Amrith Kaur Aakre
Legal Director, Sikh Coalition
Amrith Kaur Aakre joined the Sikh Coalition, a national civil rights organization, in 2017 as Legal Director. In this role, she supervises complex high impact litigation and manages policy initiatives to protect the civil rights of all Americans in areas such as hate crimes, bullying, racial profiling, workplace discrimination, and religious rights matters.
Amrith has successfully litigated religious accommodation and bias-based school bullying cases, advocated on behalf of hate crime victims and provided rapid response legal services, submitted testimony before the EEOC regarding emerging employment discrimination issues including those arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and drafted several amicus briefs that were cited by ScotusBlog as “petitions to watch.” She has also coordinated with local and federal law enforcement agencies to provide cultural competency and implicit bias trainings geared toward workplace equity. Amrith is a recognized expert on issues of race and religious rights.
Prior to joining the Sikh Coalition, Amrith served as a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney in Chicago for 11 years where she created and directed the Bond Court Initiative, a transformative restorative justice program focused on rehabilitating felony offenders rather than incarcerating them. Amrith serves on the Board of Directors for the ACLU of Illinois, was an Emerging Leaders Fellow for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, is a recipient of the Asian American Coalition’s Community Service of the year award and was recognized by Crain’s Business as a Top 100 Leading Woman Lawyer.
In her free time, Amrith teaches HIIT bootcamp classes, is an avid runner, and organizes the Battle of the Books program at her son's school. Amrith holds her Bachelor of Arts in Applied Science & Technology Engineering and English Literature from The George Washington University, and her Juris Doctor from The University of Illinois at Chicago's Law School.
President, Utah State Senate
Stuart Adams currently serves as President of the Utah State Senate. He served 6 years as Senate Majority Whip. He also served 4-1/2 years in the Utah House of Representatives. He is a former Chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission and the current Chairman of the Military Installation Development Authority (MIDA). He served 9 years on the Layton City Council.
A graduate from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Business Finance, he is a partner in the Adams Company, a Real Estate, Construction and Development Firm in Kaysville.
He and his wife Susan are parents of four daughters and have 16 grandchildren. He enjoys skiing and other outdoor activities with them.
Siraj Akhtar is a founding member of the Muslim Employees Initiative (MEI) and served as its past Chair and Co-Chair and has been an active member of the TI Diversity Network (TIDN). He received his BSEE, summa cum laude, from the University of Mississippi and his MS and PhD also in EE from the Ohio State University. He joined TI in 2000 and has held various design and management roles at TI working on transceivers for communications and sensing applications. He is currently a RF/mmWave Technologist at Kilby Labs, TI’s advanced R&D organization, and a Senior Member of Technical Staff and the holder of 25 issued/pending patents and has published 30 TI internal/IEEE external technical articles.
Emrah is former executive director, now member of the board of directors at Dialogue Institute Dallas, a local non-profit focusing on interfaith and intercultural dialogue in the DFW area. He held executive director position at Atlas Foundation in Louisiana for 5 years prior to coming to Dallas. He served on the board of Network of Community Ministries in Richardson and also has been member of several non-profits
Ruth Ashurst holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Texas A&M University with an emphasis in voice. She performs frequently in religious services throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area and has been a featured soloist with Dallas Millennial Choirs & Orchestras. 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 is a Human Resources executive at an educational technology company. She resides in Plano, Texas and is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Imam Azhar Azeez
Former President, Islamic Society of North America: Vice President, Islamic Relief U.S.A
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)
For 11 years he worked for major US corporations such as General Electric and Capital One. He currently serves as the senior Director of Islamic Relief USA, which is one of the largest Muslim charity of USA. He was elected as the President of Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) twice which is the oldest Muslim organization of US & Canada.
He is also the past President of the North Texas Islamic council (NTIC), which represents 45 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. He also currently serves on the board of The Islamic Seminary of America. (TISA)
He is nationally known public and a motivational speaker who travels regularly around US for local, regional and national events of various organizations He has addressed events. seminars, summits, conferences & banquets in more than 600 communities/cities across US & Canada. He continuously works towards building bridges between people of various faiths and is nationally known for his interfaith work.
