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Speaker Bios - 2018 Summit

Senator Stuart Adams

Senator Stuart Adams J. Stuart Adams is currently the majority whip in the Utah State Senate. He has served as the senator for Utah's 22nd District since 2009, previously serving in the Utah State House of Representatives from 2002 to 2006. Adams is a former chairman of both the Utah State Transportation Commission and the Military Installation Development Authority. A businessman prior to entering legislative service, Adams received a B.A. in Business Finance from the University of Utah.

Emrah Aktepe

Emrah Aktepe Emrah is the Executive Director at Dialogue Institute, a local non-profit for interfaith and intercultural dialogue. He served a similar position for 5 years in Louisiana before moving to Texas in 2016. He is a recent graduate of Richardson Citizen Police Academy, member of the steering committee of Richardson Interfaith Alliance and speaks on cultural, religious diversity and dialogue and immigration topics. He and his wife live in Rowlett with their three children.

Ruth Ashurst

Ruth Ashurst Ruth Ashurst holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Texas A&M University with an emphasis in voice. She has been singing with Dallas Millennial Choirs & Orchestras since 2013, its inaugural year, where she has been a featured soloist. She also performs frequently in religious services throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area. While she has dabbled in many musical genres including country and jazz, her true love is performing sacred music. She considers her vocal talent a gift from God that is to be given away freely. Ruth resides in Plano, Texas and is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dr. Ossama Bahloul

Imam of the Islamic Center of Nashville and the founder of islamin500.org

Dr. Ossama Bahloul Dr. Ossama Bahloul, Ph.D., 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. His thesis titled Critique of Christian Issues within Will Durant’s “The Story of Civilization” is widely acclaimed.

Dr. Bahloul’s passion in comparative religions has fueled over 18 years of experience in interfaith dialogue and numerous public corroborations with both Muslim organizations and religious leaders from other faiths. As an academic, he has worked on peer-reviewed research and has traveled extensively and lecturing at the university level about critical interfaith issues facing Muslims.

As an Imam, Dr. Ossama has gained knowledge, experience, and insight in guiding community members to achieve their Islamic educational and spiritual goals. Dr. Bahloul’s unwavering commitment, enthusiasm and perseverance for the educational and spiritual growth and wellbeing of his community have culminated in his induction into the Fiqh Council of North America.

Prior to his tenure at the Islamic Center of Nashville, Dr. Bahloul was the Imam at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro where he led and supported the community through severe islamophobic attacks while building the only mosque in Murfreesboro, all of which was covered extensively by local and national media.

William P. Benac, Sr.

Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

William P. Benac, Sr. Bill Benac is president of Pathway India, an organization devoted to the education and physical and mental rehabilitation of disadvantaged Indian youth and adults. He also serves various non-profits and boards that focus on the arts, education, mentoring, international affairs, and freedoms and prisoner rehabilitation. Bill previously held executive positions with global corporations, private equity firms, and as an entrepreneur. Bill earned his bachelor’s and MBA degrees from BYU, his JD from Pace University, and is a CMA and CPA. He enjoys boating, road biking, and travel. Bill and Barbara have nine children and twenty-one grandchildren.

Brian J. Grim, Ph. D.

Brian J. Grim, Ph. D. Brian is president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) and a leading expert on international religious demography and the socio-economic impact of restrictions on religious freedom. Brian recently served as chair of the World Economic Forum’s global agenda council on the role of faith (2015-16) and is a speaker at the Forum’s 2018 annual meeting in Davos .

Brian’s recent widely reported research finds that religion contributes $1.2 trillion to the U.S. economy annually, more than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology U.S. companies including Apple, Amazon and Google.

Brian holds a visiting professorship at St. Mary’s University in London, where he developed the RFBF’s Empowerment+ initiative to increase religious freedom by helping those experiencing a wide range of socio-economic risks including displacement, unemployment, isolation, crime, addiction and extremism become self-reliant. Brian also supports and works closely with the “ Business for Peace ” platform of the United Nations Global Compact. He is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute in Washington, DC.

Brian was an advisor for the religion & geopolitics project of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and an associate scholar at the Religious Liberty Project at Georgetown University and an affiliated scholar at Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion & World Affairs.

