Hundreds of people of various faiths from around the world attended the third annual International Religious Freedom Summit, with the aim of shining a light on religious liberty around the world.
This year, roughly 200 of the attendees were under the age of 25, with the youngest in attendance being 16 years old. Dr. Nguyễn Dinh Thang, the International Religious Freedom Summit’s Youth Chair, says young advocates have fresh brains and open minds.
“If we don’t cultivate youth now to get them ready, to take over the leadership of this campaign of this movement, then we are not going anywhere. The anti-movement will [grow],” Thang told Fox News Digital.
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A George Washington University student, Kinan Abdelnour, is volunteering for his second year at the summit.
He told Fox News Digital that there needs to be greater youth involvement specifically concerning religious freedom.
“We see a lot of it where there’s a great deal of advocacy, advocacy coming towards like human rights in general. And people don’t really like specifically talking about [religious freedom]. Like this is a very . . . niche problem that’s occurring in the world,” says Abdelbour.
Since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict, protests have erupted on college campuses nationwide.
Syrian native Abdelbour says the act of protest within itself should not be taken for granted.
“I look at it as regardless of where their position is, it’s a blessing that they can push, because in Syria, if you push for either side, you get killed. . . . In America, we’re lucky that we can have this freedom of protest and assembly and speech. So for me, I kind of see that, right or wrong, I think it’s a blessing that we’re able to have this,” he said.
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Robert Rehak, ambassador and special envoy for Holocaust, Interfaith Dialogue, and Freedom of Religion in the Czech Republic, became involved in religious freedom because he is now “on the other side” and feels responsibility to help those.
Rehak was a teenager in the late 1980s when the communist state police came to his school and told him not to share or speak about his religious beliefs after attending a lecture.
“I came to my school, and there were two police cars, and . . . they came because of me. I was also [in] danger, because I heard on the radio that there were some people killed, and [saw] black [body] bags . . . and I didn’t want to be in the plastic bag,” he told Fox News Digital.
Rehak added “This was my first [experience] . . . [I was] actually very frightened because the communists didn’t want anybody to be interested in how to practice religion…and then came the revolution.”
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Mervyn Thomas, CEO of CSW, a Christian Human Rights Advocacy organization and chair of the U.K. based Freedom of Religion or Belief Forum (UK FoRB), says it is important to include younger generations in the conversation.
Thomas says two seats are reserved for those between the ages of 20 and up to 30 on the FoRB main board to make sure not only are their voices being heard, but also that they are getting involved.
“I’m really just passionate to bring young people into this space because . . . what’s happening around the world is horrendous . . . and the world doesn’t know about this,” he told Fox News Digital.
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Thomas believes that the cause of religious freedom should take a page out of the climate change movement’s book on how awareness is being shared.
“I have got, you know, people of my age, have got no idea how to use all of the social media platforms. We need to harness all of those methods to tell the world this is horrific, in the same way that over the years has been done with, the environment and the green issues . . . people like Greta Thunberg, young people who are the face of this,” he said.
Annie McKinney, one of the youngest members of the Board of Trustees at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, shared a similar sentiment: “I say take a look at pop culture. . . . You have what’s going on in Israel and Palestine right now. You have the BringBackOurGirls campaign . . . that you saw an influx of youth tweeting out. But the movement never captured those people who were so involved and interested in those topics . . . so social media is one key way to go about it,” said McKinney.
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