Washington, D.C. – (June 25, 2013) – For over 10 years, the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), in partnership with BYU and its Vietnamese country partners, has convened government and religious leaders to build consensus about how to best make religious freedom a viable and sustainable social construct in Vietnam. Through IGE’s work with government and religious organizations, IGE has catalyzed and contributed to sustainable change in the country, developing trusted networks of partners with which to inculcate policies that ensure that people of all faiths and none have full freedom of conscience and can participate equally as citizens in public life.

Through IGE’s relational diplomacy, IGE and Brigham Young University (BYU) hosted a Vietnamese delegation’s visit to Washington D.C. and Utah. The delegation included the leadership of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities at Vietnam National University (USSH/ VNA), which signed agreements with IGE and BYU to do comparative studies on religion and rule of law in Vietnam and the U.S. The goal of this research is to make policy recommendations to the Vietnamese government.

During their visit to Washington, D.C. (18-22 June), the delegation participated in an unprecedented series of events to discuss religious freedom in Vietnam at the Vietnamese Embassy house on 19 June. After the roundtable one of the delegates said, “There is great support and openness from the American government, NGOs, and civil society towards Vietnam in the process of developing public policy on religion.”

During their visit to Washington, D.C., the delegation visited the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs to learn about the Center’s various projects on religious freedom. The delegation also learned about U.S. law making, history, civil society, and their impact on religious freedom and the implementation of relevant policies. Delegates were able to visit the U.S. Capitol and saw the room where Muslim Capitol Hill staffers have Jummah Prayer Services. Furthermore, the delegation learned about how a church serves the local community when they visited Miracle Theater, a movie theater owned by National Community Church, a local protestant church in Washington D.C.

At the end of their visit to D.C., one of the delegates said, “I can see the U.S. government’s attention to the religious life of its citizens, including Muslims. This attention is demonstrated by allowing a prayer room right in the heart of the U.S. Capitol.”

In Provo, Utah (22-25 June), the delegation visited the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City, and learned about the activities of minority faith groups in the U.S. The delegation also met with the University of Utah and BYU to discuss possible academic exchanges in the future. While at BYU, the delegation discussed preparation for the 2nd Religion and Rule of Law Certificate Program—the only the academic program of its kind in Vietnam, a program that trains an emerging generation of scholars, government officials, policy advisers, and religious leaders on international and comparative approaches to religion and the rule of law—scheduled for September 2013. The 2nd R&ROL Certificate Program will be hosted in Ho Chi Minh City, educating leaders from all spheres in the south. The first program educated leaders in the north in Hanoi last November 2012.

Upon USSH-VNA’s return to Vietnam, they will apply for funding from the Vietnamese government to implement the agreements signed with IGE and BYU to undertake comparative studies on religion and rule of law in Vietnam and the U.S., and to make recommendations on religious policies to the Vietnamese government. If funded, this research would be a historical milestone for religious freedom progress in Vietnam, potentially marking the first time that the Vietnamese government would fund such research themselves, signaling that after 10 years of work, IGE and its in-country partners are helping to shift the mindsets of government leaders, and starting to see a real change in behavior.

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.