On September 7, students in the M.A. in Human Rights program meet with the Religious Freedom Institute’s president, Thomas Farr, to learn about the understanding and promotion of religious freedom as a human right. Dr. Farr shared his experience in transitioning from a career in the U.S. Army and at the State Department to his role in co-founding the Religious Freedom Institute in 2016 through the lens of his conversion to Catholicism and the importance of vocational discernment.
The Religious Freedom Institute’s motto, “Working to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere” outlines the work the nonprofit organization is engaged in: making the case to a variety of national and international stakeholders that religious freedom is good for everyone in every society.
As Dr. Farr pointed out, religious freedom has implications for reducing violent religious extremism, involving more people in the public square, and including more people in an economy. Receptivity to these arguments can vary based on regime type and religious demographics of a society, so Dr. Farr and his colleagues have learned to approach religious freedom issues from a variety of perspectives, while still maintaining the goal of full religious freedom front and center.
Students had the opportunity to discuss questions about domestic challenges to religious liberty, questions about exemptions and full participation in the public square, and how to address intrareligious disagreement about ethical imperatives. Dr. Farr noted that despite religious disagreement on some issues, pluralism can still be in accord with the natural law because of the necessity of preserving peace.
Students also had the chance to walk through a few thought experiments to practice making the case for religious freedom to various religious or secular audiences. The visit concluded with discussion of current trends in religious freedom in the United States.