He has advised two former US President’s, President Jimmy Carter and President Barack Obama and currently resides in Plano, TX with his wife and children.
Dr. Jarvis Baker
Pastor, Canaan Baptist Church, Dallas
Jarvis Baker is a native of Dallas, Texas. He has Bachelor of Administration in Human Resource Management from Texas A&M System (Commerce), a Master’s of Education in Secondary Teaching from Texas A&M System (Commerce), a Master’s of Christian Education from Dallas Baptist University, and Doctor of Ministry from Liberty University in Christian Leadership. He holds State Texas Teaching Certification in Reading, Business Education, and Physical Education. He has been an Educator in Dallas Independent School District for 25 years. He currently teaches Exercise Science and is the Campus Athletic Director for William Hawley Atwell Law Academy. He is the Pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. He is married to Dr. Angie Baker and they have three children. He is a proud member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
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.
Dr. Kate Carte
Associate Professor of History, SMU
Kate Carté is an Associate Professor of History at Southern Methodist University, specializing in early American and Atlantic history. She is the author of Religion and the American Revolution: An Imperial History (UNC Press for the Omohundro Institute, 2021) and Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, paper 2011), which was awarded the 2010 Dale W. Brown Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. Her current research delves into the history of cartography, religion, and ideas of human difference in the early modern era.
Steven T. Collis
Law Professor, University of Texas
Steven T. Collis is the author of the nonfiction book Deep Conviction and the novel At Any Cost. He is a law professor at the University of Texas-Austin School of Law and founding faculty director of UT's Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center and related Law & Religion Clinic. Prior to his appointment at UT, he was the Olin-Darling Research Fellow in the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School and an equity partner at Holland & Hart LLP, where he was the chair of the firm’s nationwide religious institutions and First Amendment practice group.
He is a sought-after speaker on both writing and religion law to audiences across the United States, including foreign diplomats from countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and South America on behalf of the United States State Department. He has been interviewed by and quoted in various news outlets, including The Deseret News, Bloomberg, The Washington Times, Law360, Public Square Magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune, PBS, The Denver Business Journal, Law Week Colorado, CBN News, and others.
Before embarking on his legal and writing career, Steven graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was elected to the Order of the Coif and served as an editor on the Michigan Law Review and the Michigan Journal of Race and Law. Steven also holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University, where he served as the associate editor of the literary journal Blackbird. He completed his undergraduate studies, with university honors, at Brigham Young University.
Quality Engineer at Texas Instruments
Craig Dalley has worked at Texas Instruments since 1991 where he has held various roles, including applications engineer, applications engineering manager, product manager, reliability engineer, and quality engineer. He is currently working as a customer quality engineer supporting automotive electronics products. Craig has been involved in religious diversity at TI since 2001 and helped found both the Christian employee resource group and the Jewish employee resource group. Through the course of his career, he has worked in aerospace, consumer electronics, and automotive electronics. He received his engineering degrees from Brigham Young University and the Ohio State University. Hobbies include historical reenactment and genealogy, and he has been published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register.
Dr. Richard J. Dougherty
Politics Professor, University of Dallas-Irving
Bishop Keith M. Earl
Keith M Earl is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Keith has served in numerous callings including full-time missionary in Brazil, Scoutmaster, Seminary instructor, Bishop and currently serving in interfaith ministry for the Dallas Texas Stake. Keith is a husband of 43 years, a father of four, and grandfather of six. He is a self-employed Certified Public Accountant.
Dr. Randel Everett
Founder, 21 Wilberforce
Dr. Everett’s primary gifts are communication and visionary leadership. Serving as a pastor and seminary president in the nation’s capital has given him a unique opportunity to observe the challenges facing the church in a multicultural pluralistic society. He has witnessed many Christ-followers from the emerging generation lose confidence in denominations and institutional Christianity.
