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Thomas Farr Discusses Religious Freedom

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Photo Courtesy of Samantha Snead

By Samantha Snead


On Feb. 9, Georgetown University professor Thomas Farr gave a lecture in Wortmann Ballroom entitled “The Missing Key to More Effective U.S. Diplomacy: Religious Liberty”. After a brief introduction, Farr summarized his main objectives which included surveying the evidence, arguing that successful advancement of religious freedom would be strategically wise, and offering ideas about how to go about fixing the problem.

The U.S., he said, does not currently take into account the importance of religious freedom in its foreign policy, and that Americans suffer from religion avoidance syndrome: the tendency to avoid the topic of religion even during times when it is critically important in discussion about national security.

Farr began by mentioning that 84 percent of the world’s population identifies with a particular religious affiliation. He used this point to illustrate the staggering prevalence of religion across the world and to highlight importance of taking religious freedom seriously when it comes to American foreign policy.

Next, Farr argued that advancement of religious freedom would be a strategically wise move for the U.S. He said that, though Americans are rarely willing to talk openly about religion, it’s a problem that cannot be ignored any longer. The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act requires the government to oppose religious persecution and promote religious freedom, though little has been done to accomplish those goals. He said that the Founders constructed the Constitution with this in mind, and to not honor the advancement of religious freedom for all would be an insult to America’s own Constitution.

Farr then cited several statistics to back up his claims about how widespread the problem of religious persecution is. He said that 76 percent of people don’t live in a country where citizens are allowed religious freedoms, or at least those freedoms are heavily restricted. In 70 of the world’s nations, this is a serious problem that is only getting worse. Farr then said that the U.S. has a responsibility to intervene, since it is “reasonable to expect that the most powerful nation in the world, required by law to do so, would at least somehow, somewhere, have some sort of an influence” that could help ease their suffering.

Religion, Farr insisted, is no longer viewed as foundational, and is being overshadowed by things like the right to marry. He said that President Obama is partially to blame for this, since he ignores the religious freedom in favor of advancing the “right to love” movement. He called upon audience members to change the way American culture views religious freedom, saying that it is “a remedy for injustice” that needs to be approached with more care.

Farr’s talk had a moderate conservative bias. He struggled to answer a question from an audience member who asked how Americans can make a difference in regards to this issue. He raised some important points about the need to adjust our attitude towards religious persecution in other countries, but failed to explain how typical Americans can contribute to that goal.