Amrith Kaur Aakre
Amrith Kaur Aakre is Legal Director for the Sikh Coalition. In this role, she coordinates legal work and manages intitiatives to protect the civil rights of all Americans in areas such as hate crimes, bullying, profiling, workplace discrimination, and religious rights. Prior to the Sikh Coalition she served as a Cook County assistant state’s attorney in Chicago, Illinois for five years. During this time, she served on Cook County’s Hate Crime Training Initiative, and led transformative projects to identify nonviolent offenders for alternative rehabilitation programs. Amrith holds her bachelor of arts in applied science and technology, engineering and English literature from George Washington University, where she participated in the grassroots activism that help from the Sikh Coalition in 2001, and her juris doctor from John Marshall Law School.
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.
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.
Vice President, Islamic Relief USA
Azhar Azeez was born in Hyderabad, India. He has a bachelors degree in Finance from the prestigious Osmania University and a Master’s degree in business administration (MBA) and is currently pursuing his PhD in Islamic studies.
For 12 years he worked for major US corporations such as General Electric, American General Life and Capital One. He currently serves as the senior Vice President of Islamic Relief USA which is one of the largest Muslim charity of USA. He was elected as the vice president of Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) which is the oldest Muslim organization of US & Canada in 2010 and 2012 and then was elected as its President for two terms in 2014 and in 2016.
He is also the past President of the North Texas Islamic council which represents 40 plus Muslim/Islamic organizations in Dallas/Fort worth area. He is the founder and the past President of Islamic Association of Carrollton, Texas one of the large mosques in the suburbs of Dallas, TX.
In his role as the President of ISNA, he has advised two former US Presidents, President Jimmy Carter & President Barack Obama. He is nationally known public and a motivational speaker who travels regularly around US for various local, regional and national Islamic organizations and has addressed gatherings in more than 450 communities across US & Canada.
He has made several media appearances and interviewed by many local and national TV stations, newspapers & magazines. He also speaks regularly on local & national radio/ TV programs. He is married and has two kids and currently resides in Dallas, TX
Rev. Rachel Baughman is an executive pastor in Dallas and sixth generation United Methodist minister. A graduate of Texas Wesleyan University and Drew Theological Seminary, Rachel is one of the primary editors for the CEB Women’s Bible, published by Abingdon Press. Rachel has also contributed to and edited the Spark Bible and a long list of curricula for Sparkhouse Press. Rachel is a certified Birkman coach and loves consulting with church staffs across the country to improve their mutual understanding and ability to work with each other. Her husband, Rev. Mike Baughman, is also a United Methodist minister. They live in the Dallas, TX area with four children.
William P. Benac, Sr.
Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom
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.
Michael Berry is General Counsel for First Liberty Institute. He joined First Liberty in 2013 after serving for seven years on active duty as an attorney with the U.S. Marine Corps. Among Mr. Berry’s numerous positions within the Marine Corps, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, and from 2009-2012, Mr. Berry served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the United States Naval Academy. Mr. Berry continues to proudly serve our nation as a member of the Marine Corps Reserve.
As General Counsel for First Liberty Institute, Mr. Berry is responsible for leading all aspects of First Liberty’s legal operations. A recognized subject-matter expert, Mr. Berry has testified before Congress and he is routinely invited to speak across the nation about religious freedom. Mr. Berry has also been featured hundreds of times in various national media outlets.
Mr. Berry earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, and he earned his law degree from The Ohio State University.
Rev. Dr. Neil Cazares-Thomas
The Reverend Dr. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas is the Senior Pastor of Cathedral of Hope of Dallas, called and elected by the 4,500-member congregation on April 12, 2015. Dr. Cazares-Thomas previously served for 13 years as the Senior Pastor of the Founders Metropolitan Community Church, Los Angeles, A member of Metropolitan Community Churches since 1981. Rev. Neil has served in numerous denominational positions. As a native of Bournemouth, England. He attended St John’s Theological College (Church of England), La Saint Union (Roman Catholic) and King Alfred’s College, and graduated with a BA (M. Div [USA equiv]).He graduated with his Doctor of Ministry in October 2009. He has been granted Privilege of Call in the United Church of Christ. Dr. Cazares-Thomas is a contributing author of several books and has also been featured in a number of journals relating to queer theology and ministry to the LGBTQ community. He is married to Isaiah Thomas-Cazares and they have a daughter.
Kelsey Dallas is the national religion reporter and InDepth content manager for the Deseret News. She also serves as editor of ReligionLink, a story idea service funded by Religion News Foundation. Kelsey graduated from Yale Divinity School with a Master of Arts degree in Religion in 2014.
K. Randel Everett
K. Randel Everett spent four decades pastoring churches in Florida, Virginia, Arkansas, and Texas before founding Wilberforce in 2014 to focus attention on religious persecution abroad and the enduring importance of religious liberty in the United States. Everett was the founding president of the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Falls Church, Virginia. He serves as the executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and he currently serves in leadership for the Baptist World Alliance. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas and master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Everett and the Wilberforce team have been on the front lines in the fight for religious freedom, including trips to Iraq and Nigeria, where Boko Haram terrorists and Fulani militants have committed heinous crimes against humanity. Reports from these two trips – “Edge of Extinction” (Iraq) and “Fractured and Forgotten” (Nigeria)- have been translated in multiple languages and become trusted resources for the government agencies, NGOs, religious institutions, and think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Holocaust Museum, and the Newseum.
Jim Falk has been president & CEO of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth since 2001. Jim graduated from Washington and Lee and earned his master’s in foreign affairs in international law and organization and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Virginia. He spent ten years as a commercial banker for First City in Houston and also worked at the Institute of International Education in Houston and the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. Jim has been Honorary Consul for the Kingdom of Morocco for Texas since 2013. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Global I.Q. with Jim Falk” is a weekly podcast where he interviews newsmakers. He is also co-host of the McCuistion television program on KERA.
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.
Josefina Elena Ghio
Josefina Elena Ghio is an undergraduate English and Spanish double major at the University of Texas at Arlington with minors in Political Science and Technical Writing. She is from Grand Prairie, Texas, and is the fourth daughter in a family of five sisters. At her university, her passion for civic engagement has been central to her studies. She has served in various capacities across campus including UTA Ambassadors, The Big Event, The Super Service Saturday Planning Committee, and the English Honor Society. 2019 marks her 9th year serving on executive boards for non-profit organizations throughout the DFW metroplex. Being part of these programs has allowed Josefina to serve immigrant and refugee community members, and has fueled her passion in advocating for displaced families and diverse communities. In the Summer of 2019, Josefina lived in Washington D.C. as a Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Scholar where she participated in sessions with State Department officials, gained greater insight into the foreign policy-making process, and discussed the challenges facing international affairs officials. As a result of her commitment to community service and academic excellence, Josefina has been the recipient of serval accolades at her university including UTA’s 2018 Outstanding Student of the Year Award, UTA English Department’s Senior Excellence Award, and a 2019 College of Liberal Arts Scholar. Upon the completion of her undergraduate studies in the Fall of 2020, Josefina hopes to serve abroad through a Fulbright grant or a position in the Peace Corps. Ultimately, Josefina plans to attend graduate school in public policy or international affairs, and gain skills to enter a foreign service career. In her free time, Josefina enjoys reading American Romantic literature, writing poetry, traveling, folkloric dancing, and spending time with her friends and family.
David Harmer is president and chief executive officer of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, a civic education organization that builds understanding of the spirit and philosophy of the Constitution among K-12 students and their teachers.
David’s leadership of Freedoms Foundation follows a distinguished career in the government, nonprofit, and corporate sectors, where he served as: Counsel to a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee; Fellow at Pacific Legal Foundation and the Heritage Foundation; Associate of the law firm O’Melveny & Myers; and Counsel to large financial institutions including Providian, Washington Mutual, JPMorgan Chase, and Ally Bank.
David’s father served as lieutenant governor of California under Governor Ronald Reagan. Following in those footsteps, David nearly won election to the U.S. House of Representatives from a hotly contested district in the San Francisco Bay area. His writings have been published by think tanks, law reviews, and major newspapers.
Rev. Mark Hernandez
American Clergy Leadership Conference, SW USA Coordinator
Mark Hernandez was born for interfaith work. He is a 3rd generation Texan and the reflection of his ancestors - Sephardic Jews, Moorish Muslims, Roman Catholics, Native-American spiritualists and Hispanic Pentecostals. At the age of 10, upon his Confirmation, he surrendered his life to Jesus, who guided him throughout his teens to remain pure and prepare himself for a marriage that God could bless. Meanwhile he encouraged his friends to pursue unselfish love, embracing a culture of service, and striving to mature in true brother/sister love, rather than rush into premature sex, repeating the mistake of Adam and Eve and eons of history.