Churches struggle to communicate the good news of Christ to a world that appears skeptical yet continues to be deeply spiritual and search for true meaning in life. The church of North America no longer serves in the Acts 2 Jerusalem world where those who hear the gospel have a common heritage and faith background, but now exists in the Acts 17 community where there are multiple gods and cultures.
Dr. Everett’s commitment to historical Baptist values, his experience serving as pastor in diverse and significant churches, his world-view shaped through leadership roles in the Baptist World Alliance and his service in multiethnic congregations have equipped him to challenge the church to reach out to the changing world in relevant and creative ways while maintaining timeless biblical truths.
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.
Rev. Lisa Garvin
Chaplain, Southern Methodist University
The Rev. Lisa Garvin is the first woman to serve as chaplain and minister to the University at SMU. A graduate of Millsaps College with a bachelor of arts in European Studies, she also holds degrees from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and School of Law. With colleagues in the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, she works to foster a deep and expansive experiences for spiritual life on The Hilltop, through tradition specific religious practices and multi-religious community building. An ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church, Lisa seeks to support students as they discern their unique gifts and seek ways to offer themselves in service in the world. She loves to work, travel, and being an aunt to three nieces and four nephews.
Dr. Jack Goodyear
Dean of Humanities and Social Science, Dallas Baptist University
Dr. Jack Goodyear currently serves as Dean of the Cook School of Leadership and as a Professor in Political Science at Dallas Baptist University. He has been full-time at DBU since January 2008, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences from 2012-2014, the Director of the Ph.D. program from 2014-2017, and Dean of the Cook School of Leadership since June of 2016. Prior to coming to DBU, Dr. Goodyear served as a minister in churches in Arlington, Texas and Tampa, Florida.
He has been married to Jessica for 22 years. They have five children – Grant, Claire, Tessa, Treyvion, and Nehemiah. They are members of First Baptist Church of Arlington.
Dr. Goodyear holds a PhD in Religion, Politics, and Society from Baylor University. His studies focused on the historical, philosophical, theological, and sociological interaction between religion and politics and the church and state, paying special attention to the impact of evangelicals in American politics and culture. He also earned a Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His Bachelors is from Baylor University in Political Science.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith
Retired Judge, United States Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit
Thomas B. Griffith was appointed to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit by President George W. Bush in 2005. He stepped down from that court last year and is now Special Counsel with the international law firm of Hunton Andrews Kurth. He is also a Senior Adviser at the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a Senior Fellow at the Wheatley Institution of Brigham Young University, and a Lecture on Law at Harvard Law School. Earlier this year, President Biden appointed Judge Griffith to the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court. Before his appointment to the D. C. Circuit, Judge Griffith was the General Counsel at Brigham Young University. Earlier in his legal career, he was a partner at major law firm in Washington, D. C. and for four years served as the nonpartisan Senate Legal Counsel, the chief legal officer of the United States Senate.
President and CEO, Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge
David Harmer is chief executive officer of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.
A graduate of Brigham Young University, David served as counsel to a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Taking his expertise in constitutional law to Pacific Legal Foundation, he litigated in defense of personal and economic freedoms recognized by the First and Fifth Amendments. As a fellow of the Heritage Foundation and an author published by the Cato Institute, he advocated practical expansion of freedom through education reform. He also held leadership roles in various education-focused nonprofits.
Private practice at the Los Angeles-based law firm of O’Melveny & Myers prepared David to spend the heart of his career as counsel to several major financial institutions. Inspired by his father, who served as lieutenant governor of California under Ronald Reagan, he twice won nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives, turning previously uncompetitive San Francisco Bay Area districts into hotly contested battlegrounds.
David and his wife, Elayne, have four children. Their daughter-in-law won the silver medal in vault at the Tokyo Olympics.
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
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.
Brother Marzuq A. Jaami
Muslin Interfaith Leader
Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Square Member – Member for 30+ years working with various faiths, government officials, and international visitors to promote peace among faiths.
- Work with government Officials to host President George H.W. Bush to Thanks-Giving Square.
