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Speaker Bios - 2022 Summit

Amrith Kaur Aakre

Legal Director, Sikh Coalition

Amrith Kaur Aakre is Legal Director for the Sikh Coalition. In this role, she focuses on high-impact litigation and oversees all legal work while managing initiatives to protect the civil rights of all Americans in areas such as workplace discrimination, hate crimes, school bullying, racial and religious profiling, and general religious rights and policy issues. Amrith holds her BA in Applied Science & Technology Engineering and English Literature from George Washington University, where she participated in the grassroots activism that helped form the Sikh Coalition in 2001. She received her Juris Doctor from The University of Illinois at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School.

Igor Alterman

President and CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas

Igor Alterman is the current President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. With over a decade in leadership positions in the non-profit sector and higher education, Alterman is an expert in resource development, organizational design, HR, institutional advancement, and board relations. For the past ten years, Mr. Alterman has worked for the Hillel movement and was involved as a volunteer in Russia and Israel. Prior to Dallas, he was involved with University of Miami Hillel, and held positions at Cornell and Ithaca College. He earned two master’s degrees from Hebrew Union College, is a Wexner Fellow and member of the Schusterman ROI community.

Ossama Bahloul

Islamic Center of Nashville

Imam Ossama Bahloul, Ph.D., is the Resident Scholar at the Islamic Center of Nashville. Prior to his service at ICN, Dr. Bahloul was the Imam at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Dr. Bahloul is a graduate of the renowned Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his BA in Islamic Studies, as well as his Master’s degree and ultimately his Ph.D. in Comparative Religions. Dr. Bahloul’s passion in comparative religions has fueled many years of experience in interfaith dialogue and numerous collaborations with both Muslim organizations and religious leaders from other faiths. He has worked on peer-reviewed research and has traveled extensively, lecturing at the university level about critical interfaith issues facing Muslims. 

Gary Barnes

Professor of Biblical Counseling, Dallas Theological Seminary

Gary Barnes is a Professor of Biblical Counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister and a licensed psychologist who specializes in marriage and family research, counseling, and training. After graduating from DTS he served as an assistant pastor for seven years. While in the New York area he was a research project coordinator at NYU Medical Center’s Family Studies Clinic and later completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship through Parkland Hospital (Dallas) and the Child Guidance Clinics of Dallas and Texoma.

William P. Benac Sr.

Founding Member and President of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

William P. Benac, Sr. is a Founding Member and President of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom. He is also president of Pathway India, an organization devoted to the education and physical and mental rehabilitation of disadvantaged Indian youth and adults. Mr. Benac serves on the boards of various nonprofits that focus on the arts, education, mentoring, international affairs, freedoms and prisoner rehabilitation. He previously held executive positions with global corporations, private equity firms, and as an entrepreneur.

Warren Bloom

University of Texas law student

Warren Bloom is a third year student at the University of Texas School of Law. He is the submissions editor of the Texas Review of Law & Politics, an associate editor of the Texas Law Review, and a member of the Texas Federalist Society. After graduating, he will clerk for Judge Jeffrey V. Brown of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and for Judge Cory T. Wilson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Sam Brownback- Keynote Speaker

Former United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, 46th Governor of Kansas

Sam Brownback served as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom from February 2018 to January 2021. Before serving in that role, he served as Governor of Kansas from 2011 to 2018. Prior to being Governor, Mr. Brownback represented his home state of Kansas in the US Senate and House of Representatives. While in the Senate, he worked actively on the issue of religious freedom in multiple countries and was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. He currently serves as co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Summit and as a Senior Fellow at Open Doors USA. He is also chairman of the National Committee for Religious Freedom. 

Kamil Celik

Board Member, Dialogue Institute of Dallas

Kamil Celik is a Board Member of the Dialogue Institute of Dallas and has been a volunteer for over 18 years both in Oklahoma and Texas. Prior to volunteering in Dallas, he worked as the executive director of the Dialogue Institute in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His passion is to meet as many people as possible from various backgrounds and establish a respectful atmosphere for everyone to appreciate each other. He resides in Murphy, Texas with his wife and three children.

Steven T. Collis

Faculty Director of the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law Board Member

Steven T. Collis is a law professor and the founding faculty director of the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center at the University of Texas at Austin Law School and the related Law & Religion Clinic. Prior to joining the University of Texas faculty, Mr. Collis was a Research Fellow in the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. On the topic of religious freedom law, he is a sought-after speaker to both academic and lay audiences across the United States, including foreign diplomats from countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and South America on behalf of the United States State Department. He is also author of the nonfiction books The Immortals and Deep Conviction and the novels Praying with the Enemy and At Any Cost.