Prior to becoming the Foundation’s president in 2014, Brian directed the largest social science effort to collect and analyze global data on religion at the Pew Research Center . He also worked for two decades as an educator in the former Soviet Union, China, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Brian holds a doctorate in sociology from the Pennsylvania State University and is author of numerous articles and books including The Price of Freedom Denied (Cambridge Univ. Press), The World Religion Database (Brill), The World’s Religions in Figures (Wiley) and The Yearbook of International Religious Demography (Brill). Dr. Grim writes the Weekly Number Blog and also is a TEDx speaker . He also writes the Weekly Rhyme , adding to a large body of poetry he’s written through the years.

Brian has appeared as an expert on global religion on numerous media outlets, including CNN, BBC, Fox, CBS, C-SPAN, and regularly presents to high level audiences throughout the world including the White House, State Department, European Parliament, the Vatican, and various the United Nations bodies including the Human Rights Council, and the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the UN Global Compact.

Tyler Deaton

Tyler Deaton Tyler Deaton is President of Allegiance Strategies, a public affairs firm helping its clients advocate for multicultural, free-market democracy. Tyler oversees conservative strategy on behalf of several non-profit organizations including American Unity Fund, American Unity PAC, and Freedom to Believe. Throughout his career Tyler has led Republican-focused campaigns in the areas of healthcare, immigration, criminal justice, transportation, and education. Tyler has studied at Wheaton College in Illinois and the London School of Economics. He and his husband James live in Washington, D.C.

Darrell Fletcher

Darrell Fletcher Darrell Fletcher, a very active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree in 1975 from Brigham Young University to teach high school choir. Prior to college, as a missionary in Finland for the Church, Darrell was part of two community-service music tours, with him featured as concert pianist performing Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia” at the Sibelius Academy of Music in Helsinki. After graduation, he first spent 12 years in the US Air Force. In 1988, he, his wife, and three children moved to Plano for him to work as an information/cyber security officer. For 30 years, he has taught private piano, singing and guitar lessons, arranged and directed three musicals, and performed with two Dallas-area choirs, EveningSong choir, and Dallas Millennial Choirs and Orchestra (DMCO). Darrell is in high-demand as an accompanist/coach for Plano school district’s Solo/Ensemble student competition, averaging 26 students per season. He strongly believes talents are God’s gifts. Since music can have a huge impact on the soul, Darrell feels musicians have a stewardship to use these gifts to uplift and benefit God’s children throughout the world.

Andrew D. Graham

Andrew D. Graham Andrew D. Graham is the Executive Director for Policy and Education & Senior Fellow at First Liberty Institute, a national nonprofit law firm and think tank dedicated solely to protecting religious freedom.

Previously, Andrew was a partner with the law firm of Jackson Walker LLP, where he achieved an extensive record of success in high-stakes litigation in both trial and appellate courts. He has been named a “Super Lawyers–Rising Star” numerous times. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and is admitted to practice before multiple federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court.

Andrew earned his undergraduate degree in history summa cum laude from Southern Methodist University, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and the Hyer Society. He then earned graduate degrees in history from Oxford University (Oriel College) and the University of Chicago before returning home to Texas to earn his law degree from The University of Texas School of Law.

Andrew is a National Review Institute Dallas Regional Fellow and coordinates the National Review Institute’s Dallas Regional Fellowship Program. He also proudly chairs The University of Texas School of Law’s Dallas Alumni Steering Committee.

Andrew married his college sweetheart, Molly. They have three children and are longtime members of Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA). Away from the office, Andrew is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fly fishing, hiking, and serving as a merit-badge counselor for his son’s Scout troop.

Dr. Karen Hollie-Thibodeaux

Dr. Karen Hollie-Thibodeaux As a pioneer when she became the President and Founder of Grace International Seminary in 2007. It is the only women's seminary in the southwest offering Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degrees.

Her commission from God to plant a globally diverse celebratory church is being fulfilled daily. Upon her commission, Lifeway Church of Dallas was founded and established in March, 2008. It is a church that empowers, enlightens, and encourages the unchurched, the alienated, and the lost; leading them to a life-changing new beginning through teaching, preaching, and evangelism. Prior to founding Lifeway, she served for four years as the first female pastor of the historical Johnson Chapel Community Church in Desoto, Tx.