- Worked to help the Multi-Faith pilot program to educate people about different faiths and to support Imam W.D. Mohammed at the Council of World Religion and Peace, and the World Parliament of Religion and Peace.
- Worked with Governor George W. Bush and the religious community including Pastor Tony Evans to help rebuild several churches that were burned and to help protect them against vandalism.
- Supported and worked with the Pentagon on understanding the religion of Al-Islam as part of a delegation with Imam W. D. Mohammed.
- Worked with the State Department and the North Texas Council of International Visitors to welcome international guests and represented the African-American Muslim Community for the City of Dallas.
Ambassadors for Peace Member – being with this group has led to local and global including trips to the following:
- New Delhi and Agra, India - to promote peace and worked with Universities and community organizations with Buddhist, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.
- Jerusalem, Israel - To get the three Abrahamic faiths to promote more peace.
- Seoul, South Korea - to work on peace between the North and the South.
- Rome, Italy - part of a delegation when Pope John Paul called for unity between all faiths to make a pledge to go back and work for world peace. Second trip to Rome was to work on building a strong brotherhood between Catholic, Muslims, and Jews.
- Representative from Dallas, Texas, to the International Association of Parliamentarians and Dignitaries for the initiation of the Peace Starts with Me global effort.
- Representative from Dallas, Texas, for the inaugural delegation of the World Clergy Leadership Conference in New York City.
Friends Among Faith and Connecting Our Faith Founder to work with Jews, Christians, and Muslims to provide programs on how these three faiths are connected through Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed.
Dallas Acts Kind Week Co-Founder with Peter Johnson, James McCormick, Dee Silverstein, and Jackie Walman to help the citizens of Dallas to become a kinder place by encouraging everyone in the city do random acts of kindness. Was essential in hosting Mrs. Rosie Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, and Imam W. D. Mohammad for the Dallas Week of Kindness.
African American Men Against Narcotics - Helped clear out a zone of drug dealers in the Southern Dallas sector and get them out so that new homes and families could return to a safe neighborhood.
Habitats for Humanity – worked with Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhist to build homes for families in poor neighborhoods. Built over 100 homes for these families.
Nuclear Disarmament Program - Worked with Rabbi Jack Bemporad and Pastor William Sloan Coffin to work for the nuclear disarmament program, which helped unite the Muslim Community with Temple Emmanu-El and get them working together on various programs across the years.
City of Dallas – worked with Senior Citizens of Dallas who had property and couldn’t take care of it, even if it came to tearing the house down and rebuilding it to ensure their property was taken care of. These people were on probation and doing community service, and he was responsible for assigning the jobs to the people for the Senior Citizens.
Anti-Defamation League - getting racism out of the workplace, called “World of a Difference”.
Congressional Guest - Representative from Dallas, Texas, in 1982 to attend meetings with Congressman Martin Frost to speak on increased efforts of the Religion of Al Islam American Muslim Community in working with other Muslims, Jewish, and Christian communities to work together for the purpose of creating better more harmonious communities.
Pioneer in the Muslim Community - One of the Pioneers of the Muslim Community of getting the first Mosque built in Dallas, Texas. Very active in the Islamic Center of Desoto.
Honored as one of the Living Legends of Dallas in June 2021.
Senior Corporate Advisor for the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF)
Kent is the Senior Corporate Advisor for the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF). In that role he helps companies design and implement best practices regarding religious diversity and inclusion and promotes authenticity and connection among employees across the belief spectrum in ways that strengthen recruitment, engagement, retention, morale, ethics and personal fulfillment. Kent also helps companies navigate their legal obligation to accommodate employees’ religious expressions and practices while carefully avoiding any impression of compulsion to participate in or agree with them. Before joining RFBF, Kent served for 37 years as a senior legal counsel at Texas Instruments Incorporated, where, in different assignments over the years, he had responsibility for legal support of nearly all of TI's businesses and its worldwide ethics, quality, corporate responsibility and risk management functions. He also helped launch the company’s faith-oriented employee resource groups and served as Chair of the TI Diversity Network.