Lauren Gray

Senior Vice President, Edelman

Lauren Gray is a Senior Vice President at Edelman. She brings nearly 15 years of experience in strategic communications, crisis management, policy and social issues to help clients manage complex reputational issues and insulate clients from risk. As part of Edelman's Social Issues team and LGBTQ+ Task Force, Lauren has counseled clients across industries such as tech, finance, CPG, retail, and fashion on when and how to effectively engage on issues. Prior to Edelman, Lauren provided crisis communications support to the City of New York and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Judge Thomas B. Griffith - Keynote Speaker

Retired Judge, United States Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit

Judge Thomas B. Griffith is a retired judge of the United States Court of Appeals, D.C.Circuit, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005. He is now Special Counsel with the international law firm of Hunton Andrews Kurth. He is also a Senior Adviser at the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a Senior Fellow at the Wheatley Institution of Brigham Young University, and a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School. Before his appointment to the D.C. Circuit, Judge Griffith was the General Counsel at Brigham Young University. Earlier in his career he was a partner at a large D.C. law firm, and also served at the nonpartisan Senate Legal Counsel, the chief legal officer of the United States Senate

            Steve Helms

                   Emerging Technologies Specialist at Dell Technologies and President, DFW Technology Prayer Breakfast

  Steve Helms is an Emerging Technologies Specialist at Dell Technologies and President of the DFW Technology Prayer Breakfast. At Dell Technologies, Steve volunteers with the Dell Interfaith ERG as a liaison to other company faith based resource groups for the purpose of sharing best practices across business based faith organizations. Mr. Helms started his career at Sun Microsystems and has served in multiple functions across many industries, partnering with companies that provide research, consulting, services and software. He currently supports Public Cloud Partners in the Global Alliances Organization of Dell Technologies.

Robert Hunt

SMU Perkins School of Theology

Robert A. Hunt was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1955. After attending school in Austin and Richardson, he majored in History at the University of Texas in Austin. After completing a Master of Theology at Perkins School of Theology (SMU) he served the Bethany United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. In 1985 he and his wife Lilian moved to Kuala Lumpur, where they taught at the Seminary Theology Malaysia. From 1993 to 1997 he taught at the Trinity Theological College in Singapore. In 1994 he received his PhD from the University of Malaya, focusing on Christian missions to and relationship with Muslims in Southeast Asia. From 1997 to 2004 he was pastor of the English Speaking United Methodist Church of Vienna, and an adjunct professor at Webster University in Vienna. Dr. Hunt is presently Director of Global Theological Education at the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University and teaches courses in World Religions, Inter-religious Dialogue, and Mission.

Kent Johnson - Moderator

Senior Corporate Advisor for the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF)

Kent Johnson is the Senior Corporate Advisor for the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF).  In this role, he helps companies design and implement best practices regarding religious diversity and how to appropriately accommodate employees’ religious expressions and practices. Before joining RFBF, Mr. Johnson served for 37 years as senior legal counsel at Texas Instruments. During that time, he had responsibility for the legal support of nearly all of TI's business and business functions.  He also helped launch the company’s faith-oriented employee resource groups and served as Chair of the TI Diversity Network. 

Rabbi Nancy Kasten

Chief Relationship Officer, Faith Commons

Rabbi Nancy Kasten is Chief Relationship Officer for Faith Commons, a Dallas-based organization promoting public discourse rooted in the common values of many faiths.  She is a past Co-Convener of Faith Forward Dallas (FFD) at Thanksgiving Square. She was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1990 and served as Hillel Director, Associate Chaplain, and Adjunct Professor of Biblical Hebrew at SMU. Rabbi Kasten is a community educator, volunteer and activist, as well as a certified Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Teacher.    

Rev. George Mason

Founder and President, Faith Commons

Rev. Dr. George Mason is the Founder and President of Faith Commons. He is a Christian theologian and Baptist pastor in Dallas, where he has served as Senior Pastor of the Wilshire Baptist Church since 1989.  He is a nationally recognized leader among Baptists, especially with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Fellowship Southwest. Rev. Mason is the Lead Advisor for the Baptist House of Studies at Perkins School of Theology (SMU). He participates in numerous local and global ecumenical and interfaith endeavors. He frequently writes columns and op-eds for newspapers on subjects of public interest that intersect religion, such as public education, race relations and predatory lending. 

