Interview: Knox Thames on the U.S. Efforts to Advance Religious Freedom Globally

Knox Thames is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement and Visiting Expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He previously served as the State Department Special Advisor for Religious Minorities under both the Obama and Trump administrations. He is writing a book on 21st-century strategies to combat religious persecution.

TalkAbout: Why is religious freedom an important part of U.S. foreign policy?

Knox Thames: The promotion of freedom of religion or belief, internationally, is a reflection of American values and history. Many of the first European settlers were religious minorities who came to North America because they were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. They were looking for a place where they could freely practice their beliefs and live out their faith, and they found that here in North America. It’s been a part of the American narrative from the very beginning. Once our Republic was established, our Constitution was written, and our Bill of Rights was created, the very first of ten amendments, the First Amendment, was created protecting freedom of religion or belief and preventing the government from interfering into the practice of religion. It was that framework that has served our country very well over 245 years. We have tremendous religious liberty here in the United States. It’s not perfect. But it has continually improved as we’ve become increasingly diverse religiously, ethnically, to allow everyone to pursue truth as their conscience leads.

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Law, Religion, and Freedom: Conceptualizing a Common Right: A New Book Considers Issues Critical to Our Times

Donlu Thayer is a Senior Fellow at the International Center for Law and Religion Studies. Before her retirement at the end of 2019, she was the Center’s Publications Director. This blogpost is modified from Thayer’s Introduction to Law, Religion, and Freedom: Conceptualizing a Common Right, which she edited with Cole Durham and Javier Martínez-Torrón, recently released by Routledge as part of its ICLARS Series on Law and Religion.

In September 2016, some 150 international experts in law and religion from 37 countries met at St. Hugh’s College in Oxford for the fourth conference of the International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies (ICLARS). The event was co-sponsored by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies (ICLRS) of BYU Law School, by the Religion, Law and International Relations Programme of the Centre for Christianity and Culture of Regent’s Park College, Oxford, and by the University of Milan.

The conference was organized with attention to the theme ‘Freedom of/for/from/within Religion: Differing Dimensions of a Common Right?’  Two books were developed from papers delivered at the conference and from subsequent conversations related to the theme: Religious Freedom and the Law: Emerging Contexts for Freedom for and from Religion, edited by Brett Scharffs, Asher Maoz, and Ashley Woolley, and the book introduced here, which provides conceptual frameworks for and queries aspects of the theme.

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