He graduated with top honors, serving as his high school’s senior class president and entered the University of Texas in 1972 on a full scholarship intending to pursue medicine. But at 19, he encountered the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity and was fully reborn - never again to doubt the love of God for all mankind and himself – and immediately became a missionary. After decades of mission work in America and abroad, he was appointed Senior Pastor of the Houston Family Church, and in 2002 was promoted to Regional Pastor of four states including Texas. By 2006, his episcopal responsibilities grew to include churches in 7 states from Wyoming to Texas – a position in which he served until 2013. He presently serves as Pastor Emeritus of the DFW Family Church in Irving, TX, as well as the Southwest USA Coordinator for the American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC) working to bring unity among the Abrahamic faiths.
His ministry in a word is family and he is passionate to affect the lives of young men and women in preparation for the greatest blessing and sacrament from God. He has been the recipient of multiple honors and awards for civic activism and pioneering interfaith leadership. He and his wife Yuri have been married 37 years and are proud parents of 6 children and 4 grandchildren..
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.
Dr. Robert Hunt
Director of Global Theological Education, 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.
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
Rabbi Ari Lamm
Rabbi Ari Lamm is the Special Advisor to the President of Yeshiva University. He works closely with the president on all matters concerning the university’s mission and vision, and coordinates the strategic initiatives emerging from the Office of the President. An alumnus of Yeshiva University, University College London, and Princeton University, Rabbi Lamm is a former US-UK Fulbright Scholar who served, most recently, as the Resident Scholar at the Jewish Center in Manhattan. He is currently completing his PhD in ancient Judaism and Christianity at Princeton University. He is a founding editor and contributor at Lehrhaus, a premier online publication for contemporary Jewish thought (www.thelehrhaus.com), and a recipient of the Wexner Fellowship in Jewish Studies. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, First Things, the Jerusalem Post, and Tablet Magazine.
Editorial Director; Editor of The Catalyst — George W. Bush Institute
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.
Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom
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.
Shannon Minter is the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), one of the nation’s leading legal advocacy organizations for LGBT people. As a transgender attorney and NCLR’s lead litigator for the past 25 years, he has argued groundbreaking cases on behalf of LGBT people in scores of state and federal cases, including the California Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 marriage equality ruling. Shannon also founded BornPerfet, NCLR’s campaign to end conversion therapy. He has received numerous awards for his legal advocacy, including from the Ford Foundation, the National LGBT Bar Association, California Lawyer Magazine, and Lawyers USA. He is recognized as a national expert on transgender issues and is currently counsel in Doe v. Trump, the lead case challenging President Trump’s transgender military ban. He received a BA from the University of Texas at Austin and a JD from Cornell Law School.
Interfaith Community Leader
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 ([email protected]), 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
Joyce Porto is a graduate student who is passionate for human rights. She is working towards a dual master’s degree programs in International Studies focused on International Relations and in Global Leadership at Dallas Baptist University.
Shirley Porto is a grad student working towards a dual master in International Studies and Global Leadership. She loves social justice and human development.
Asad Rahman is a Corporate Attorney for the Michaels Companies. Previously, he has worked as a Procurement Advisor for Boeing and as an independent contractor for multiple international firms where he worked on IP litigation and other products liability class action lawsuits. He also acts as General Counsel for several Muslim nonprofits and serves as President of the Dallas Fort Worth Muslim Bar Association. He previously served multiple terms as President of the SMU Muslim Students' Association. He lives in Frisco, Texas with his wife, Kiran, and children, Aziz and Sarah.
President and Founder, Hardwired Global
Tina Ramirez brings to Hardwired 20 years of experience as a teacher, foreign policy expert, and authority on international human rights law and religious freedom. Her work in the field gave her the experience needed to develop and launch a simple, inexpensive training program that could be put in place quickly in any of the 30 countries where she had worked and maintained key relationships. She has trained hundreds of leaders who are proving that her model for human rights education and training can successfully influence positive systemic change in countries experiencing religious conflict.