Jeff Mateer

First Liberty Institute

Jeff Mateer is the Chief Legal Officer of First Liberty Institute, where he serves as a member of the executive leadership team and oversees and directs First Liberty’s legal operations, including its litigation, media/communications, and external affairs teams.  Jeff rejoined First Liberty Institute in October 2020 after serving as First Assistant Attorney General of Texas.  During his thirty-year legal career, Jeff has represented clients ranging from large international organizations to local businesses, schools, ministries, churches and individuals in complex federal and state court actions involving religious liberty, civil rights, employment, intellectual property and business matters.  

Fr. Greg McBrayer

Chief Flight Controller and Corporate Chaplain of American Airlines

Father Greg McBrayer is the Chief Flight Controller and Chaplain at American Airlines (IOC) Integrated Flight Operations Control Center in Dallas-Fort Worth Texas. He has worked and served in the aviation industry for over 40 years. As a Bi-Vocational Priest, Father Greg currently serves as the Parish Priest at Saint Barnabas Anglican Church in Fort Worth Texas. He also serves as Senior Chaplain and EAP Representative for (PAFCA) The Professional Airline Flight Controllers Association at American Airlines IOC and is a member of the Deployable American Airlines Emergency Response Care Team. 

Major Dawn McFarland

Salvation Army

Major Dawn McFarland is a commissioned and ordained officer/minister in The Salvation Army since 1989, and has been a Salvation Army officer for 33 years. Together with her husband, Major Paul McFarland, she has served in multiple ministry roles including leading 5 local churches and the social services operations, 5 residential recovery facilities, and is now providing oversight to The Salvation Army’s work throughout North Texas. She has a BA in counseling, an MA in Integrated Recovery for Co-Occurring Disorders from Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addition Studies and is a licensed chemical dependency counselor in Texas.

Shannon Minter- Moderator

Legal Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights

Shannon Minter is the longtime legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the nation’s leading LGBTQ legal advocacy organizations. Shannon has litigated dozens of landmark cases, including several victories in the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a national expert on LGBTQ law and has received widespread recognition, including awards from Cornel Law School, Stanford Law School, the Ford Foundation, California Lawyer Magazine, the National LGBT Bar Association, and the U.S. Department of Justice LGBT Pride Group.  Shannon is committed to building bridges between conservative religious leaders and groups and LGBTQ people.   

Joey O’Donnell

University of Texas Law Student

 Joey O’Donnell is a second year student at the University of Texas School of Law. Joey is originally from Grapevine, Texas. This summer, he will join Jones Day’s Dallas office as a summer associate.

Dr. Bob Roberts - Moderator

Senior Pastor at NorthWood Church

Dr. Bob Roberts, Jr. is the founder of GlocalNet, a ministry dedicated to mobilizing the church for transformation in the public square and co-founder of Multi-Faith Neighbors Network (MFNN), a multifaith organization committed to creating international religious freedom through intentional cross-cultural relationships. Over the past 20 years Dr. Roberts has been a trailblazer in the peacemaking and international religious freedom arenas, frequently being called upon by the U.S. Department of State, United Nations, U.S. Islamic World Forum, World Economic Forum, ambassadors, international royal families, diplomats, policy leaders and others for his groundbreaking work in this field.

Mark Romney- Moderator

Owner of Romney Law Firm and co-Founder of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

Mark Romney is the owner of Romney Law Firm and a Co-founder of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom. He has extensive management consultation and litigation experience in commercial and tort matters as well as international business consulting with an emphasis on Latin America. Mr. Romney is fluent in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. He received his BS from Brigham Young University and his JD from the University of Arizona where he was a member of the Law Review. He was a Law Clerk to the Hon. H. Vearle Payne, United States District Court for the District of New Mexico. He has served for many years as the Vice Chair of the Dallas Interfaith Council at Thanks-Giving Square. 

Richard Salgado- Moderator

Partner at McDermott Will and Emery

Richard Salgado is a trial lawyer who represents clients in complex disputes.  He has substantial appellate experience and formerly chaired the firm-wide appellate practice for a large, international law firm.  Mr. Salgado devotes substantial time to pro bono service.  His commitment to diversity within and outside of the legal profession include litigating in support of those with special needs and disabilities, the LGBT+ community, and the cause of religious freedom.  He has also served as an adjunct professor at multiple law schools, teaching courses on trial advocacy and appellate practice.  