Dr. Martin Karnett
Program Manager, US Strategy and Program Management Team, Texas Instruments
Marty Karnett currently serves on the Advisory Board of the prestigious Texas Instruments global Diversity Network and has previously served as co-chair of this network and as chair of TI’s Jewish Diversity Initiative. Aside from these responsibilities, Marty is currently Program Manager within the U.S. Strategy and Program Management team at Texas Instruments and has served in several other roles throughout his 18+ yr career at TI including product engineering manager and lab manager.
Marty’s roles prior to joining Texas Instruments, Inc. included: Technology Transfer Section Manager, Senior Photolithography Process Engineer, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry. Marty received his undergraduate (B.S.) and graduate (M.S., M. Phil., Ph.D.) degrees in Chemistry from SUNY @ Stony Brook and Yale University respectively. In Marty’s spare time, he enjoys exercise, playing the piano, listening to classical music, spending time with family (including the family dog), and as assistant coach for the Yavneh Academy of Dallas high school varsity basketball team which won the state championship two years ago. Marty has been married to his wife, Laura, for 31 years and is the proud father of two boys, ages 30 and 26.
Rev. Dr. George A. Mason
Senior Pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church
Rev. Dr. George A. Mason has been senior pastor at Wilshire since August 1989. His three decades as pastor follows the pattern of his predecessor, Bruce McIver, who was pastor at Wilshire 30 vibrant years.
George is a nationally recognized faith leader, rooted in congregational life. He combines the prophetic and pastoral voices within and beyond the church. He has served in leadership roles with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Fellowship Southwest, New Baptist Covenant, Duke Divinity School, Perkins School of Theology, Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square and other local and global ecumenical and interfaith endeavors. He is the founder and president of Faith Commons, a multi-faith, multiethnic nonprofit organization committed to promoting the common good from a faith perspective.
George is the host of the Good God project, a weekly audio and video conversation sponsored by Faith Commons. He is a frequent op-ed contributor to the Dallas Morning News on subjects of public interest that intersect religion, such as public education, race relations and predatory lending. He writes a monthly column on public theology for the Lakewood/East Dallas and Lake Highlands editions of the community news magazine The Advocate.
At Wilshire, George birthed and directs a pastoral residency program that has become a model for other congregations nationwide since 2002. His book, Preparing the Pastors We Need: Reclaiming the Congregation’s Role in Training Clergy, was published in 2012 by Alban Press. One of his passions is encouraging those whom God has called into vocational ministry.
George earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1978 from the University of Miami (Florida), where he was a quarterback on the football team. He holds both the Master of Divinity (1982) and Doctor of Philosophy (1987) degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. His doctoral field of study was systematic theology, with a minor in philosophy of religion. His dissertation was God's Freedom as Faithfulness: A Critique of Juergen Moltmann's Social Trinitarianism.
A native of New York City, George has been married to his wife, Kim, since 1979. They have three children and six grandchildren. He enjoys all sports, including politics, but especially golf.
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.
Legal Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights
Shannon Price Minter is a transgender man and the longtime legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the nation’s leading LGBTQ legal advocacy organizations. Shannon has litigated dozens of landmark cases, including several victories in the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a national expert on LGBTQ law and has received widespread recognition, including awards from Cornel Law School, Stanford Law School, the Ford Foundation, California Lawyer Magazine, the National LGBT Bar Association, and the U.S. Department of Justice LGBT Pride Group. Shannon is committed to building bridges between conservative religious leaders and groups and LGBTQ people.
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.
Dr. Josh Packard
Executive Director, Springtide Research Institute
Dr. Josh Packard, Executive Director of Springtide Research Institute, is an accomplished researcher and academic with an expertise in the sociology of religion and new forms of religious expression. A talented speaker and writer, Josh has been a guest on numerous radio shows and podcasts, including Minnesota Public Radio, Newsworthy with Norsworthy, and others, and has been an invited speaker at many conferences, events, and workshops. He has been published widely in both academic and popular outlets, including Christianity Today, The Huffington Post, Desert News, and Christian Science Monitor, among others.
