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Dr. Thomas Farr at Georgetown University (Photo Credit: Georgetown University)

Tom Farr at Georgetown University
(Photo Credit: Georgetown University)

By Faith J. H. McDonnell (@Cuchulain09)

On Thursday, June 13, IRD board member Dr. Thomas F. Farr provided testimony at a hearing held by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security. The purpose of the hearing was to examine the government’s record on implementing the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), passed into law in 1998. Dr. Farr is the director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. He was also the first director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, whose creation was mandated by IRFA.

You can watch the whole hearing online, beginning with the Chairman of the Subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) excoriating the State Department for withdrawing from the hearing. The U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, The Honorable Suzan Johnson Cook was scheduled to testify, but the State Department withdrew Ambassador Cook when they discovered that the Oversight Committee intended to have all the witnesses testify on the same panel, rather than having a separate panel for U.S. government witnesses. As a result, there was no State Department witness to comment on the implementation of IRFA, a law in which the State Department plays a major role!

Dr. Farr’s written testimony, along with those of the other witnesses, the Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Katrina Lantos Swett; the president of the Institute for Global Engagement, Dr. Chris Seiple; the Assistant National Director of Public Affairs of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, N. Mahmood Ahmad; and the president of Hardwired, Inc., Tina Ramirez, is available online. Farr focused his testimony on three main questions. First, he asked why does the United States seek to promote religious freedom and reduce religious persecution in its foreign policy, and can this enhance our national security? Second, Farr asked if we are succeeding in this endeavor, and if not, why not? Finally, Farr asked how we can improve our policy.

Apart from any other justification, Farr said that advancing religious freedom was “simply the right thing to do.” Violent religious persecution has proved “catastrophic for many people and many societies,” he said. He marveled that in 15 years of IRFA as law, this was the first and only Congressional oversight hearing. He applauded the Subcommittee on National Security for “taking this issue on.” Indeed, the Subcommittee should be applauded, both for taking the issue on, and for having witnesses of high caliber and expertise, such as Tom Farr.