Aiman Salih

Co-Chair of the Muslim Employee Network at TI

Aiman Salih is the co-chair of the Muslim Employee Network at Texas Instruments. He is originally from Orlando, FL and his extended family is from Sudan. Aiman graduated from UCF with a BS  and master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. He currently works as a Process Integration Engineer in RFAB in Richardson, TX. Aiman has been active with the Muslim Employee Network from his first day at TI.  In 2022 he took on the role of co-chair of the network where he is passionate about fostering an environment of understanding and employee engagement and development for members and TI.

Steve Sandberg

Assistant to the President and General Counsel, Brigham Young University

Steve Sandberg has served as Brigham Young University’s Assistant to the President and General Counsel since 2018. At BYU, he oversees the Department of Risk Management and Safety, the Integrity and Compliance Office, and the Office of the General Counsel.  He also serves as a liaison for BYU on state and federal government relations matters. In addition to his roles at BYU, Steve is the general counsel for BYU–Hawaii, BYU–Idaho, and Ensign College. 

Prior to working for BYU, he clerked on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld in Fairbanks, Alaska, and was an associate at Morrison & Foerster, LLP in Irvine, California.  

Rabbi David Saperstein- Keynote Speaker

Former United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom

Rabbi David Saperstein served as the United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom from 2015 to 2017. In this capacity he served as principal advisor to Secretary Kerry and President Obama on issues of international religious freedom. He previously served as the director and chief legal counsel at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center for more than 30 years. In 2019-20, Rabbi Saperstein served as the President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. As an attorney he taught seminars on Church-State law and comparative Jewish and American Law at Georgetown University Law Center for 35 years.  

Prior to working for BYU, he clerked on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld in Fairbanks, Alaska, and was an associate at Morrison & Foerster, LLP in Irvine, California.  

Brett Scharffs

BYU Law School, Director, International Center for Law and Religious Studies

Brett Scharffs is the Rex E. Lee Chair and Professor of Law at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, and Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies. His teaching and scholarly interests include law and religion, legal reasoning and rhetoric, philosophy of law, and legislation and regulation. He has served as Chair of the Law and Religion Section of the Association of American Law Schools, and is immediate past Chair of the Law and Interpretation Section of the AALS. He is on the editorial board of the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion and the Advisory Board of the Research Unit for the Study of Society, Law and Religion at the University of Adelaide. 

Hannah Smith

Southlake ISD School Board/ Attorney at Schaerr Jaffe LLP

Hannah Smith is an attorney at Schaerr Jaffe LLP who specializes in appellate and religious freedom matters.  She also serves on the Southlake ISD School Board. She has contributed to over 25 briefs at the US Supreme Court and has represented diverse religious parties in federal courts around the country. Hannah previously served for a decade as Senior Counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. While at Becket, she represented the winning parties in four landmark religious freedom SCOTUS victories: Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC (2012); Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014); Holt v. Hobbs (2015); and Zubik v. Burwell (2016). She served as a law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.  

Bishop Kenneth Spears

Pastor, First Saint John Cathedral, Fort Worth

Bishop Kenneth Spears is the pastor at First Saint John Cathedral in Fort Worth. He is also a bishop, author, media personality, and community leader.  He is a native of Fort Worth, Texas, and has served as pastor of First Saint John Cathedral since 1995.  Bishop Spears is joined in ministry by his wife Angela and their two sons, Kenneth and Kyle.  Bishop Spears answered his call to ministry in 1981 at the age of seventeen, while still a student in the Fort Worth public school system.

Emmalyn Spruce

University of Texas law student

Emmalyn Spruce is currently a second-year student at the University of Texas School of Law, where she is a participant in the school’s Law and Religion Clinic. Prior to law school, Emmalyn spent several years as a management consultant. She received her undergraduate degree in Economics at the University of San Diego, where she also obtained minors in both music and international business.

Jon Thatcher

City Attorney, City of Fate

Jon Thatcher is the City Attorney for the City of Fate, Texas. As City Attorney, he provides a broad range of legal services to the City Council, administration and directors. He is responsible for negotiating, drafting, and evaluating contracts, deeds, leases, and other legal instruments, as well as preparing municipal ordinances and resolutions for adoption by City Council. Mr. Thatcher also manages the City’s litigation and serves as legal counsel for various City boards and prosecutor for the Fate Municipal Court. He has been practicing municipal law since 2009 where he has served as Assistant City Attorney for such cities as Aubrey and Anna, Texas, and City Attorney for Forney, Texas.