Josh is the author of three books on religion and sociology. He wrote Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Group, 2015) with coauthor Ashleigh Hope, The Emerging Church: Religion at the Margins (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012), and The Air We Breathe: Sociology of Religion (Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2016) with coauthor George Sanders. His newest book, Meaning Making: 8 Values That Drive America’s Newest Generations, was published by Springtide in July 2020.
Josh earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Vanderbilt University and did his undergraduate work in English at Texas Lutheran University. He lives in Greeley, CO, with his wife and son.
Executive Director, Dialogue Institute Dallas
Dr. Anne Perry
Professor, Art Institute of Dallas, Bahai Community
Dr. Anne Perry has a PhD in Aesthetic Studies from UTD and teaches writing and humanities at the Art Institute of Dallas. She has been a member of the Baha’i Faith for more than 45 years and serves the Faith in a variety of capacities, including writing and filmmaking.
President, Christians Engaged
Bunni Pounds is the President of Christians Engaged - a nonpartisan nonprofit ministry serving the state of Texas and now starting to expand nationally. Christians Engaged educates Christians on the importance of prayer, voting and engagement for the well-being of our nation.
Bunni has been a political consultant for 15 years - once leading a firm with 32 clients and 9 people in her office. For years - she has worked with Members of Congress running their campaigns from Congressman Jeb Hensarling and Congressman Michael Cloud. She ran for Congress herself in 2018 becoming the only woman to make the Republican Runoff Ballot out of 6 open seats and the only person in the US endorsed by Vice President Mike Pence during the 2018 Primary Season. Though she came up short - God has been using her over 20 years of Christian ministry experience - pastoring, teaching, leading worship, and writing discipleship books - to lead her into this statewide ministry today. Christians Engaged has been in 55 churches since their launch at the beginning of 2020 and has had thousands of Texans now take their pledge to pray, vote, and engage and become educated through their materials and classes.
Founder and President, Hardwired Global
Tina Ramirez is the Founder and President of Hardwired Global, a non-profit organization that specializes in religious freedom education and training to promote peace and pluralism worldwide. Tina brings to Hardwired more than 20 years of experience as an educator, policy advisor, and expert on international human rights and religious freedom. She has worked in more than 30 countries, has spoken before the United Nations, and testified before the U.S. Congress. Tina’s educational programs, which have been published in several journals, have provided significant evidence of successful methods to help children overcome hate and intolerance and protect the freedom of religion, conscience or belief, not just for themselves but for everyone.
Tina has published extensively and is the author of Iraq: Hope in the Midst of Darkness (2017) and a contributing author and editor of Human Rights in the United States: A Dictionary and Documents (2010 and 2017). She holds a certificate from the International Institute for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, a MA in Education from Vanguard University, and a MA in International Human Rights from the University of Essex, UK. Last year, Tina published four children’s books that teach the importance of the respect of human dignity and fundamental freedoms that younger generations could understand and embrace.
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.
Dr. Bob Roberts Jr.
Founder Northwood Church, Multifaith Neighbors Network
Dr. Bob Roberts, Jr. is the founder of GlocalNet, a ministry dedicated to mobilizing the church for transformation in the public square and co-founder of Multi-Faith Neighbors Network (MFNN), a multifaith organization committed to creating international religious freedom through intentional cross-cultural relationships.
Over the past 20 years Bob has been a trailblazer in the peacemaking and international religious freedom arenas, frequently being called upon by the U.S. Department of State, United Nations, U.S. Islamic World Forum, World Economic Forum, ambassadors, international royal families, diplomats, policy leaders and others for his groundbreaking work in this field. He seeks to build and execute a model whereby multifaith 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 and led Northwood Church in Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX for over 30 years and now enjoys his role as Founding Global Pastor. He is the author of six books: Transformation, Glocalization, The Multiplying Church, Real Time Connection, Bold as Love and Lessons from the East. He is also host of the Bold Love podcast where he tells stories of his journey along with interviewing friends he’s met along the way encouraging people to boldly love your neighbor.
