Speaker Bios - 2022 Summit

Amrith Kaur Aakre

Legal Director, Sikh Coalition

Amrith Kaur Aakre 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.

Dr. Ossama Bahloul

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

Dr. Ossama Bahloul Dr. Ossama Bahloul, Ph.D., is a graduate of the renowned Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his BA in Islamic Studies, as well as his Master’s degree and ultimately his Ph.D. in Comparative Religions. His thesis titled Critique of Christian Issues within Will Durant’s “The Story of Civilization” is widely acclaimed.

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

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

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

William P. Benac, Sr.

Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

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

Steven T. Collis

Law Professor, University of Texas

Steven T. Collis 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.

Lauren Gray

Senior Vice President, Edelman

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

Judge Thomas B. Griffith

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

Judge Thomas B. Griffith 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.

Steve Helms

President, DFW Technology Prayer Breakfast

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

Dr. Robert Hunt

Director of Global Theological Education, SMU Perkins School of Theology

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

Kent Johnson

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

Kent Johnson 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. 

Rabbi Nancy Kasten

Chief Relationship Officer, Faith Commons

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

Rev. Dr. George A. Mason

Senior Pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church

Rev. Dr. George A. Mason 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.

Jeff Mateer

First Liberty Institute

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

Fr. Greg McBrayer

Chief Flight Controller and Corporate Chaplain of American Airlines

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

Maj. Dawn McFarland

Salvation Army

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

Shannon Minter

Legal Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights

Shannon Minter 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.     

Joey O’Donnell

University of Texas Law Student

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

Dr. Bob Roberts Jr.

Founder Northwood Church, Multifaith Neighbors Network

Dr. Bob Roberts Jr. 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.

Mark Romney

Founding Member of the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom

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

Richard Salgado

Partner at McDermott Will and Emery

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

Aiman Salih

Co-Chair of the Muslim Employee Network at TI

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

Steve Sandberg

Assistant to the President and General Counsel, Brigham Young University

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

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

Rabbi David Saperstein

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

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

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

Brett Scharffs

Director International Center for Law and Religion Studies, JR Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, Author of Points of Light

Brett Scharffs Brett Scharffs is the Rex E. Lee Chair and Professor of Law at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, and Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah Smith

Attorney, Board of Directors of the Religious Freedom Institute

Hannah Smith 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.

Bishop Kenneth Spears

Pastor, First Saint John Cathedral, Fort Worth

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

Emmalyn Spruce

University of Texas Law Student

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

Jon Thatcher

City Attorney, City of Fate

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