that are restricting religion, and urge them to improve their laws in order to secure the rights of all. When they do this, each of the faiths is standing up for each other—they often opt-into joint advocacy actions to address restrictions on others in countries in which their own communities are not being persecuted.
While there is very little participants of the Roundtable agree on theologically, or politically, we all agree on the importance of international religious freedom. Advancing it is not only the right thing to do but it is in our vital self-interest to do so. Consider three compelling reasons.
First, religious freedom is perhaps the most personal and fundamental of all human rights, reflecting the very core and dignity of a human being. It strengthens culture and provides the foundation for a stable democracy and its components, including civil society, economic growth, and social harmony. Research has shown that where there is more religious freedom, there is more economic development, more women’s empowerment, and more political stability.
Second, as such, religious freedom is also the ultimate counter-terrorism weapon, preemptively undermining religious extremism. From Cyrus’ Cylinder to Roger Williams’ 1663 Colonial Charter, history and modern scholarship make it clear that where people are allowed to practice their faith freely, they are less likely to be alienated from the government, and more likely to be good citizens.
Third, the current state of international religious freedom is one of deepening crisis. According to the Pew Research Center’s latest annual study on global restrictions on religion, 77% of the world’s population lives in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76% in 2012 and 68% in 2007. If people continue to kill for their religion and die for their faith in a world where 84% of the planet’s inhabitants believe in something greater than themselves, then we must work for the best of faith to defeat the worst of religion.
We must work to create a context where people can live with their deepest differences. The recent turmoil in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine—including the alarming spike in incidents of violence and persecution of Christians, Muslim communities, and other religious minorities—offers the latest examples of what happens if we do not.
Religious freedom is a principle upon which our country was founded, and its promotion is a significant factor in U.S. national security and related global interests. As Secretary of State John Kerry recently stated, “Attacks on religious freedom are therefore both a moral and a strategic national security concern for the United States.”
While participants of the Roundtable continue to engage the U.S. government and work with it when and where it will help, they do not rely on or wait for it to achieve the goal. Rather, participants also reach out directly to other governments, and the meaningful dialogues we have opened with ambassadors, embassies, and delegations are designed to grow into results-driven collaborations. Indeed, they are manifestations of “bottom-up” civil society engaging the “top-down” of authoritarian governments, something participants want to model in the context of multiple bilateral relations.
To borrow from the lingo of diplomacy, the Roundtable represents a creative intersection of “Track 1” (governmental) and “Track 2” (civil society)—its emerging model is a true demonstration of “Track 1.5” engagement in action, through which strategic partnerships, collaborations, and consultative relationships between governments and civil society organizations might advance peace and prosperity.
And this model is built upon a vision of radical inclusion and integration—all are welcome. Over the years, the Roundtable has hosted hundreds of individuals from over 100 religious and human rights organizations—from all faiths and none. Participants are under no obligation to take any action whatsoever. But each participant has a standing invitation to serve on the steering committee. And an open and equal opportunity to place specific items on the agenda, speak at meetings, design and launch initiatives, self-select into coalitions of the willing, self-organize or join a working group to get into the details of specific projects, and participate in joint advocacy actions. In this way, we routinely find evangelical Christians working side-by-side with Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Krishnas, Sikhs, Baha’is, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Scientologists, Unificationists, Uyghurs, and even atheists and secular humanists, just to name just a few. And we all work together on the basis of mutual respect and reliance. Each of the faiths stands up for each other—often opting-into joint advocacy actions to address restrictions on others, in countries in which their own communities are not being persecuted.
This is what the best of faith looks like. And this is what it looks like for citizens to steward their various citizenships, and work together across their deepest differences in order to protect the minority. This is the future.
From the book, Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right, by Professor Timothy Shah and the Task Force on International Religious Freedom of the Witherspoon Institute:
Advocacy for religious freedom should transcend any one religious group. We propose that the world’s major religious communities work together, whether in a coalition or in a new international, non-governmental organization, to promote religious freedom on an ecumenical basis. This would send the message that religious freedom is not the special pleading of any one group but is the common, non-negotiable demand of human dignity, of religious integrity, and of the wholeness and health of the civic community. Such a coalition or organization would be an investigative body independent of any and all governments and political movements, yet one that actively seeks to spotlight and influence the actions and policies of governments and political movements.
From the published work of Greg Mitchell on the uniqueness of the Roundtable approach in The Journal of the Center on Faith & International Affairs at the Institute for Global Engagement. In this piece, Mitchell wrote:
…its participants must display unity and solidarity when taking joint advocacy actions to urge policymakers to engage. International religious freedom issues create unique opportunities for strategic alliances between strange bedfellows. It is vital for religious communities not currently threatened to stand with those being restricted or persecuted. Faith leaders should be advocates for free exercise and contribution of all faiths. Each of us should operate from the viewpoint articulated by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
And as Mitchell also notes, the Church of Scientology International supports the Firm’s multi-faith work as part of its selfless social mission to advance religious freedom for all. They fully understand that a rising tide lifts all boats.