The Fourth Annual International Religious Freedom Summit

By MA Student Afghani Barakzai

On January 29, 2024, one day prior to the start of the Summit on International Religious Freedom, the MA students attended the training in religious freedom advocacy provided by the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI). Students heard from Dr. Jim Bennett, Director of the National Center for Religious Freedom Education ( RFI); David Trimble, Vice President for Public Policy and Education (RFI); Ambassador Sam Brownback; Fiona Bruce, UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religious or Belief, and Katrina Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation. The focus was to train student leaders on religious freedom as a human right. Prof. Saunders also led a small group session for the students.

In session one, the topic was about why religious freedom is vital to preserving Human Dignity. I learned that; “Religious freedom does assume that everyone has a basic natural and inalienable right to be religious; every individual is free to explore life’s great questions; every individual is free to embrace what one’s conscience suggests is true, and every individual is free to express that truth in both private and public life.” (RFI )

The second session discussed liberty and justice for all, and that religious freedom is vital to human flourishing. The topic of session three was defending an embattled right and understanding the global apparatus that supports religious freedom. The last session was about practical and legal solutions for contemporary threats. In this session, we worked in groups under the guidance of professors and practitioners to develop real-world, practical solutions to global challenges, past and present.  

The key takeaway was that religious freedom is vital to preserving Human Dignity. We explored the evidence that suggests that the exercise of religion is a uniquely human trait that must be defended if concepts like human dignity and justice are to have any meaning. 

We have witnessed systematic religious violence for decades. Religious tensions are on the rise now, domestically and globally, and this affects virtually every religious group. It is important for all faith leaders, scholars, and Human Rights practitioners to unify in this important call for awareness, such as the RFI Summit university partnership program. This type of opportunity offers knowledge to people with different faiths about each other, invites social movements to promote peace and reconciliation, and promotes human dignity for all faiths.