Prior to Hardwired she worked for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Becket Law, and the U.S. Congress, where she founded the bi-partisan International Religious Freedom Caucus. Her intent and major accomplishment was re-
Tina authored Iraq: Hope in the Midst of Darkness (2017) and was a contributing author and editor of Human Rights in the United States: A Dictionary and Documents (2010 and 2017). She received a certificate at the International Institute for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, a M.A. in Education from Vanguard University, and a M.A. in Human Rights from the University of Essex in the U.K. Tina has testified before the U.S. Congress and spoken before the United Nations and the African Union.
Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom
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.
Agustin Reyes serves as the director of the Christian Life Commission for Texas Baptists. He serves on the executive committee of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Before moving to his current position with BGCT, Reyes served as the director of Hispanic Education Initiative/Affinity Ministries for Texas Baptists. Previously he also served as a director of Service Center and Ethnic Consultant for the Center of Strategic Evangelism. A 25-year youth ministry veteran, Dr. Reyes is the cowriter with Dr. Richard Ross of 30 Days: Turning the Hearts of Parents and Teenagers Toward Each Other. He served as youth ministry consultant and then as director of the church growth group sales, marketing, and customer service departments at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Reyes holds a BBA from UT-Austin, an MBA from Angelo State University, and MRE and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Rabbi Yaakov Rich
Rabbi Yaakov Rich is the current and founding Rabbi of Congregation Toras Chaim in Dallas, Texas. A native of Canada, Rabbi Rich earned a BA in economics from York University, and studied in Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Monsey and Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, receiving ordination from Rabbi Avrohom Pam, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas. Over the past 16 years, he has taught, lectured and written on a wide range of Torah topics reaching learners of all ages.
Dr. Bob Roberts
Senior Pastor at NorthWood Church
Dr. Bob Roberts, Jr. is the founder of GlocalNet, a non-profit 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 promoting international religious freedom through intentional cross-cultural relationships.
Over the past 20 years Bob has been a trailblazer in the multi-faith 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. He seeks to build and execute a model whereby multi-faith and church planting combine to create flourishing cities. Dr. Roberts’ has had the honor of engaging in bridge building efforts in Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Israel, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Egypt, West Bank, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and others.
Bob started Northwood Church in Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX for over 33 years ago and currently serves as Senior Pastor. He is the author of six books: Transformation, Glocalization, The Multiplying Church, Real Time Connection, Bold as Love and Lessons from the East.
Dr. Roberts’ is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (Doctorate of Ministry), Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Masters of Divinity), and Baylor University (BA). He and his wife Niki have two children and three grandchildren.
Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom
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
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.
Keisha Russell is Counsel with First Liberty Institute, concentrating on religious liberty matters and First Amendment rights. Russell attended Emory University School of Law, where she was heavily involved in Emory’s prestigious Center for the Study of Law and Religion. She served on the Emory Journal of Law & Religion and two moot court teams. She was a law clerk for the Center’s Restoring Religious Freedom Project where she worked on religious liberty litigation. In her final year of law school, Russell worked as a law clerk for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) on national and international matters affecting Israel.
Russell was also selected for a legal clinic with the Emory Barton Child Law and Policy Center. She trained with a political expert and advocated for children at the Georgia state capitol. Russell was selected by Emory University as a Graduating Woman of Excellence. Prior to joining First Liberty, Russell earned a Bachelor’s in Communications from University of Central Florida and a Master’s in Teaching from the University of Southern California. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member and taught elementary special education in Atlanta. Russell is most passionate about protecting religious freedom for children in America’s schools.
Director International Center for Law and Religion Studies, JR Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, Author of Points of Light
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.
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.
Shahid Shafi MD MBA MPH
Dr. Shafi is a surgeon, two-term Councilman in the City of Southlake (a suburban city in Dallas-Fort Worth area), Vice Chair of Tarrant County Republican Party in Fort Worth, and President of Southlake Republican Club. Previously, he served on the Planning and Zoning Commission of the City of Southlake, Governor of Texas’ EMS and Trauma Advisory Council in Austin, and several other local, state, and national organizations. He has provided free surgical care to the uninsured in Dallas County, and mentors high school students. His volunteerism has been recognized by the President of United States’ Volunteer Service Award on more multiple occasions.
Born in India and raised in Pakistan, Dr. Shafi came to the US in 1990 to pursue his American dream. After completing his education on the East Coast, the family moved to Texas in 2003. He joined the Republican Party soon after becoming a naturalized citizen in 2009. He has served on multiple committees of Tarrant County Republican Party, and was elected as a delegate to every State Republican Conventions in Texas since he became a citizen.
