Religious Freedom: Rising Threats to a Fundamental Human Right

July 16, 2015

Religious persecution is rising at an alarming rate around the world. According to a recent Pew report, over three-quarters of the world’s population lives in religiously repressive countries. This crisis affects religious groups of all kinds and climes: Jewish minorities walking the streets of Paris and Copenhagen; Muslims fleeing sectarian violence and civil war in Iraq and Syria; Christians persecuted mercilessly by ISIS, Boko Haram, and other religious extremists. Rising restrictions have particularly affected women and girls, who are targeted because of their gender.

On July 16, the Religious Freedom Project—in partnership with Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion and the American Bar Association’s Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities—organized a day-long conference to examine these and related issues. Who are the perpetrators and victims of this religious freedom crisis, and which countries and regions deserve our attention? Why, exactly, is religious persecution on the rise? How can U.S. international religious freedom policy improve conditions for religious minorities abroad? What important role do women play in resolving this issue? 

The conference began with a keynote conversation featuring Judge Ken Starr, president and chancellor of Baylor University; Congressman Keith Ellison, representing the fifth district of Minnesota and the first Muslim American to serve in Congress; and Dr. Katrina Lantos-Swett, commissioner and past chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. This was followed by two dynamic panel discussions. The first, “Rising Global Restrictions and Social Hostilities on Religious Freedom,” dug deeply into the specific forms of persecution that persist around the world. The second, “Religious Freedom and Women’s Rights,” was hosted by the RFP’s Claudia Winkler and featured four talented female professionals and academics. Finally, the day closed with a riveting address by former congressman Frank Wolf, who shared several prescient observations on religious freedom based on his decades-long career defending human rights on Capitol Hill and around the world.

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