Dr. Hollie-Thibodeaux enjoys the opportunity to bridge her psychological background with her ministerial calling. She says she preaches for two reasons: "to comfort the disturbed" and to "disturb the uncomfortable". Her unique style of ministering is motivational, uplifting, and embraces practical solutions for positive living. She strongly believes in and teaches the Bible as an application to everyday situations that are particularly challenging to working professionals.

She graduated valedictorian from Oak Cliff Christian Academy. She went on to earn a Bachelor's in Political Science, a Masters in Guidance and Counseling, and a Ph.D. in Psychology. She graduated in the class of 2001 from the prestigious Leadership Southwest representing the Chamber of Commerce for the cities of Desoto, Duncanville, Cedar Hill, and Lancaster.

Dr. Hollie-Thibodeaux served as president of Altrusa International Inc., a business and professional women's organization. In 2003, she won the coveted National President's Award for leading Altrusa Internatonal, Inc. to a nine-point merit of excellence.Profesionally, Dr. Hollie-Thibodeaux worked as a counselor for the Wilmer-Hutchins, Texas ISD for eight years and for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas for ten years. Additionally, she has worked for the past three decades as a therapist in private practice. She also travels nationally as an Educational Consultant for Twenty First Century.

She is the author of Ask Dr. Hollie: Therapy in a Flash, a collection of psychological and inspirational advice. She is the host of the Ask Dr. Hollie show airing on the Your Now Network (www.yournownetwork.com) seven days a week at 7:30 am Central time.

Samina Hooda

Samina Hooda Samina Hooda is the President and Chief Learning Officer of ImPowerQ Associates, LLC, a nationally recognized organizational performance advisory firm. ImPowerQ focuses on increasing the ‘Purpose Quotient®’, an innovative proprietary methodology proven to significantly improve overall organizational performance. Samina is a practitioner of servant leadership with 15+ years in leading talent development aligned with organizational values and goals.

Previously, she has worked closely with the US Department of Labor, the Department of Defense, and the Veterans Administration in launching ImPowerQ’s ‘Heroes to Healthcare’ apprenticeship program which is the only approved program of its kind focused on a transition strategy for healthcare-experienced veterans to acquire meaningful careers in the healthcare industry.

With a belief that the pursuit of purpose is a pre-requisite for the pursuit of success, Samina combines her Bachelors in Architecture, Masters in Performance Improvement and Masters Certificate in Executive Coaching to provide a diverse foundation for her entrepreneurial and social enterprise success.

A community service leader, Samina has had the privilege of pro-bono coaching Dallas based non-profit leaders in achieving their purpose, being on the board of World Affairs Council of DFW, and serving as a Communications Coordinator for the Aga Khan Council for the Central United States.

Dr. Robert Hunt

Director of Global Theological Education, SMU Perkins School of Theology

Dr. Robert Hunt Robert Hunt majored in History at the University of Texas in Austin, completed a Master of Theology at Perkins School of Theology (SMU) and served as associate pastor of the Bethany United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. In 1985 Robert and his wife Lilian moved to the Philippines and then Kuala Lumpur, where they taught at the Seminary Theology Malaysia and participated in the Malay translation of the Bible.

Robert received a PhD in History from the University of Malaya in 1993, focusing on the history of Bible translation and Christian Muslim relations. From 1993 to 1997 Dr. Hunt taught World Religions at the Trinity Theological College and directed extension and field education programs. 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 where he is responsible for overseeing cross-cultural immersion and a global program for pastoral education across countries and cultures.

He is an Associate of the Tower Center for Political Studies and a Fellow of the Hunt Institute for Engineering and the Humanities, lectures on World Religions and is author of numerous articles, journals and reference works including books and articles on Malaysian Church history and Islam. His most recent book, The Gospel Among the Nations, a Documentary History of Inculturation won the 2nd place 2011 Catholic Book Award in education.

Kent Johnson

Senior Corporate Advisor, Religious Freedom and Business Foundation

Kent Johnson Kent Johnson advises companies on ways to appropriately enable diverse employees to overtly connect their personal life purposes and spiritual/religious “callings” to their work, while dissolving unwarranted and toxic fears and prejudices that erode trust and hinder teamwork. In so doing, he helps forge respectful work cultures that yield higher levels of personal engagement, richer collegiality, longer employee retention and decisions that are more robust, more ethical and more profitable.

