The Pew Research Center estimates that 77% of the world’s population lives in countries that experience a high or very high level of religious restrictions, and other studies reveal that such restrictions increase social violence and migration. Concerns about global religious freedom have prompted a variety of responses from Western democracies. For instance, the European Union has recently appointed a new special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion. Outside the European Union, Canada eliminated the post of ambassador-at-large for religious freedom. What do these and other developments mean for international religious freedom? How can governments promote tolerance and fight against religious restrictions? We bring together key scholars and leaders involved in shaping government responses to religious restrictions to discuss these questions.
Professor Brett G. Scharffs is the Francis R. Kirkham Professor of Law at Brigham Young University Law School and director of the law school’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies. He had served the center as associate director and regional advisor for Asia since 2009 and served the law school as both associate dean of academic affairs and associate dean for faculty and curriculum. Professor Scharffs’s teaching and scholarly interests include law and religion, legal reasoning and rhetoric, philosophy of law, and legislation and regulation.
Ambassador David N. Saperstein is the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom for the U.S. Department of State. The ambassador-at-large is, by law, a principal advisor to the president and secretary of state and serves as the United States’ chief diplomat on issues of religious freedom worldwide. Previously, Saperstein served for 40 years as the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC). A rabbi and an attorney, for 35 years Saperstein taught seminars in First Amendment Church-State Law and in Jewish Law at Georgetown University Law Center.
The Honorable Ján Figeľ was recently appointed as the European Union’s first special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion and belief outside the European Union. Previously, he served as Slovakia’s state secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and chief negotiator for Slovakia’s accession into the European Union. Mr. Figel’ began his career when he joined the Christian Democratic Movement party in 1990 and was elected two years later as a member of parliament to the National Council of the Slovak Republic, serving on its Foreign Affairs Committee and becoming a member of Slovakia’s delegation to the Council of Europe.
Professor Thomas F. Farr is the president of the Religious Freedom Institute and director of Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project. He is also an associate professor of the practice of religion and international affairs at Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Farr previously served as the director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and served in the U.S. Army and Foreign Service for 28 years. The arguments Farr made in his 2008 book, World of Faith and Freedom: Why International Religious Liberty is Vital to American National Security, have shaped legislation introduced in Congress in 2016.
This event is being co-sponsored by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University and the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute.