Encouraging robust religious freedom is a critical foundation for peace and stability in the Middle East, said panelists discussing the ongoing violence facing Christians in the region.

"If you don't have religious freedom, you're not going to have a stable democracy, you're not going to have stable growth," said Dr. Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

Farr spoke alongside other panelists at a Sept. 3 event on Christians in the Middle East, held at the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C.

Although ISIS cannot be stopped with religious freedom alone, he said, the West should continue promoting religious liberty for all persecuted minorities, including the many Muslims who oppose ISIS and other radical movements, in order to stop these ideas from spreading.

"Religious Freedom is very much needed in the Middle East, indeed it's needed now," he stressed. "What we have to do is what we should have been doing all along, and that is the promotion of stable self-governance grounded in religious freedom."  

"If we do not do the hard work," Farr warned, "we will suffer and our children will suffer" from the consequences of restricted religious freedom around the world. "We've got to get in this game, and at the root of it is religious freedom."

Also speaking at the event was Andrew Doran, executive director of In Defense of Christians, a non-profit organization focusing on religious persecution of minorities in the Middle East. The organization is hosting its inaugural Summit for Middle East Christians from Sept. 9-11 in Washington, D.C.

Doran argued that the West – particularly the United States – has a duty to protect Christians facing persecution in the Middle East, especially in areas affected by U.S. military interventions in the past.

"There is a duty to defend those you put in harm's way when you do the harm," he said, adding that "the international community has a duty to do that as well."

Jordan Allott, a senior advisor for In Defense of Christians, said that the West should protect those who are being persecuted "not just because they're Christians and we're Christians and we want to help our brothers and sisters," but also because "it's a national security issue."

Many Christian communities in the Middle East, he said, "have been there for longer than Islam has been around," and contribute to their communities and nations.

"If they're not there, it also poses a national security risk for us" due to the destabilization of the region that would result, he continued.

Farr echoed many of Allott's observations on the contribution of Christians to societies in the Middle East.

He said leaders of countries that are currently being emptied of Christians must consider: "do you really want to chase all of these people out who have been a positive contribution to your society?"