Kent helped found the pioneering Christian Values Initiative (an official Diversity Initiative of Texas Instruments), and also served as Chair of Texas Instruments' Diversity Network, consisting of all the company's worldwide diversity initiatives.

Kent served for 37 years as a Senior Legal Counsel at TI. His areas of specialization included ethics, product liability, antitrust, medical/FDA law, government transactions, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions and strategic alliances. In different assignments over the years, he had responsibility for legal support of nearly all of TI's businesses and business functions, including all of its semiconductor operations, consumer products, and computing businesses, and its marketing, sales, purchasing, ethics and quality functions. He is a member of the Texas and American Bar Associations and the Society for Human Resource Management.

Kent graduated with honors from Dartmouth College and from Villanova University School of Law, and also studied at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Diplomacy. He has served on governing boards of private schools and churches, and is a frequent speaker on the topic of faith in the workplace and Christian theology of work.

Jay B. Jones

Jay B. Jones Jay Jones is the founder and CEO of American Equity Partners Inc., a corporate general partner and real estate firm, and American Equity Properties Inc., a property management firm. Jay has served as managing partner and/or property manager for multi-family properties, office buildings, and pre-development land in Texas. He worked previously at American Express in New York as director of financial products marketing. Jay earned his bachelor's degree in business management with a finance emphasis from BYU and is a member of the National Advisory Council for the BYU Marriott School of Business. Jay and Connie have eight children. He is currently serving as an Area Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Emilie Kao

Director of the DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation

Emilie Kao Emilie Kao is an attorney who has defended religious freedom for the last 14 years. She has worked on behalf of victims of religious freedom violations in East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and South Asia at the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom and Becket Law.

Previously she worked at the United Nations and Latham and Watkins. Kao also taught international human rights law at George Mason University Law School as an adjunct law professor.

She earned an A.B. degree in Near Eastern Civilizations and Languages at Harvard-Radcliffe College and a J.D. at Harvard Law School. She is a member of the Supreme Court Bar and the bar associations of California and the District of Columbia.

Dr. Harbans Lal

Dr. Harbans Lal Dr. Harbans Lal is Emeritus Professor and Chairman, Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience, the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth Texas, and Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, Guru Nanak Dev University at Amritsar, and was a graduate of Punjab University. He received a Masters degree from the University of Kansas and a Doctoral degree from the University of Chicago. In academic circles, he is known for his research in the areas of behavioral medicine, substance abuse, and on prolongation of a healthy life span. He has served on many US and international science advisory boards including serving for 14 years as the Editor of a monthly journal, Drug Development Research.

During his academic career, he published over 400 research papers, 20 books, several research reviews and 56 chapters in technical books. U. of North Texas Health Science Center established a pre-doctoral fellowship award in his name and recognition. Society of Neuroscience held an International Symposium on Anxiety to recognize his research, and its Chapter of Scientists of Indian Origin recognized him with Award of Outstanding Senior Neuroscientist.

Professor Lal, being a Sehajdhari Sikh, is known as Bhai Harbans Lal. Since his school days, he has been active in promotion of Sikh interests. In 1954, he was elected as the President of the All India Sikh Students Federation. He was recognized by robes of honor by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC), Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee, the Chief Khalsa Diwan, the Sikh Educational Conference, Sikh Dharma International and the Sikh Social and Educational Society. In 1995, Guru Nanak Dev University awarded him the Degree of Doctor of Literature (honoris causa) in recognition of his contributions in Sikh Studies. On April 14, 1999, the Anandpur Sahib Foundation awarded him the Order of Nishan-e-Khalsa for his superb accomplishments in promoting the glory and pride of the Khalsa Panth.

Presently, Dr. Lal’s interests lie in promoting Sikh Studies in North America. His writings on Sikh subjects have appeared in many books and journals such as Sikh Sansar, Sikh Review, Sikh Courier International, Spokesman, Sikh Marg, Studies in Sikhism and Comparative Religion, From Both Sides of the Ocean, Miri Piri, Sach Khand Patraka, Sikh Virsa, Atam Science, Understanding Sikhism: the Research Journal, International Journal of Sikh Spiritualism, Amrit Kirtan, Sachkhand Patrika, the Tribune, Times of India, Dallas Morning News, and Gurbani Is Jag Meh Chanan. He contributes frequent columns in the religious section of the Dallas Morning News and serves on the editorial boards of the Sikh Review, International Journal of Sikh Spiritualism, and Understanding Sikhism: the Research Journal.

Dr. Lal serves in many religious and humanitarian organizations. He is a member of the Interfaith Council of the Center for World Thanksgiving, The Interfaith Center at Fort Worth, and advisor to the American Project on Religion and the News Media, advisors-at-large to THE SIKH TIMES, and to the Sikh Foundation. He is a founding trustee of Bhai Nanad Lal Foundation and Founder Vice-President of the Sri Nanakana Sahib Foundation. Dr. Lal serves as the Founder President of the Academy of Guru Granth Studies established for the promotion of scholarly works on the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

D. Stephen Long

D. Stephen Long D. Stephen Long, is the Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University. Previously, Long was Professor of Systematic Theology at Marquette University. He specializes in systematic theology, Christian ethics, and political theology. His books include The Divine Economy: Theology and Market, which details a Christian approach to economics based in the thought of radical orthodoxy, The Goodness of God: Theology, Church and Social Order and Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction.

William McKenzie

Editorial Director; Editor of The Catalyst — George W. Bush Institute

William McKenzie William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.

Active in education issues, he co-teaches an education policy class at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project.

Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News and The Weekly Standard.

Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.

McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.

Melissa McKneely

Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

Melissa McKneely Melissa McKneely is a native California girl who loves the beach and In & Out Hamburgers, but she finds herself happy at home in North Dallas where she settles for boating on Lake Texoma, good barbecue, and Blue Bell ice cream. First and foremost she is a wife and mother to four children. Melissa holds an Interdisciplinary Studies degree from the University of Texas at Dallas where she focused her studies on Communications and Public Relations. She uses her talents as the Public Affairs Specialist to the Dallas Coordinating Council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a position she's held since 2014. Last year she helped to coordinate 10,000 volunteers from her church from DFW to go down to Houston and help with Hurricane Harvey clean-up efforts. Melissa also loves to sing and is a member of Millennial Choirs and Orchestras.

Lydia McMahan

Lydia McMahan A Member of Custer Road United Methodist Church, graduated from Perkins School of Theology and worked in various United Methodist churches until deciding to stay home with her 3 children. As a volunteer she coordinates the many duties of the Revelation Youth Choir which consists of over 200 members. Lydia also serves as a Stephen’s Minister.

Almas Muscatwalla

Interfaith Community Leader

Almas Muscatwalla Almas received her Bachelor’s in Psychology from Bombay University in 1989 and her Master of Science degree in Child Development from Bombay University in 1991. She is a graduate of the Leadership Plano program and the Leadership Arts Program. Currently, she is a student of Dispute and Conflict Resolution certificate program at Southern Methodist University.

In her volunteer capacity, Almas is serving as the Workshop Director at Islamic Art Revival Series, and on the Board of Directors at Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation. She is a chair of the interfaith council and a Board of Directors of The Thanks-Giving Foundation in Dallas. She was instrumental in the formation of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square (FFD@TGS), a broad and diverse coalition of Dallas’ faith leaders, dedicated to relationship building, community education, celebrating pluralism and providing support and solidarity. Because of her engagement in interfaith and justice work, she was invited to join the Union Development Corporation - Project Unity Board of Directors in 2017, to improve race relations across the city of Dallas

She is an active member of the Ismaili Muslim Community and serves in many leadership roles in outreach and educational, cultural and arts sectors of the community. Almas is also serving as a board member at United Nations Association Dallas Chapter. She was recently appointed to the DFW Muslim Jewish Advisory Council (MJAC) to strengthen relationships between peoples with diverse perspectives. Additionally, she volunteers as the advisor to the Religion, Interfaith, and Spirituality segment of Compassionate DFW.

She has two decades of experience in teacher training, curriculum development and human resource management. Her passion is to study international relations and public policy and serve in the development sector in countries such as Syria and Tajikistan.

Almas is a proud mother of two boys, Naeem and Nabeel, ages 25 and 22 respectively. She and her husband have lived in Plano for twenty years.

Almas believes that worshiping God and serving humanity are the only two purposes of life

Ariel Rackovsky

Ariel Rackovsky Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky is a native of Rochester, New York who studied for two years in Yeshivat Kerem BeYavneh prior to attending Yeshiva College. In 2002, he graduated Yeshiva College in 2002 with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, and in March 2006, he received his Rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, while serving as Rabbinic Intern at the Riverdale Jewish Center. In the fall of 2006, he was named Senior Rabbinic Intern at the RJC, and joined the Rabbinical staff of the Beth Din of America, where he served until the summer of 2007, when he was named Assistant Rabbi at The Jewish Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

He served at the Jewish Center from July 2007 to November 2011, when he assumed the position of Rabbi at the Irving Place Minyan, a new and rapidly growing Modern Orthodox congregation in Woodmere, New York, where he oversaw a 30% growth in membership and implemented numerous learning programming initiatives for youth and adults alike. In December of 2011, Rabbi Rackovsky completed his Masters of Science in General Counseling from Pace University. In August 2015, Rabbi Rackovsky assumed the position of Rabbi at Congregation Shaare Tefilla. He is married to Chicago native Dr. Jessica Abramowitz, a graduate of Brandeis University and the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, who will be a member of the faculty at the UT Southwestern School of Medicine and an attending physician in their Department of Endocrinology. They are the proud parents of a three year old son, Yeshaya and a newborn son, Avremi.

Michelle Reed

Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

Michelle Reed Michelle Reed is a Partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP where she leads complex litigation and investigations, serving as the co-chair of the firm’s Cybersecurity practice. Ms. Reed currently serves as the co-chair of the American Bar Association Class Actions and Derivative Suits Subcommittee and is a contributor to Bloomberg BNA, NACD Directorship, and Corporate Counsel Business Journal. She was named one of D Magazine’s “Best Lawyers in Dallas” and is the recipient of the State Bar of Texas’s highest pro bono honor, the Frank Scurlock Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Service.

Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards Mr. Richards is a member of Kirton McConkie's First Amendment & Religious Organizations, and Litigation sections. In addition to litigating cases, he provides general counsel services to clients, advising them on such diverse matters as regulatory compliance, electronic discovery and records management, historical preservation, and contract management. Mr. Richards has an extensive background in appeals and complex litigation in both federal and state courts. He has particular expertise in domestic and international religious liberty issues and has published articles and presented at international conferences on these topics.

Mr. Richards is recognized as one of Utah's Legal Elite for corporate law and a Mountain States Super Lawyer for business litigation.

Mark Romney

Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

Mark Romney President of Romney Law Firm. Extensive management consultation and litigation experience in commercial and tort matters. International business consulting with an emphasis on Latin America. Fluent in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese and concentration in international business and arbitration, contracts, mergers and acquisitions, employment law, securities, trade secret and intellectual property protection, construction, product liability, software development, licensing, multi-level marketing, contract litigation. Law Clerk to the Hon. H. Vearle Payne, United States District Court for the District of New Mexico. Doctor of Law University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law, Member of the Arizona Law Review, BS Brigham Young University, active in Boy Scouting, Vice Chair – Dallas Interfaith Council at Thanks-Giving Square

Pastor Rickie G. Rush

Pastor Rickie G. Rush Dr. Rickie G. Rush: a pastor and sought-after internationally acclaimed speaker, educator, and master illustrator is known for the demonstrative and humorous ways in which he simplifies the Word of God. Born March 9, 1960 in Dallas, Texas to a single mother, he experienced tragedy and change early in life. The death of his mother, ultimate adoption, and calling to the ministry at ten years of age all combined to transform him from a devastated young boy in despair to a triumphant man of God filled with unlimited compassion. His overwhelming desire to present God’s Word to all people opened doors of vast opportunity on local, national, and international levels.

Dr. Rush earned a secondary teaching degree from the University of Texas at Arlington which led him to teach theatre arts for 17 years at Skyline High School in Dallas. Later, he obtained a Doctor of Divinity degree from Rialto Bible College, affording him the opportunity to instruct adults and pastors at community and Bible colleges. Among his major educational influences were debate, oratory, and music. His love for music led to the organization of several gospel choirs. During his school and teaching years, he continued to maintain a rigorous preaching schedule. Over the years, he developed a loyal following of those who were inspired not only by his delivery style, but by the hope it offered those who were spiritually in need. This was the beginning of what would lead, after twenty years, to one of God’s greatest assignments in this man’s life.

