Blasphemy laws violate fundamental human rights, including the right to free speech. Of the world’s 195 countries, 71 have blasphemy laws. This panel will present the status of blasphemy laws in the world today, and examine the use of these laws in some countries to stifle dissent. This panel will also discuss the origins of blasphemy in Islam and uses and abuses of blasphemy in the Muslim world today.
Elizabeth Cassidy from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) will present the Commission’s findings on the world’s blasphemy laws, demonstrating that rather than protect religious freedom, they often invite abuse and lead to violence. In addition to examining the use of these laws in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the panel will examine more recent trends, such as the Yarovaya Laws introduced in Russia in 2016 ostensibly to counter terrorism.
Dr. Ilhan Cagri is senior policy fellow for religious freedom at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Her research includes the Human Rights Report Card for Muslim Countries that scores a number of Islamic governments on their approach to human rights. In the U.S., Dr. Cagri engages with communities and government agencies to address religious and racial discrimination. As an advocate for religious freedom worldwide, Dr. Cagri works to promote awareness of at-risk religious communities and bring about solutions to the problems they face.
Elizabeth K. Cassidy is the director of international law and policy for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. She manages USCIRF’s annual report process, supervises policy and research staff, and oversees a substantive portfolio that includes U.N. issues, international and comparative law issues, and U.S. refugee and asylum policy. Before USCIRF, Ms. Cassidy worked on international human rights issues in the non-governmental and academic sectors.
Asma T. Uddin is the director of strategy for the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, a nonprofit at the intersection of Islam and religious freedom in both the West and Muslim-majority countries. Uddin previously served as a counselor with Becket, a nonprofit law firm specializing in U.S. and international religious freedom cases. She has been published by numerous law reviews and prominent university presses. Uddin is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and also serves on the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ panel of experts on freedom of religion or belief. Uddin graduated from The University of Chicago Law School, where she was a staff editor at The University of Chicago Law Review.
Melissa Rogers is a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies. She recently served as special assistant to the president and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, during the Obama administration. Melissa was also chair of the inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Prior to that she was director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School. She has also served as executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Her expertise includes the First Amendment’s religion clauses, religion in American public life, and the interplay of religion, policy, and politics.
Andrew Kornbluth works for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, focusing on the countries of the former Soviet Union. He has written for the Atlantic Council, The Moscow Times, and Ukrainskyi Tyzhden. He holds a Ph.D. in Eastern European history from the University of California, Berkeley, and a B.A. from Columbia University.
Qamar-ul Huda is the director of the Security and Violent Extremism Program at the Center for Global Policy. Prior to joining CGP, Dr. Huda was a senior policy advisor to the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs. He specializes in political Islam, civil society organizations, education policies and security issues within the Muslim world. He served in a secondee capacity in the Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism as the first director of the Department of Dialogue and Collaboration, working closely with Hedayah, a counterterrorism organization based in Abu Dhabi. Dr. Huda also worked at the U.S. Institute of Peace as a senior expert and scholar of Islam, and focused on conflict resolution, peace-building research and field training for civil society members.
This program is co-sponsored by the Muslim Public Affairs Council.