Shahid and Ayesha celebrated their 27th anniversary this year, and are raising their three children in Southlake.
Rabbi Ari Sunshine
Rabbi Ari Sunshine joined Congregation Shearith Israel in July 2017 as Senior Rabbi, bringing with him his passion for community building, outreach and engagement, for teaching Torah in many different settings, and his love for Israel. Previously, Rabbi Sunshine served as Rabbi of B’nai Shalom of Olney, Maryland from November 2006 to June 2017. From 2013 to 2016 he participated in the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Rabbinic Leadership Initiative and graduated as a Senior Rabbinic Fellow. During his tenure in Maryland, Rabbis Sunshine also served as the President of the Greater Olney Interfaith Ministerium and as the President of the Washington-Baltimore Region of the Rabbinical Assembly.
After graduating Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. from Brandeis University, Rabbi Sunshine served three years at Temple Israel in Sharon, Massachusetts as Youth Director, Ritual Director, and Senior USY Advisor. In 1997 he decided to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. While attending the Seminary, he also served as a Rabbinic Intern for Beth El Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, and for The American University in Washington, D.C.
Rabbi Sunshine has extensive experience working at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California, and leading USY Israel Pilgrimage and USY on Wheels groups. He received his M.A. and rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in the spring of 2002. From July 2002 until November of 2006, Rabbi Sunshine served as the Associate Rabbi of Temple Israel in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Rabbi Sunshine and his wife, Jennifer, have two children, Jonah and Elana. He roots (usually in vain) for the Baltimore Orioles and a host of other perennially underachieving Washington D.C. area college and professional sports teams ... except for his beloved Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals!
R. Gerald Turner
President of SMU since 1995
R. Gerald Turner is leading an era of unprecedented progress. His tenure has included two historic major gift campaigns that raised more than $1.6 billion for student scholarships, endowed faculty positions, academic programs and capital projects, including new academic, student life and athletics facilities. To continue its rise in impact and quality, SMU is engaged in a three-year drive, Pony Power: Strengthening the Stampede, to provide annual gifts that support today’s students, faculty and academic programs.
Fueled by these investments, SMU’s progress has included increases in average admission test scores, a near tripling of student applications, an increase in minority enrollment to 27 percent and a more than tripling of the endowment. The University continues to advance as a leading center of teaching and research that creates new knowledge, addresses significant issues and prepares students to be world changers. SMU ranks in the top 20 percent of the best national universities by U.S. News & World Report Rankings.
From its home in the global city of Dallas, SMU’s vibrant campus offers enrichment opportunities such as the Tate Lecture Series and the Meadows Museum to students and the wider community. President Turner led efforts with the Board of Trustees to attract the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which opened at SMU in 2013. SMU and the Bush Center partner through fellowships, public lectures, the new George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative and additional collaborations that bring together students, faculty and global experts to tackle pressing challenges.
Beyond the campus, President Turner has served on the boards of the American Council on Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and he co- chaired the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for nearly 10 years. In Texas, he serves on the boards of the Methodist Health System Foundation, the Salvation Army of Dallas, the AT&T Performing Arts Center and two publicly traded companies.
Before joining SMU, President Turner was the chancellor of the University of Mississippi. He previously served in administrative positions at the University of Oklahoma and Pepperdine University. A native of New Boston, Texas, he earned an A.A. degree from Lubbock Christian University, a B.S. in psychology from Abilene Christian University and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife, Gail, have two married daughters and five grandchildren.
Francisco J. Valenzuela
Frank Valenzuela joined Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin, P.C. in 2007. His practice focuses on employment litigation, school litigation, and local government defense.
Admitted to The Florida Bar in 2003 and State Bar of Texas in 2006, Frank is licensed to practice in all Texas and Florida state courts (inactive), the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the U.S. District Courts for the Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Texas and the Northern and Southern Districts of Florida. Prior to joining FHMBK, Frank worked as Associate Corporate Counsel for the Morgan Management Corporation, which operates Morgan Buildings and Spas, Inc. and related Morgan companies.
Originally from Miami, Frank received his undergraduate degree in Politics from the University of Dallas and his law degree from Notre Dame Law School, where he was on the Moot Court Team. He and his wife moved back to Dallas from Miami in late 2005 and are enjoying raising their family in North Texas. Frank enjoys spending time with his family and friends, obstacle course racing, movies, and hiking.
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.