(from left to right) Justice Lombardi, Tom Shakely, William Saunders, Hannah McIntyre, Jane Jagas, Brandon Showalter, Bino Socrates, and Thomas Farr.
On the 29th of September 2021, the students of MA Human Rights program went to the Religious Freedom Institute for a get-together with Dr. Thomas Farr, the institute’s president. It began with Dr. Farr telling the story of how his career path eventually led him to do human rights work, in particular the promotion of right to religious freedom. He told how the turn of events in his life made him convinced of the need to defend and promote this right which is not always understood and respected in many societies.
Then he spoke about the work that they do in the institute. Founded on the conviction that religious liberty is a fundamental human right and a necessary condition for human flourishing, RFI works to advance the right to religious freedom in different societies by showing empirically how the recognition and respect for this right would actually bring about advancements in the other aspects of society (e.g. economic development), by showing that this right is itself a social good. This, of course, entails a great amount of research and diplomatic work.
Working with people from various countries proved to be challenging as different societies have different priorities. In most western countries, for instance, there is the challenge of secularism; in some countries, there’s the challenge of totalitarian rule. Thus, a deep knowledge of the stakeholders and their interests is crucial in order to show how they could only benefit from securing the right to religious freedom. Though international in scope, Dr. Farr thinks much work is needed to be done for the right to religious freedom in this country.
The get-together ended with a lively discussion with the students. They were also joined by an alumnus of the human rights program, Mr. Justin Lombardi, who now works as a researcher at RFI. He shared how the program had provided him the intellectual tools needed to think through complex issues and how it prepared him for the job that he is in at the moment.