God made sure the ministry work He began would continue and exponentially reach more for Christ. In 1990, the Inspiring Body of Christ Church (IBOC) was founded and has been a powerhouse for God ever since. Receiving his calling from evangelist to Pastor was both amazing and challenging as church membership flourished from tens to thousands. Pastor Rickie G. Rush’s commitment to the study and teaching of God’s Word with conviction, interwoven with engaging and humorous Biblical illustrations, has furthered the Word of God and cause of Christ. He has ensured that IBOC symbolizes the church’s vision, Fishers of Men found in Matthew 4:19, in multiple facets. Whether it is owning the largest private aquarium with a marine biologist and team of divers or placing the ichthus IBOC logo on all apparel, car stickers, billboards, and social media platforms, the message is clear – win others to Christ. The anointing and giftedness of this great man of God is evident as he develops leaders spiritually, educationally, socially and financially. His drive to impart wisdom and Biblical principles to his congregation has led to IBOC Church eradicating an enormous mortgage debt within a short time. Pastor Rush’s leadership and influence have inspired many to turn life’s setbacks into victorious comebacks.

His passion for education inspired him to be the founder of the prestigious University of Dreams Leadership and Arts Academy school system at IBOC. His love for teaching God’s Word steered him toward a myriad of local and national television and radio programs. With his gift of communication, he has crossed continents and cultural boundaries to reach diverse audiences. Pastor Rush was instrumental in removing barriers for people with disabilities, developing and improving accessibility for the disabled, and becoming one of the first Freewheelers organized by Jim Hayes. His two books, May I Have Your Order Please? and Come Out Swinging have propelled God’s message of hope and encouragement. His genuine care for humanity and nonjudgmental love for people earned him recognition from several organizations including an NAACP Award, the Dallas I.S.D. George Washington Carver Creative Learning Center “Dr. Rickie G. Rush Outstanding Achievement Award,” The State of Texas House of Representatives “Outstanding Texan Award,” recognized by the 84 th Legislature as “Pastor,” and the All Nations University in Ghana, West Africa named in his honor the “Dr. Rickie G. Rush Scientific Research Centre.” Pastor Rush resides in Dallas, Texas with his grandson, daughter, and wife.

Brett Scharffs

Brett Scharffs 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.

He received a BSBA and MA from Georgetown University, was a Rhodes Scholar and earned a BPhil in philosophy at Oxford. He received his JD from Yale Law School and was Senior Editor of the Yale Law Journal. Professor Scharffs clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, and was a legal assistant at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.

Before teaching at BYU, he was an attorney for Sullivan & Cromwell and taught at Yale and George Washington Universities.

He has been a visiting Professor at Central European University in Budapest, helped organize a Training Programs on Religion and Law at Peking University and in Vietnam and Myanmar. Brett has developed courses on Shari’a and Human Rights with universities in Indonesia, has been a visiting professor at the University of Adelaide School of Law in Australia and Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.

Professor Scharffs has written more than 100 articles and his casebook, LAW AND RELIGION has been translated into Chinese and Vietnamese (and currently into Arabic, Burmese, Indonesian and Turkish).

He has served as Chair of the Law and Religion Section of the Association of American Law Schools is on the board of the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion and the Research Unit for the Study of Society, Law and Religion at the University of Adelaide.

He is married to Deirdre Mason Crane Scharffs, has three children and enjoys golf, skiing, and mountain biking.

Blake Schwarz

Blake Schwarz Blake Schwarz joined the staff of Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, TX in 2015 to help build a new faith and work ministry, PCPC@WORK. Blake has served as the volunteer director of The Pegasus Fellowship since 2014. After gaining a deeper and more intimate understanding of the felt need, Blake left his post as Dean of School at The Cambridge School of Dallas to devote his full time attention to developing this program. Blake met his wife, Julia Flowers Schwarz, while attending Wake Forest University. He went on to receive his Masters of Divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary where he served as the TA for Dr. Douglas Kelly, Richard Jordan Professor of Theology. Julia and Blake have two little girls, Margaret and Alice Arthur, and they spend most of their free time enjoying them.

Joel Schwitzer

Joel Schwitzer Joel Schwitzer, regional director of AJC Dallas, has worked in Jewish nonprofit management and fundraising for nearly 20 years. Before joining AJC, Schwitzer worked for BBYO and the Jewish Federations of Dallas and Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and spent seven years as executive director of Hillel at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Most recently, Schwitzer served as the director of development for the Dallas office of ADL. He earned a B.A. in psychology from the University of Arizona.

