Clash of the Acronyms? Finding The Right FoRBula in the Fight for Religious Freedom

June 17, 2022

In an article published this week in Religion Unplugged, Miles Windsor, Senior Manager for Strategy and Campaigns for RFI’s Middle East Action Team, discusses the importance of terminology in the fight for religious freedom. In particular, Windsor contrasts the term “international religious freedom,” which is used in the U.S., with the term “freedom of religion or belief,” which is gaining use around Europe. Windsor writes:

…There is a noticeable difference between the terminology of the religious freedom cause in Europe and that used in the United States. In the last decade, in the European context especially, the acronym FoRB has become the universal acronym. The aforementioned FoRB Forum, the APPG, along with the prime minister’s special envoy for FoRB are native to the U.K. The word “belief” has been appended to accommodate the nonreligious, derived from the wording of Article 18 in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The United States, which has been the leader in advancing religious freedom for over 25 years, continues to use the standard acronym IRF (international religious freedom). In the U.S. context there have been the IRF Act, the IRF Office at the U.S. State Department, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the IRF Roundtable and more examples besides. In the week before the London ministerial, there will be a conference in Washington focusing on the same issues. It is called the International Religious Freedom Summit.

My own campaigning efforts have meant that I’ve spent a lot of time in both the U.K. and U.S., and I’ve considered at length the many differences in terminology, perspectives and practices. On this particular divergence I would argue that the language of IRF is sufficient, offers clarity and is more helpful in general. The addition of the “B” is clunky and unnecessary. Equating religion with belief is deeply flawed because the latter is imprecise and potentially detrimental to actual international engagement.

Read the full article: Clash Of The Acronyms? Finding The Right FoRBula In The Fight For Religious Freedom