Diplomats, human rights activists and religious leaders will soon descend on Washington, D.C., to discuss one of the Trump administration’s favorite topics: religious freedom.
They’ll learn about the religious persecution that persists around the world. Then, they’ll make plans to address it.
Last year’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the first event of its kind, brought together high-level leaders from more than 80 countries. State Department officials say this year’s gathering will be even bigger.
These events are a significant addition to international religious freedom work, but they’re not without controversy. For example, the Trump administration faced criticism due to its 2018 guest list, which included anti-gay and anti-Muslim activists. Additionally, some observers say ministerial participants care more about Christians than other people of faith.
Ahead of this year’s ministerial, which will take place July 16-18, ReligionLink took a look at what happened during and since last year’s gathering.
- Read “State Dept. releases religious freedom report: A ‘chilling array of abuses’ committed in 2018” from The Christian Post on June 22, 2019.
- Read “Can America’s religious freedom ambassador save the world?” from the Deseret News on May 1, 2019.
- Read “USCIRF report: China, two dozen other countries top religious freedom offenders list” from Religion News Service on April 29, 2019.
- Read “Will Trump’s State Department push religious freedom to center stage?” from The Christian Science Monitor on Jan. 9, 2019.
- Read “The Politics of Religious Freedom Under the Trump Administration” from Religion & Politics on Aug. 14, 2018.
- Read “How Many Declarations Does It Take to Secure Religious Freedom?” from Providence on Aug. 6, 2018.
- Read “State Department religious freedom summit ends with commitments, critiques” from Religion News Service on July 27, 2018.
- Read “The Trump Administration Convenes the ‘Super Bowl’ of Religious Freedom” from The Atlantic on July 27, 2018.
- Read “Trump’s religious freedom squad promises to deliver” from Politico on July 26, 2018.
- Read “Brownback opens religious freedom summit with plea to fight persecution” from Religion News Service on July 24, 2018.
- Read “U.S. gathering on religious freedom sets up competing narratives” from Politico on July 21, 2018.
- Read “Pompeo to host State Department’s highest-level global meeting on religious liberty” from The Washington Post on July 19, 2018.
- Read the State Department’s 2018 report on international religious freedom, released June 21, 2019.
- Read the latest annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, released in April 2019.
- Read the Potomac Declaration, issued during the 2018 Ministerial on Religious Freedom.
- Read Vice President Mike Pence’s remarks at the 2018 Ministerial on Religious Freedom.
- Watch Ambassador Sam Brownback’s opening statement at the 2018 Ministerial on Religious Freedom.
- Read “Global Uptick in Government Restrictions on Religion in 2016” from Pew Research Center on June 21, 2018.
- Read “Many Countries Favor Specific Religions, Officially or Unofficially” from Pew Research Center on Oct. 3, 2017.
Mohammed Abu-Nimer is a professor at the American University’s School of International Service in Washington, D.C., where he directs the Peacebuilding and Development Institute. He has researched, intervened and conducted conflict resolution workshops around the world, including in the Palestinian territories, Israel, Egypt, Northern Ireland, the Philippines (Mindanao) and Sri Lanka. Abu-Nimer is also a senior adviser to KAICIID, the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.
Sahar Aziz is a law professor at Rutgers University. She is also founding director of the Rutgers Center for Security, Race and Rights.
Samuel D. Brownback
Samuel D. Brownback is the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. He previously served as governor of Kansas, as well as a U.S. representative and senator.
Shaun Casey directs the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, where he also teaches in the school of foreign service. He served as U.S. special representative for religion and global affairs from 2013 to 2017. Casey’s research interests include ethics and international affairs, the public implications of religious belief and the intersection of religion and politics.
Suzan Johnson Cook
The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook is a distinguished fellow at the Freedom Forum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center. She served as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom from 2011 to 2013. Cook is an ordained Baptist pastor.
Tenzin Dorjee serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan government commission tasked with tracking religious freedom violations around the world. He is also an associate professor of communication, including conflict resolution, at California State University, Fullerton.
W. Cole Durham Jr.
W. Cole Durham Jr. is a law professor and director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He has worked on religious freedom issues around the world.
Thomas Farr is president of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C. A former American diplomat, he writes and speaks about international religious freedom and national security. Arrange an interview through Nathan Berkeley.
Kristen Farrington is the executive director of the Freedom Forum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center in Washington, D.C.
Nick Fish is president of American Atheists, an organization that advocates on behalf of nonreligious Americans in the public square.
Brian J. Grim is president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, which makes the case that religious freedom is good for business. Formerly at Pew Research Center, Grim is a leading expert on the socioeconomic impact of restrictions on religious freedom and international religious demography.
Peter Henne is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Vermont. He studies global religious politics, including how states strategically use religion in their foreign policy efforts. Henne previously served as a research associate at Pew Research Center, where he oversaw explorations of global restrictions on religion.
Elizabeth Shakman Hurd
Elizabeth Shakman Hurd is a professor of political science at Northwestern University. She is the author of The Politics of Secularism in International Relations and Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion.
Emilie Kao is director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation. She specializes in legal conflicts related to religious freedom.
Imam Mohamed Magid is imam and executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in the Washington, D.C., area.
Besheer Mohamed is a senior researcher at Pew Research Center, where he studies the U.S. Muslim community. Arrange an interview through Anna Schiller.
Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, which works to foster “a culture in which all human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives.” He also leads the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which tracks religious persecution around the world.
Tina Ramirez is the founder and president of Hardwired Global, a nongovernmental organization that addresses interreligious tension across the globe.
Rabbi David Saperstein is the Union for Reform Judaism’s senior adviser for strategy and policy. He previously served as the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Arrange an interview through Jenna Galper.
Chris Seiple is president emeritus of the Institute for Global Engagement. He previously worked as a religion and foreign policy adviser for the secretary of state. Seiple is the co-founder of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, an informal gathering of human rights activists that meets in Washington, D.C.
Suhag Shukla is the executive director of the Hindu American Foundation and an expert on human rights and religious freedom. She serves as a faith adviser to the Council on Foreign Relations and the Humane Society of the United States.
Asma Uddin is the author of “When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom.” She previously served as counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, where she focused on both international and American religious liberty advocacy. Uddin has extensive knowledge of religious freedom law and a track record of defending religious minorities, and she often speaks on on issues of gender and faith.
Travis Wussow is the vice president for public policy and general counsel for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He previously led ERLC’s international office in the Middle East.
Andrew Bennett is a senior fellow with the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., and law program director for Cardus, a faith-based think tank in Ontario, Canada. He previously served as Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom.
Geoffrey Cameron directs the Baha’i Community of Canada’s public affairs office in Canada, managing the faith group’s relationship with government officials.
Claudio Epelman is executive director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, a regional branch of the World Jewish Congress.
Jan Figel is the European Commission’s special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union. Arrange an interview through his assistant, Anna Garekova.
Joelle Fiss is an expert on blasphemy laws, which are used in countries around the world to punish members of minority faiths. She is a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s panel of experts on freedom of religion or belief.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher is the Holy See’s secretary for relations with states. He oversees the Catholic Church’s relationships with government leaders. Arrange an interview with him through the Holy See Press Office.
Ahmed Shaheed is the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.