Bob has contributed or been featured on the World Economic Forum, Fox Business Channel, Washington Post, New York Times, Huckabee Show, Religious News Service, C-Span, Templeton Religions Trust, Christianity Today, Outreach Magazine and more.
Bob 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
Legal Counsel, First Liberty Institute
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.
University of Texas Law Student
Attorney, Board of Directors of the Religious Freedom Institute
Hannah Clayson Smith is an attorney with the firm Schaerr Jaffe. Smith is a senior fellow at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University (BYU). She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Religious Freedom Institute. She earned a bachelor's degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University before attending BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School.
Smith also served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Switzerland Geneva Mission, which covered parts of Switzerland and France. Following law school, Smith clerked for then-U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito (3rd Circuit). She next clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas (2003-2004), and then returned in 2006 to clerk at the Supreme Court a second time for Alito following his appointment as an Associate Justice. She was part of the legal team for landmark U.S. Supreme Court victories such as Zubik v. Burwell, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Holt v. Hobbs, and Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. In 2017, Smith testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Commentary Editor, The Dallas Morning News
Elizabeth Souder edits opinion commentary for the daily op-ed page and the Sunday Opinion section of the Dallas Morning News. She started with the News in 2005 as the energy reporter and joined the editorial board in 2015. In between, she spent three years as an editor for Oliver Wyman. Prior to returning home to Dallas, she worked for Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal in New York covering airlines and in Frankfurt covering German bonds and banks. She holds Plan II liberal arts and journalism degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.
R. Gerald Turner
President, Southern Methodist University
As 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.
Fueled by these investments, SMU’s progress has included increases in average admission test scores, a near tripling of student applications, an increase in enrollment of underrepresented communities up to 31 percent and a more than tripling of the endowment. Under his leadership, SMU has secured the largest gifts in its history: a historic $50 million gift from Carolyn L. and David B. Miller ’72, ’73 for the Cox School of Business and a landmark gift of $100 million from the Moody Foundation to create the new Moody School for Graduate and Advanced Studies.
The University continues to advance as a leading center of teaching and research that generates 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.
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 Dallas Citizens Council, 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 North Texas and the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
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 AA degree from Lubbock Christian University, a BS in psychology from Abilene Christian University and an MA and a PhD in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife, Gail, have two married daughters and five grandchildren.
Francisco J. Valenzuela
Attorney, Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin
Frank Valenzuela joined Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin, P.C. in 2007. His practice focuses on employment litigation, school litigation, constitutional law, 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 (inactive) state courts, the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, all of the U.S. District Courts in Texas, and the Northern and Southern District Courts of Florida. Prior to joining FHMBK, Frank worked as Associate Corporate Counsel for the Morgan Management Corporation.
Frank is a frequent speaker about school, employment, and constitutional law issues, as well as about issues concerning the U.S. Supreme Court.
Originally from Miami, Frank received his undergraduate degree in Politics from the University of Dallas and his law degree from the Notre Dame Law School. 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 TV shows, and hiking.
Harbhajan Singh Virdee
Harbhajan Singh Virdee is a member of the Sikh faith and has lived in the Dallas area for over 35 years. He has been very active in interfaith activity and is member of interfaith council of thanksgiving foundation and faith forward dallas. He is also a founding member of Gurdwara Nishkam Seva, a Sikh temple based in Irving. Harbhajan also helped start the interfaith alliance of Irving, a community group that helps to promote understanding between all faiths and also is active in doing charitable activities for the needy residents of Irving.
Wayne Walker, founder of Our Calling, continues to serve as its executive director and pastor to the homeless. Wayne earned a master’s degree in cross cultural ministry from DTS and was called to befriend and minister to men and women in the homeless community while he was completing his studies. During that time he established personal, discipleship-oriented relationships with homeless individuals, many in the same urban setting where he and his family continue to work today. Wayne and his wife Carolyn, have been married twenty-one years and have four children ranging in age from 12–19.
Naomi Worth is a high school senior and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She has been a singer in Dallas Millennial Choirs and Orchestras for 8 years and loves to praise the Lord through song.