Religious Freedom: What is the Bellwether International Foundation?
As Rachel Miner sat at the head table in a large Washington, DC conference room on Thursday, she grabbed a handheld microphone. Sitting next to him was a tech CEO, journalist, and nonprofit executive. Miner – a recent college graduate in her early twenties – looked ready.
Panelists took turns discussing the intersection of faith and media. Appu Esthose Suresh, CEO of Pixstory, spoke about the role of social media companies. Kaila Philo, reporter for Grid News, explained the reporters’ perspective. And Wendy Wilson, senior program administrator at the Peace Fund, brought a nonprofit perspective.
When it was Miner’s turn to speak, she gazed out at the crowd gathered for the International Religious Freedom Summit. In the past ten years, she said, three genocides have been announced around the world. All three, she explained, have been linked to freedom of religion – a matter of life and death.
“Can we speak of religion in its capacity to uphold human dignity? she asked rhetorically.
Defending religious freedom to uphold human dignity became Miner’s life’s work. As an undergraduate at Brigham Young University, she founded Bellwether International, a nonprofit organization focused on protecting religious freedom around the world. The organization operates in four main areas: education, refugee aid, gender equality and advocacy.
Miner’s nonprofit is uniquely positioned to tackle a growing global problem. As social and political tensions rise around the world, a unique partnership could serve as a stabilizing force: religious and press freedoms. A new report from the Fund for Peace suggests that a thriving and responsible media landscape can help religion thrive, and that religious freedom is linked to societal stability.
For Miner, this means protecting all forms of belief or lack of belief: large organized religions and small ones, even humanism or atheism. And because abuses of religious freedom are linked to violence around the world, Miner sees his work as urgent. “It has never been more necessary,” she told the audience. “It’s life or death.”
The first time Rachel Miner’s work was featured in the media, she was a first-grader celebrating a victory in her elementary school’s art competition. Local authorities placed Miner’s winning painting in the brand new fire station in Colorado Springs and its prize was a ride to school in a fire truck.
Although the rig didn’t take any emergency calls en route that morning, Miner was already ready and willing to serve. Since then, she has been ready and working to extinguish the oppression.
While doing an internship in London with the Amar Foundation in 2019, Rachel Miner discovered Yazidis, a religious minority in the Middle East displaced by the genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State. Further research led her to a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (AAPG) where she heard a report on the organization’s recent trip to Pakistan. “That’s where I learned more about freedom of religion or belief (FoRB),” Miner says. “I started to learn everything I could about it. … People, their stories, their beliefs have become very important to me.
“Can we speak of religion in its capacity to uphold human dignity?
Miner scoured research briefs, government reports, news articles, international legal policy, and history to better understand FoRB. She has also attended UK parliamentary committee meetings, hearings and debates. There, she met experts and policy makers in the field.
After four months of intense research and networking, she established Bellwether International, a non-profit organization aimed at supporting and advocating for FoRB at the intersection of human rights, a culmination of her passion for uplifting women. , children, abused and oppressed.
Today Bellwether International has representatives in Nigeria, Iraq, the United Kingdom and parts of the United States. Miner currently oversees forty volunteers around the world and three full-time project managers. As an organization, Bellwether has implemented projects in four countries reaching around 30,000 people.
I first met Miner when she was briefly in Washington, DC between international destinations. She detailed Bellwether’s latest work.
Recently, Miner and several Heads of Government and Bellwether volunteers concluded a trip to Nigeria to provide humanitarian aid to camps for internationally displaced persons while continuing additional interventions to help the more than 2.9 million Nigerians who have been displaced. by Boko Haram and ISWA.
Other global initiatives have shown promise. In 2021, in partnership with the Stefanos Foundation and Books to Africa, Bellwether sent tens of thousands of books to Nigeria and subsequently facilitated discussions aimed at alleviating tensions between herders and farmers in the region.
The 2022 IRF Summit, which Miner was a panelist on Thursday, was hosted, in part, by Bellwether; the non-profit organization will also help with the religious freedom ministerial meeting, to be held in London in July.
I wondered how Miner started and ran an international nonprofit while earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brigham Young University. She told me that her education and her humanitarian work are mutually supportive. Her research has been informed by her nonprofit work, and her work has strengthened her research.
Miner sees his work as essential. “It has never been more necessary,” she told the audience. “It’s life or death.”
Miner’s honors thesis explored the causality of economic shocks to violations of religious freedom in North Africa. She collected data from four countries by analyzing state department reports from the last twenty years. His findings suggest that increasing GDP per capita leads to a subsequent decrease in religious freedom violations.
In 2021, Miner was named a Truman Scholar, one of 62 students selected from some 845 applicants nationwide. In addition to leading Bellwether, she served as president of BYU’s Freedom of Religion or Belief Club, worked on public policy in the United States Senate as a legislative intern, and assisted Dr. Julie Valentine and the Legislative Assembly of the State of Utah to draft bills guaranteeing protections. for victims of sexual assault.
This fall, she is starting a joint master’s degree in public administration from the London School of Economics and Columbia University in New York.
She owes at least some of her ambition and success to her parents, she says. A common phrase with her has always been: “How can we help? »
“We were taught to think about the person sitting alone,” she says. “How can we help in our own sphere of influence? That’s really what my parents embody.
Miner says she is both humbled and pleased with Bellwether’s work. “I am thinking of our project manager in Nigeria. When we took him to Northern Nigeria for one of our projects, I realized how this work had completely changed the trajectory of his life. Here is this man from a small village in southern Nigeria who had never flown before. Now he leads interventions and inspires others. Miner feels that this man’s work will ultimately bless many across his country.
It can be difficult to measure success in this kind of work. Miner highlights the grateful letters she receives from those the organization has helped. But Miner doesn’t think Bellwether will be his responsibility forever. “I’m trying to build something that won’t depend on me, but will survive me,” she explains.
She is considering another potential job in her future. “When I was young people told me I could be President of the United States. Who knows?”
She can’t say for sure where she will leave the rest of her legacy, whether in the White House or elsewhere, but she knows her future holds continued advocacy. “Protecting people and protecting democracy is not easy,” she says. “It’s not comfortable. Sometimes we have to embrace the tension. We have to improve things. Because that’s what it takes to protect people, democracy and freedom.
Sam Benson contributed reporting.