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What a Great Idea! Faith McDonnell November 16, 2011
As the director of the IRD’s Religious Liberty Program, I am – as you will probably guess – a great fan of religious freedom! But increasingly, we are finding that when the concept of religious freedom is not being pooh-poohed as inconsequential, or ignored, or viewed with outright hostility, it is being exploited and manipulated in order to accomplish the exact opposite of what it purports – the suppression of religious freedom.
These complicated issues surrounding religious freedom are the topic of a conference that is being held tomorrow at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. IRD Board of Directors member, Dr. Tom Farr, is the director of the Religious Freedom Project at the university's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. It is the Religious Freedom Project that is holding its first symposium, entitled “What’s So Special about Religious Freedom?” on Thursday, November 17, from 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM, in the Copley Formal Lounge of Georgetown’s Copley Hall.
The centerpiece of the symposium is a noontime debate between the Honorable Michael McConnell, Professor of Law and director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University, and Noah Feldman, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. They will debate the question “Is Religious Freedom an Independent or Derivative Human Right?” It was Dr. Feldman who, as a senior constitutional advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and advisor to the members of the Iraqi Governing Council on the drafting of the Transitional Administrative Law, argued for the inclusion of Sharia in Iraq’s constitution. Judge McConnell is a leading authority on freedom of speech and religion, the relation of individual rights to government structure, originalism, and various other aspects of constitutional history and constitutional law. The other events of the symposium are a morning discussion exploring the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and secular influences on religious freedom in the West, and an afternoon panel addressing the universality of religious freedom and its compatibility with non-Western cultures.
Dr. Farr is well-suited to the task of defining the importance of religious freedom. In addition to directing the Religious Freedom Project, he is a Visiting Associate Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. And when I first met Dr. Farr he was the first director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, created as a provision of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Not long after his appointment to that office, we worked together to help a family of Iranian Christian converts from Islam who had fled to Turkey and were seeking asylum in the United States. Farr’s book, entitled World of Faith and Freedom: Why International Religious Liberty is Vital to American National Security (Oxford University Press, 2008) mentions the plight of this family and the long struggle to help them find freedom.
If you live in the D.C. area, you may wish to attend this event. It would be a unique way to enter into the Thanksgiving holiday celebration in which we express our gratitude to God for all of the many freedoms that He has bestowed upon us.
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