Washington, D.C. – (July 2, 2013) – The event followed on the heels of the recent National Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on “Examining the Government’s Record on Implementing The International Religious Freedom Act,” where IGE President, Dr. Chris Seiple, testified. Given that it has been more than 15 years since Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) in 1998, with no oversight hearings on its implementation until now, it has never been a more critical time to solicit recommendations and ideas from both government and civil society representatives on how they can work together to improve the conditions for religious freedom internationally.

Two statistics from Dr. Brian Grim’s (Pew Research Center) opening presentation “Religious Freedom by the Numbers” undergirded the entire event: “84% of people believe in something greater than themselves,” and “75% of people face high restrictions on their beliefs, 5% more than last year.” Comments from the event’s presenters only confirmed that religion is not going away, and that freedom of conscience or belief is not only the right thing to do, it is in everyone’s self-interest. For example, Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair of USCIRF, emphasized that governments that honor religious freedom tend to have higher levels of stability. David Kramer, President of Freedom House reminded the audience that, blasphemy laws, which have seen a recent resurgence, violate freedom of expression and prevent much needed critical thought from entering the public sphere.

Asma Uddin, Legal Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, highlighted the basic fact that religiously motivated individuals have a duty to God to live out their faith, with which governments have no right to interfere. Government interference and/or repression of different ways in which religious communities live out their faith tend to create social hostility against the government. In order to address this issue, Uddin called for greater support of law enforcement and the framing of attacks on religious people not as hate crimes or religiously motivated, but more simply as violent acts prohibited by secular law. In closing, Uddin noted that government restrictions on religious practice (like that in France with respect to the hijab), under the guise of cultural/national integration, tend to have the opposite effect, and that the evidence shows that religious liberty is actually an effective counterterrorism measure.

A panel of U.S. government representatives suggested developing an integrated religious freedom “roadmap with benchmarks” for Myanmar. Furthermore, they advocated for the further use of technology to gather data on the ground in countries that have high restrictions on religious freedom. Another suggestion was the creation of a special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and Central/South Asia. A follow-on panel of NGOs emphasized the need for NGO engagement of governments if policies and behavior are to change.

Throughout the event, the following members of Congress made brief presentations: Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Chairman, House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security; Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee; Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA), Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee; and, Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO).

The next meeting of the IRF Roundtable is 22 August 2013.

About the Institute for Global Engagement – The Institute for Global Engagement works at the critical intersection of religion and global affairs, building sustainable environments for religious freedom worldwide. Through local partnerships, IGE works transparently to convene, connect, and build consensus among government, religious leaders, and scholars to ensure that people of all faiths and none have full freedom of conscience and can participate as equal citizens in public life. To learn more about IGE, please watch our four minute video.