The Religious Freedom Institute has roots in the longstanding relationships of its leadership team. In 2010, Tom Farr and Kent Hill conceived a university-based project on religious freedom. At the time Farr directed a program on religion and U.S. foreign policy at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, and Hill was a vice president at the John Templeton Foundation.

The outcome was the Religious Freedom Project (RFP), established in 2011 at the Berkley Center and funded by Templeton. Tim Shah immediately joined the Project as Associate Director. In 2013, Byron Johnson, Director of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, brought Baylor on board as a strategic partner. Farr, Shah, and Johnson continued to work together at Georgetown until 2018 under the auspices of the Religious Freedom Research Project, which continued the scholarly work of the RFP and its successful efforts to establish religious freedom as a field of interdisciplinary inquiry.

In 2016, Tom Farr, Tim Shah, and Byron Johnson were once again joined by Kent Hill to create a new, independent religious freedom organization, THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM INSTITUTE (RFI). As a non-profit, the RFI will take the combined years of experience and scholarship on religious liberty that its leaders bring and “put it on the ground” in order to advance religious freedom around the world, and to help people who are being persecuted because of their religious beliefs.