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Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) Receive Religious Freedom Award

23 Mar, 2016

At the March 22nd International Religious Freedom Roundtable’s 4th Annual IRF Event* on Capitol Hill, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) received the Thomas Jefferson IRF (International Religious Freedom) Champion Award. 

The Awards were presented by Greg Mitchell, IRF Roundtable co-chair, and Kristin Wright, Open Doors USA Director of Advocacy. Ms. Wright’s comments follow.

Rubio awardSenator Marco Rubio

Today we are honoring Senator Marco Rubio for his extensive work in the area of international religious freedom. Among Senator Rubio’s many efforts in the area of religious freedom is his work as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China to put pressure on authoritarian regimes such as China to respect religious freedom for all.

He has worked on several individual international religious freedom cases, including one to help a pregnant Sudanese woman named Meriam Ibrahim who was imprisoned and sentenced to death for her Christian faith. Senator Rubio was the Senate’s lead sponsor of the unanimously passed resolution that called for her immediate and unconditional release. Meriam and her family were allowed to leave Sudan and are now living in the United States. Sen. Rubio also advocated on the behalf of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith from 2011-2016. Pastor Abedini was released earlier this year and has returned to the United States

Today we would particularly like to recognize Senator Rubio for the central role that he played last year as a driving force behind the reauthorization of USCIRF, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan commission dedicated to defending the freedom of religion worldwide. At a time when religious persecution throughout the world remains at an all-time high, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom faced possible extinction. Against many difficulties, Senator Rubio fought tirelessly for the protection of international religious freedom through the reauthorization of this crucial commission.

Senator Rubio, we know you haven’t been in this for the awards. As you have noted, religious freedom is under assault globally, and attacks on houses of worship, imprisonment, and even death are daily realities faced by persecuted people of faith throughout the world. And this is particularly true for religious minorities in the Middle East right now.

I want to take just a moment to encourage you that there are people around the world, victims of religious persecution, who would be here today to thank you if they could. Your work in this field has made a difference in the lives of people around the globe, and we want to recognize that today. Thank you for persevering in addressing issues of international religious freedom and being the tireless champion that you are.

On behalf of Open Doors and the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, we present you with this Thomas Jefferson International Religious Freedom Champion Award with gratitude for your efforts.

IMG_7774Congresswoman Anna Eshoo

This afternoon we have the privilege of honoring Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. Representative Eshoo has been a tireless champion of international religious freedom around the globe. Among her many efforts in the area of religious freedom, she is an original cosponsor of HR 1150, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2015.

Today we want to particularly recognize Congresswoman Eshoo as a driving force behind the creation of a crucial position, the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia. At a time of tremendous persecution of people of faith throughout the region, this position truly does give a voice to the voiceless. And we are honored to have Knox Thames, who occupies this office, here with us today. Without the persevering leadership of Representative Eshoo, we would not have this influential position in place. Representative Eshoo, we are grateful for all you have done to ensure that the plight of religious minorities throughout this region is recognized and addressed.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry determined the persecution of Christians, Yezidis, and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and Syria is genocide. But before that ever happened, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Congressman Jeff Fortenberry introduced a resolution deeming the persecution of religious minorities throughout the region as genocide. With 213 bipartisan cosponsors this resolution passed the House by a vote of 393 to 0 on March 14, 2016.

It was Congresswoman Eshoo’s pioneering work in the genocide resolution which ultimately pushed the Administration to make the right genocide designation.

Today we want to thank Congresswoman Eshoo for her courageous efforts in calling out the realities of persecution throughout the world. We want to thank you for being a voice for those who have no voice. Your efforts continue to make a difference in the lives of people around the world.

You are truly a champion of religious freedom. On behalf of Open Doors and the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, we present you with this Thomas Jefferson International Religious Freedom Champion Award with gratitude for your efforts.


Other cosponsors of the event included the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Faith & Freedom Coalition, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and the Church of Scientology National Affairs Office.

Also participating in the event was Religious Freedom & Business Foundation President Brian Grim (pictured with Rabbi David Saperstein, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom). Grim announced the call for nominations for the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards to be presented in Rio de Janeiro at the start of this summer’s Paralympic Games.

The Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards will recognize business leaders – current or past CEOs – who have demonstrated leadership in championing interfaith understanding and peace. ​These forthcoming Awards are a partnership initiative of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF), its Brazilian affiliate, the Associação pela Liberdade Religiosa e Negócios (ALRN), and the United Nations Global Compact Business for Peace (B4P) platform.

Grim also discussed the RFBF’s Empowerment+ Interfaith Social Cohesion & Enterprise Initiative, which is planned to be piloted in the UK later this year. The aim of the initiative is to help those experiencing a wide range of socio-economic risks including displacement, unemployment, isolation, crime, addiction and extremism through integration, empowerment & self-reliance. It is a tool to help build social cohesion and resiliency that will be one way to help counter the social and spiritual circumstances that contributed to such tragedies as the terrorist bombings in Brussels yesterday. 


* IRF Roundtable’s 4th Annual Event on Capitol Hill

Opening Discussion on International Religious Freedom

  • Dr. Robert P. George, USCIRF Chairman
  • Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF Commissioner
  • Moderator: Timothy Shah, Religious Freedom Project, Georgetown University 

Presentation of Thomas Jefferson IRF Champion Award to Senator Marco Rubio and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo

  • Kristin Wright, Open Doors USA
  • Greg Mitchell, Co-Chair of the IRF Roundtable 

Call for Nominations for the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards

  • Brian Grim, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Overview of the Situation in the Middle East

  • Knox Thames, Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South / Central Asia, U.S. State Department 
  • John Gallagher, President/CEO, Institute for Global Engagement

The Importance of Policy Responses to the Situation in the Middle East

  • Nadia Murad, Yazda Foundation
  • Manal Omar, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Dr. Stephen Hollingshead, In Defense of Christians
  • Scott Lloyd, Knights of Columbus
  • Moderator: Dwayne Leslie, Seventh-day Adventist Church 

Overview of the Situation in Europe – Rising Anti-Semitism

  • Ira Forman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, U.S. State Department 

The Importance of Policy Responses to the Situation in Europe

  • Engy Abdelkader, Georgetown’s Bridge Initiative, Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding
  • Eric Roux, Union of Churches of Scientology France, IRF Roundtable Europe
  • Brian Grim, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF’s Empowerment+ Interfaith Social Cohesion & Enterprise Initiative)
  • Moderator: Timothy Head, Faith & Freedom Coalition

Actions We Can Take to Be More Relevant/Effective

  • Lena Smith, Office of Congressman Trent Franks
  • Timothy Shah, Religious Freedom Project, Georgetown University
  • Jay Kansara, Hindu American Foundation
  • Amanda Knief, American Atheists
  • Greg Mitchell, Co-Chair of the IRF Roundtable
  • Moderator: Matthew Hawkins, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention

** The IRF Roundtable is made up of individuals from non-governmental organizations who gather regularly to discuss IRF issues and propose joint advocacy actions to address specific IRF issues and challenges. The International Religious Freedom Roundtable meets every two months in the U.S. Capitol and includes participants from government and civil society. Its goal is to reverse the increase of restrictions on religious freedom around the world.

Open Doors USA works in the world’s most oppressive countries, empowering Christians who are persecuted for their beliefs. Open Doors equips persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries through programs like Bible & Gospel Development, Women & Children Advancement and Christian Community Restoration. It produces an annual World Watch List to monitor persecution.