On January 5, 2022, Professor Mark Rienzi, Co-Director of the Center for Religious Liberty and President of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and former Ambassador-at-Large Sam Brownback, Fellow for The Center, participate in the Religious Freedom Institute’s (RFI) Institutional Religious Freedom: Exploring Contemporary Policy Challenges. Brownback, who continues to work with coalitions around the globe to promote and protect the fundamental human right to religious liberty and will be teaching a course in international religious liberty at Catholic Law this spring, delivered the keynote address for the virtual event. Rienzi acted as the moderator for the first of the two panels.
Through the keynote address from Brownback and two panels of leading experts and scholars, the program explored the meaning, value, and limits of institutional religious freedom in the context of two contemporary policy areas: 1) sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies in the United States, and 2) COVID-19 restrictions that have been directed at faith institutions in India, the United States, Malaysia, and numerous other countries during the pandemic.
This capstone event marked the conclusion of RFI’s Freedom of Religious Institutions in Society (FORIS) Project—a three-year initiative funded by the John Templeton Foundation that aims to clarify the meaning and value of institutional religious freedom. Religious liberty is not an individual right alone, but rather includes the right of religious communities to gather for worship and to establish religious organizations in accord with their faith such as schools, hospitals, ministries to the poor, and countless others. Institutional religious freedom encompasses this full range of congregational and organizational exercises of religion.
The event began with opening remarks from Tom Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute. Farr greeted those in attendance and highlighted the importance of exploring religious freedom not only as an individual right but as an institutional right as well. He then introduced Brownback, whose address laid the foundation for the panel discussions. He used his time to outline some current religious liberty issues and how they might be addressed. Brownback organized his comments to hit on both international and domestic issues.
PANEL I: Achieving Freedom & Fairness for All Americans & Their Religious Institutions
The first panel will provide an overview of the FORIS policy report, “Western Societies Need Proactive Policies to Protect Institutional Religious Freedom” followed by a discussion of the Fairness for All Act and other proposed remedies to the range of ongoing disputes between SOGI policies and the freedom of religious institutions.
Moderator: Mark Rienzi, President & CEO of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Co-Director of the Center for Religious Liberty and Professor at Columbus School of Law
Panelists: Paul Marshall, Director of RFI’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team, FORIS Scholar, Wilson Professor of Religious Freedom at the Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University; Timothy Shah, Distinguished Research Scholar at the University of Dallas, Senior Fellow at the Archbridge Institute, and FORIS Scholar and Principal Architect; Stanley Carlson-Thies, Founder & Senior Director the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, The Center for Public Justice; David Trimble, Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Center for Religious Freedom Education, RFI.
PANEL II: Protecting the Freedom of Religious Institutions in a Time of Global Pandemic
The second panel surveyed COVID-19 policies around the world that have restricted the freedom of religious institutions throughout the pandemic and reflected on key lessons that should inform government officials and religious leaders going forward.
Moderator: Paul Marshall, Director of RFI’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team, FORIS Scholar, Wilson Professor of Religious Freedom at the Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University
Panelists: Rebecca Shah, Senior Fellow at the Archbridge Institute; Kathleen Brady, Affiliated Fellow, Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University; Katherine Marshall, Senior Fellow at the Berkeley Center, Georgetown University
Following the panel discussions, Paul Marshall offered closing remarks and thanked everyone for their time.