(Photo: Tommy Huynh/Saddleback Church)
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., will appear at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs next week to discuss religious freedom at a time when individuals and institutions are being challenged about putting their faith into public practice.
The discussion at Berkley Center is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 12, and will feature Warren as well as Timothy Shah, the associate director of the Religious Freedom Project at the center which is sponsoring the event.
Shah told The Christian Post Thursday that Warren was invited to the discussion because the megachurch pastor and best-selling author "is a leading voice in America on behalf of religious freedom for all people, both here and abroad."
"The goal of the Religious Freedom Project is to engender and shape a conversation on religious freedom, which we believe to be in global crisis, among scholars, the secular media, policymakers, and religious leaders," the associate director and political scientist added.
Warren, known for his best-selling 2002 book The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For? as well as his humanitarian efforts in addressing poverty and the HIV/AIDS crisis, has been especially vocal of late about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare mandate that has spawned a slew of lawsuits in recent months among faith-based employers seeking to claim religious exemption from having to provide abortion-inducing drugs in contraceptive coverage for workers.
On the issue, Warren has called President Barack Obama's administration "absolutely" unfriendly to religion and said that its policies have "intentionally infringed upon religious liberties."
The California pastor has also spoken out in defense of Christian-owned retail chain Hobby Lobby's ongoing case against the Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for overseeing the Affordable Care Act.
"Every American who loves freedom should shudder at the precedent the government is trying to establish by denying Hobby Lobby the full protection of the First Amendment," Warren wrote last month in a statement for the Becket Fund, the law group representing Hobby Lobby.
"This case is nothing less than a landmark battle for America's FIRST freedom, the freedom of religion and the freedom from government intervention in matters of conscience. ... I predict that the battle to preserve religious liberty for all, in all areas of life, will likely become the civil rights movement of this decade."
While the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs event with Warren and Shah primarily will focus on religious liberty, the pair is also expected to touch on the effectiveness of religion in other sectors of public life, especially in poverty-stricken areas and countries with fledgling democracies.
"Rick Warren will address this issue in all its aspects, including the dimensions of the problem itself and possible solutions. For example, he will discuss the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right – no person can be said to living a full life without religious freedom," explained Shah.
"But he will also discuss the contributions that religious freedom can make to economic growth and the alleviation of poverty in places like sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, or East Asia. He will discuss the importance of religious freedom – full equality under the law for all religious individuals and groups – for the consolidation of democracy. This is a critical issue in places like Egypt, Indonesia, and Pakistan – all countries struggling to make their democracies work. All these issues are of strategic importance to the United States as well," he added.
Shah expressed the hope that people who attend his conversation with Warren "will leave this event with a new understanding of why religious freedom is important to individuals – whether they are believers or not – and to societies in general; why it is in global crisis; and why they should care."
When asked for comment on the event, CP was informed by a public relations representative that Warren would not be making a statement about the speaking engagement.
Warren's discussion with Shah, scheduled for next Tuesday, will be streamed live online for those not able to attend in person (www.georgetown.edu/news/webcasts.html). The Berkley Center will also publish a recording of the event on its website (http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu).
Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, located in Washington, D.C., was created in 2006 and is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of religion, ethics, and public life. The Religious Freedom Project, housed within the Berkley Center, was founded in 2011 and is the nation's only university-based program devoted exclusively to the study of religious freedom.
Previous discussion topics at the Berkley Center have included "The Israelization of Jewish Identity: The Israeli Election and Beyond," "Toward a Theory of Religious Pluralism" and "Civil Rights in Muslim Democracies."