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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: World of Faith and Freedom
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Thomas Farr
Professor and Author
Tonight, the Knights of Columbus is pleased to be joined by Thomas Farr, author of World of Faith and Freedom: Why International Religious Liberty is Vital to American National Security. Farr is a professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown. He formerly served as the State Department's first Director of the Office of International Religious Freedom. Please feel free to submit your questions for Professor Farr on his book World of Faith and Freedom.

Michael B. Alba council 14212
weston Fl
China is violating the religious freedom of millions of Catholics by imposing a "National Catholic church" whose bishops are appointed by the Government. What practical measures can the U.S. Government undertake to change this abusive interference and what can the Knights of Columbus as an organization do to pressure our government to take action. What actions could we Knights take at the council and state level to make people aware of these violations on the part of the Chinese Communist government and demand a change?
Thomas Farr:

Anyone interested in religious freedom in China, including the Knights, can insist that their government do more than issue rhetorical condemnations, and conduct annual "human rights dialogues" with the Chinese government.

Since 1999 we have put China on the annual list of "countries of particular concern" for egregious violations of religious liberty. During many of those years we have also held bilateral dialogues on the subject. These policies are fine as far as they go, but they are not enough. The reason is not difficult to discern: even the Chinese, as concerned as they are about "face" in the international community, have learned that the annual list has few, if any, policy implications. They know, for example, that being a major US creditor makes punitive US action highly unlikely.  And the human rights dialogues are little more than occasions for China's "America management" experts to show their colors.

What we need is a strategy that will convince the Chinese it is in their interests to advance religious freedom for Catholics and other religious communities. They see their primary interests as social harmony and stable economic growth. We should develop programs to convince them that religious freedom will increase both. We should also fund programs for Chinese litigators who can employ Chinese law to protect religious minorities, and make internal arguments for strengthening legal protections. We should engage Chinese academics, hundreds of whom are specializing in Western religions.

What can the Knights do in a practical vein? None of these goals can be accomplished without leadership at the State Department. Write your Congressional representatives -- especially your Senators -- and ask why the Obama administration has not yet secured Senate approval for an Ambassador for Religious Freedom at the State Department, even though it has long had in place senior envoys for favored initiatives like closing Guantanamo and engaging Islam. This administration has invested far more diplomatic energy and resources in promoting its international LGBT agenda than it has in advancing America's First Freedom. This is a scandal, and should not go unnoticed over the next two years.  

Bill Donovan
Port Charlotte, Florida
Some make a distinction between religion and spirituality. Does your book treat these separately, or do you see them as parts of a unified whole?
Thomas Farr:
Depends on the meaning of "spirituality." If it means a new age kind of therapy, then it isn't religion at all, which, as I see it, has a transcendent referent. If it means "faith" then it can be used as a synonym for religion. I do not address this issue in the book, although I spend a fair amount of time describing what I mean by religion, and why it includes both faith and reason.

Maddy More
What is your judgment thus far of Secretary of State Clinton in terms of maintaining religious liberty as a priority at the State Department?

Loved the book!!
Thomas Farr:

Secretary Clinton has recently said some encouraging things about religious freedom. See, for example, her November comments on the issuance of the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

Unfortunately, even high-level words are just words if they are not backed by action. Two years into the administration, there is no ambassador at large for international religious freedom in place. When the administration's National Security Strategy for the United States was issued earlier this year, the phrase "religious freedom" did not appear in the document, even though it included an entire section on American "values." It is difficult to conclude that this issue is a priority for Secretary Clinton or President Obama.

Thomas Farr:
See my blogs on this subject in the Washington Post's "On Faith" and in a June 15 op-ed in the Post.

Fred Everett
South Bend, IN
Given our current circumstances, what 3 concrete steps would you ideally want to see the US take in promoting international religious freedom?
Thomas Farr:
  1. Put immediately in place an experienced diplomat, with deep knowledge of religious freedom, as US ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
  2. Give the ambassador sufficient authority and resources to advance religious freedom in places like China and the lands of Islam (see answer to Q#1).
  3. Amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to shore up loopholes that have been exploited by the State Dept. in such a way as to avoid compliance. For example, require the Dept. to put the religious freedom ambassador under the Secretary, like other ambassadors at large, and require religious freedom training for all diplomats.

Kevin Holmes
Dearborn, MI
I haven't delved deeply enough into your book to perhaps find this, but is there real evidence that religious freedom promotes democracy?
Thomas Farr:

There is substantial evidence, both in history and contemporary scholarship.

Samuel Huntington pointed out, for example, that the third wave of democracies was composed substantially of Catholic nations that had resisted democracy until influenced by Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Liberty.

As for contemporary evidence read the work of Brian Grim and Roger Finke, including their just released work "The Price of Freedom Denied," and the upcoming volume by Daniel Philpott, Timothy Samuel Shah and Monica Toft, "God's Century." In sum, they argue that religious freedom is necessary if democracy is to be stable, lasting, and yield its benefits to all citizens. It also can serve to undermine religious violence and extremism.


Reggie Disalvo
Yardley, PA
How much of the diplomatic shortsightedness in terms of religion is a reflection of our country own growing secularism, which no longer allows religious displays on public lands and seeks to remove mention of God and prayer from schools? In other words, isn this a deeper problem of our politics generally than diplomacy alone?
Thomas Farr:

You are absolutely correct. An aggressive secularist culture complicates our religious freedom diplomacy. For example, many diplomats have a vague sense that the policy is unconstitutional. Others simply don't believe religion is a fit subject for government action abroad.

But the problem is deepened by the traditional schools of American foreign policy thinking, all of which tend to dismiss religion as irrelevant. Henry Kissinger's massive opus Diplomacy has a 35 page index, in which the word "religion" does not appear.

So the obstacles to a solid policy are high. But the stakes are higher: we must advance religious freedom as a matter of basic human dignity, and to further our own interests in the world, including undermining Islamist terrorism and encouraging stable, peaceful democracies.


On behalf of the Knights of Columbus, we would like to extend our deepest thanks to Professor Farr for participating in this fascinating discussion of his book World of Faith and Freedom

Please join us again on January 26 for a discussion of Peter Seewald's interview with the pope, Light of the World, when we will be joined by Father Joseph Fessio.

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