“On 22 September 2016 the then UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, together with the World Council of Churches and the Finnish Ecumenical Council organized a workshop and a public event on ‘Religion and Religious Freedom in International Diplomacy’ at the UN in Geneva”, recounts Prof. Dr. Christof Sauer, Co-Director of IIRF, who was one of the moderators then. “The need for literacy on religion and religious freedom in those circles was emphasized and a call for the production of suitable training material issued. One of the speakers, Katherine Cash, of Swedish Mission Council, pledged to heed the call. The IIRF encouraged and supported her. The wonderful educational tool that was now presented, is the fruit of her educational competence and diligent labour.”
“World Evangelical Alliance was one of the first to publicly endorse the films produced as a Core Partner”, adds Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, the Deputy General Secretary of WEA for Intrafaith and Interfaith Relations. The logos of the WEA and the IIRF appear on the website of the FORB Learning Platform among various partners. The WEA also substantially supported the production and launch financially.
A prominent feature of the new learning platform is a series of short educational videos entitled the “Introductory Learning Package.” They are now available in English, Arabic, Russian, French, Spanish, and Swedish. Initially there are eight videos available. Most range in length between 5 and 9 minutes, with one longer video of almost 20 minutes. One more video promised in late 2018. The topics are:
An Introduction to Freedom of Religion or Belief;
The right to have or change your religion or belief;
The right to manifest (practice) your religion or belief;
Protection from coercion;
Protection from discrimination;
Rights for parents and children;
Limitations to freedom of religion or belief;
(promised) Freedom of religion or belief around the world.
Following the introductory package of videos, there is a second series of short videos, on “Access to Justice.” Till now there are only four and these are only in English. More educational videos are promised.
Supporting the videos, the platform offers numerous educational resources, including written resources in 13 languages, practical teaching tips for teachers, materials on theological and ethical reflection from most major religions, significant materials for diplomats, legislators, and officials, materials for journalists, country information from around the world, and a section entitled “in more depth” which includes links to the major international human rights declarations and covenants. The “in more depth” section includes some of the growing body of literature published by the International Institute for Religious Freedom on behalf of the World Evangelical Alliance. The philosophical basis for the educational platform is found in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while the platform depends heavily for its legal explanations on the principles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has the force of law in 169 countries.
In his correspondence with Katherine Cash, who represented NORFORB at the UN launch, Prof. Dr. Thomas K. Johnson, wrote, “I want to congratulate you on the FORB learning platform launch! This is a huge step forward.”
In later comments Dr. Johnson, who represents the World Evangelical Alliance as Religious Freedom Ambassador to the Vatican, said, “I am one of the many people who have long seen a need for this sort of effort. I am very glad the WEA has joined in the partnership to make this possible. I will be disappointed if these materials only see widespread use within the several branches of Christianity. On paper most of the governments around the world have officially affirmed these principles on one or more occasions in the last 70 years. But far too few citizens of any country know the moral and legal principles which have been affirmed by their governments. And this lack of information extends even to judges, diplomats, and parliamentarians around the globe. These trends have been precisely confirmed by multiple research agencies. Now we have an additional and valuable tool to address this need.”
The “International Institute for Religious Freedom” (IIRF) is a network of professors, researchers, academics, specialists and university institutions from all continents which work on reliable data on the violation of religious freedom worldwide and want to implement this topic to college and university programmes and curricula, especially in the areas of law, sociology, religious studies and theological programmes.