Poland Shows Democracy and Religious Freedom go Hand-in-hand

This is a transcript of Judd Birdsall’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the 2015 Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy.


I would like to offer a few thoughts on the relationship between religious freedom and democracy.

Poland is a great place to discuss both of these issues because Poland provides a model of how religious freedom and democracy go hand in hand, reinforcing each other.

Poland has a long tradition of religious tolerance, going back to the Warsaw Confederation of the 16th century, and perhaps earlier. Thus the Polish tradition of religious tolerance is far than the United States itself. So, I’m humbled to be here as an American discussing these issues today.

And in contemporary Poland there is a very high level of religious freedom. The U.S. State Department, where I used to work, just released its annual Report on International Religious Freedom last week, and you’ll see that the chapter on Poland is very complimentary of the Polish government and society.

On Wednesday many of us went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, and I want to thank the conference organizers for including that in the agenda. It was a sobering and instructive experience. I was struck by the many elements of faith throughout the museum, reminders that the church helped to sustain the Polish people through very difficult times. And there’s a video playing of the Pope’s visit to Warsaw in 1979. Throughout the 1980s and 90s Catholics in Poland used their expanding religious freedom to push for democratic reforms.

So, Poland shows that religious freedom and democracy can go hand-in-hand.

But we often still talk about them quite separately. We treat them in isolation.

In the West it seems to me that there are two unhelpful ways of divorcing religious freedom from democracy.

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Interview: David Saperstein, U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom


Amb. David Saperstein. Photo/U.S. State Department

On 19 June 2015 CIRIS hosted Amb. David Saperstein for a roundtable discussion with Cambridge academics on religious freedom in international affairs. Saperstein is the fourth U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. He leads the State Department’s Office on International Religious Freedom and serves as the principal advisor to President Obama and Secretary Kerry on religious freedom issues. Prior to his current appointment, Saperstein serves for 40 years as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC).

Here CIRIS research associate Chris Moses gets Saperstein’s views on the mission of his office and how it can advance religious freedom in challenging places—including in the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

CIRIS: Why was your office established?

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Interview: Pasquale Annicchino on Religious Freedom in the EU

giorno-20-06-2014-25Has the European Union contributed to the advancement of religious freedom in Europe and beyond? Pasquale Annicchino thinks it has.

In June CIRIS hosted Dr Annicchino for a roundtable discussion in Cambridge on the status of religious freedom in the EU. A leading scholar on law and religion, Annicchino is a Research Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He has been Adjunct Professor of Law at BYU Law School (USA) and Visiting Professor at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). He is also a Senior Research Associate with CIRIS.

Here CIRIS managing director Judd Birdsall gets Annicchino’s thoughts on how the EU promotes religious freedom in its domestic and foreign policy—and how the EU approach differs from the US.

CIRIS: Is it possible for the EU to develop a unifying vision of religious freedom for all member states, or will there always be some variation between states based on their own church-state traditions and religious demography?

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Interview: Shaun Casey, U.S. Special Rep for Religion and Global Affairs

Shaun Casey, U.S. Special Representative on Religion and Global Affairs

Dr Shaun Casey. photo/U.S. State Department

On 28 April 2015 CIRIS hosted a lecture at the University of Cambridge with Shaun Casey, U.S. Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs. Prior his current appointment, which began in 2013, Casey was a professor of ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government and has written widely on religion and politics.

Here CIRIS research associates Chris Moses and Margot Dazey get Casey’s thoughts on a range of topics, including Islam, interfaith engagement, the mission of his office, and how he responds to critics.

CIRIS: Could you explain the reasons why the Office of Religion and Global Affairs was established and how it is structured? 

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News & Events

24th Apr 2018

CIRIS Research Associate Leor Zmigrod Publishes Paper on Psychology of Brexit Voting

CIRIS Graduate Research Associate Leor Zmigrod has published a paper on the psychological processes that give rise to nationalistic ideologies in the context of the United Kingdom’s 2016 EU Referendum. The research identified cognitive information processing styles that contribute towards support for Brexit and opposition to immigration and free movement of labour. Specifically, the findings […]



21st Feb 2018

Interview: Christopher Douglas on ‘Religion and Fake News’

In January 2018 CIRIS released a fascinating new report by Prof Chris Douglas on religion and fake news. The report explores the religious dimension of fake news in both Europe and the United States and offers recommendations for how policymakers and other leaders can fight back against faith-based fake news. Christopher Douglas teaches American literature and […]


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At CIRIS, we aim to equip students and scholars in Cambridge and beyond with a robust and nuanced appreciation for the role of religion in international politics that they will take with them into their future research and/or practice around the world. To this end, we host public lectures, academic seminars, and other events. We are also pursuing research projects that draw on the contributions of Cambridge-based academics.

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