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01/26/2024 Washington (International Christian Concern)Hundreds of religious freedom advocates will gather next week in Washington, D.C., for the fourth annual International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit. The IRF Summit on Jan. 30-31 at the Washington Hilton is the premier global gathering for religious freedom activism and awareness and is supported by 70+ multi-faith organizations – including International Christian Concern (ICC). 

The Summit’s organizers, former U.S. Ambassador for IRF Sam Brownback and President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights Katrina Lantos Swett have amassed an impressive group of speakers ranging from members of Congress to survivors of religious persecution abroad. 

 Other notable names include former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, current U.S. Ambassador for IRF Rashad Hussain, and Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Frederick Davie. 

 The IRF Summit’s schedule suggests that many of the issues addressed will be directly relevant to the deteriorating state of religious freedom worldwide. Countries like China, Iran, and India have increasingly stifled the spread of Christianity, while Russia and Azerbaijan directly engage in religiously motivated acts of violence in the name of war. 

 “…Current trends for international religious freedom do not look promising,” said Ambassador Sam Brownback and Katrina Lantos Swett. “More than 80 percent of the world’s population live in countries that restrict or repress freedom of religion or belief…. Many of these restrictions… happen in countries where we would expect it: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Myanmar… but we have also seen alarming signs in robust democracies like Japan and Finland, and religion-based violence has exploded in countries that are democracies, such as India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.” 

 The IRF Summit provides a platform to raise the plight of persecuted groups, like Christians, and fosters a collective effort to advance the global movement for religious freedom. 

 Brownback and Swett continued, “…One of the most remarkable and uplifting aspects of the IRF Summits has been watching often adversarial groups advocate for each other: Muslims speaking out against antisemitism, Christians defending the rights of their Muslim brothers and sisters, Secular Humanists advocating for the rights of their religious friends and neighbors, and vice versa. This is the power of freedom of religion, conscience, and belief in action.” 

 Breakout Tracks  

 For much of the conference, participants attend breakout sessions on topics about IRF and hear from leading experts on religious freedom. This year, ICC has the privilege of spearheading one of four breakout tracks. 

 ICC’s Advocacy team has been heavily involved in planning sessions, inviting speakers, and collaborating with other civil society groups to raise awareness of global violations of religious freedom. 

 On Wednesday afternoon, ICC will host an event with the Family Research Council on religious freedom violations in Western Democracies. The speaker lineup includes: 

  • Arielle Del Turco, Director for the Center for Religious Liberty, Family Research Council 
  • Andrew P.W. Bennett, Canada’s First International Religious Freedom Ambassador, Cardus 
  • Dr. Aaron Edwards, Author and Theologian 
  • Dr. Paul Teller, Executive Director, Advancing American Freedom 
  • Elizabeth Francis, Legal Counsel, Global Religious Freedom, ADF International 

The other four Violations track breakout sessions include: Religious Freedom Violations in War and Conflict Zones, Violations in Surveillance States, Violations Against Indigenous and Occupied Communities, and Concerning Trends in Latin America.

ICC Advocacy Manager McKenna Wendt says, “The session comes at a critical time when individuals like Päivi Räsänen are facing criminal charges for tweeting a bible verse. If a member of the Finnish Parliament is standing trial for her faith, what would stop the government from going after an average citizen? The growing intolerance and prosecution of Christian beliefs in Western democracies is unacceptable. We stand committed to defending the right of every Christian to worship freely, on our own soil and around the world.” 

The breakout tracks will also feature themes of victories, voices, and vulnerabilities. 

ICC looks forward to attending the event next week. Registration continues on the Summit’s website, but seats are limited. There is also on-site registration. 

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