Kenneth Winston Starr

Kenneth Winston Starr Ken Starr has a distinguished career in academia, law and public service. Currently Of Counsel to The Lanier Law Firm, Ken served as President of Baylor University and Dean of the Pepperdine School of Law. He is an author and serves as guest commentator for various news programs.

Ken has argued 36 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including as U.S. Solicitor General. He served as U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia, as Chief of Staff to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith, and law clerk to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and to Fifth Circuit Judge David W. Dyer. He was appointed as Independent Counsel for five investigations, including Whitewater, from 1994 to 1999.

For 25 years, he taught constitutional issues as an adjunct or visiting professor at five law schools. Ken was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, specializing in appellate law and serves on the boards of Advocates International and the Christian Legal Society championing the cause of religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all persons.

After receiving his B.A. from George Washington University, an M.A. from Brown University, and a J.D. degree from Duke University Law School, Ken was admitted to practice in Texas, California, the District of Columbia, Virginia and before the United States Supreme Court.

Ken is author of First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life ; Bear Country: The Baylor Story ; and his recently published book, Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation . He has received numerous honors and awards, including three honorary doctorates. He and his wife Alice have been married since 1970 and live in Waco, Texas. They are blessed with three children and seven grandchildren.

Scott Venable

Scott Venable Scott Venable is an Executive and Preaching Pastor at Northwood Church in Keller, Texas. He holds a Masters of Divinity degree from B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and is currently pursuing his Doctorate degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. His dissertation project is on Leadership in a Multi-Ethnic Context. Scott travels the world lecturing at universities and churches on the intersection of global issues and faith, racial issues, and peacemaking.

Peggy Wehmeyer

Peggy Wehmeyer Peggy Wehmeyer covered religion and culture for ABC for 7 years, with award winning stories appearing on World News Tonight, 20/20 and Good Morning America. Before that, she broke ground as the first religion reporter in local television, both anchoring and covering the news for 13 years at the ABC affiliate in Dallas, WFAA-TV.

For more than 20 years, Wehmeyer crossed the country, analyzing how faith intersects with American life. Through her groundbreaking reporting, Americans gained a greater understanding of everything from Islam in America, to gay marriage and the church, to the influence of religion on politics, education and healthcare. Her exclusive interviews with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush brought faith in the Oval Office to public attention.

In 2003, Peggy became host and managing editor of The World Vision Report, an award-winning public radio newsmagazine, focusing on justice and poverty in the developing world. She served in that capacity with World Vision for eight years.

Wehmeyer graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She is currently a writer, residing in Dallas.

Peggy is married to Robin Blakeley and together, they have six grown children and two grandchildren.

Gordon Wright

Gordon Wright Gordon Wright is a trial lawyer at Cooper & Scully P.C. focusing his practice on the preparation and trial of lawsuits. In more than 31 years of practice he has tried cases relating to business disputes, personal injuries, intellectual property, medical negligence, birth trauma, wrongful death, and professional malpractice.

Licensed in Texas, California, Oregon, and Utah, Gordon focuses his practice on the preparation and trial of complex cases. In recent trials Gordon has successfully obtained verdicts in favor of his clients, which protected them from paying alleged damages amounting to millions of dollars and which vindicated their professional competence. In several recent representations, Gordon has represented attorneys whose competence and reputations have been successfully protected.

In addition to handling cases where he has been admitted to practice, Gordon has also represented clients in other states, trying a case to verdict in Alabama and representing large hospitals in other states.

Gordon has litigated complex birth injury cases, trade secret cases, copyright issues, employment law matters, products liability cases, contract disputes, insurance bad faith claims and all kinds of business and personal tort litigations. He has successfully tried matters in federal and state courts. Gordon has fought injunctions that would have been fatal to the continued existence of his corporate clients had they been granted. Gordon Wright’s breadth of experience and diverse practice ranging from complex business cases to emotionally charged birth trauma cases are expanding as the law changes and new areas of litigation become important.

Though most of his professional endeavor is in the trial of lawsuits, Gordon has successfully represented clients in appellate cases and has counseled clients on non-litigated matters ranging from obtaining and defending trademarks to advising clergy on the protection of children when abuse is alleged.

To relax, Gordon enjoys a number of activities, most recently keeping two beehives at his home.