Opening Session

Abigail Rich
Law School Reporter

Scholars, government officials and human rights workers from around the world congregated Sunday evening, 7 October 2012, for the opening session of the Nineteenth Annual International Law and Religion Symposium. The three distinguished keynote speakers who addressed the diverse audience delved into this year’s topic, “Religion, Democracy and Civil Society.” W. Cole Durham, Jr., Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, moderated the session. Symposium delegates and visitors were…

First Plenary Session: The Role of Religion in Democratic Transformations

Natalie Wright Romeri-Lewis, Research Advisor

James R. Rasband, Dean, J. Reuben Clark Law School, and Cecil O. Samuelson, President, Brigham Young University, welcomed delegates and guests. 

The first panelist was Jeffrey Haynes, Associate Dean of Faculty, Research, and Postgraduate and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Conflict, and Cooperation at London Metropolitan University, UK. The presentation of Professor Haynes focused on “Religion, democratisation and the Arab Spring.” The democratic direction of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is neither clear cut nor unidirectional, observed Professor Haynes. The relationship of Islamist with democracy in MENA varies from country to country, informed by both internal and external factors. The relationship of how religious actors affect democratisation had long been controversial, and it seems it seems clear that, so far religion is not pivotal actor in relation to democratization in MENA. Professor Haynes concluded by stating that the third wave of democratization in Eastern Europe is not the same as the transformations emerging as a result of Arab Spring.
The second panelist was Sophie van Bijsterveld, Professor of Law at Tilburg Law school, Universiteit van Tilburg, the Netherlands. Professor van Bijsterveld began by explaining how a strong civil society evolved in the Netherlands, a case study for how religion and democracy can interact. For centuries, the majority of residents knew about and understood the various religions throughout the Netherlands. Government and public institutions developed alongside religious communities, known entities. The last century has seen a rise of faiths, including Islam, that are relatively unknown to many citizens. Policy and law must reflect how society has decided to treat religion as an entity and whether to better integrate and protect the practices of faiths that are relatively unknown, but quickly growing. 
Professor van Bijsterveld noted that democracy and religion also interact when a faith is uncompromising about a particular religious practice. For example, although some European and South American Jews may be uncompromising when it comes to male circumcision, the laws of their nations may reflect rising concerns about the physical integrity of the child. In individual legal cases, Professor van Bijsterveld would like to see legislators and judges allow time and room for healthy debate regarding the place of religion in democracies. Because democracies like to solve problems quickly, a rapid judicial ruling or law may not reflect all perspectives and might create more problems than it solves.   
The third panelist was Scott Hibbard, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, DePaul University, USA. Professor Hibbard reviewed recent Egyptian history and concluded that Egypt is in transformation. “Post-Arab Spring politics has begun a debate on the role of religion and minority groups in society.” Although some stakeholders believe that Islam threatens democratic state-building, Professor Hibbard believes that the military, militant groups, and the Salafists — not Islam — threaten Egypt’s democratic transition. Professor Hibbard next noted that democratic transitions have economic, political, and cultural aspects. First, he explained that what drove people of both sexes, all ages, and all socio-economic levels to the streets was economic discontent and a perceived lack of future. Second, a country needs free and fair elections to fulfill the political requirements of democracy, but such elections are not sufficient when viewing democracy as a ladder to climb. 
Professor Hibbard spent the majority of his presentation addressing the third category of government transformation: cultural change. Under phase one of the transition, diverse people protested alongside each other. The majority of people voted for the Muslim Brotherhood as an alternative to Mubarak and his family — not as a declaration that they wanted an Islamic state. The Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood led well-funded and well-organized campaigns, benefiting from both the financial contributions of Gulf countries which oppose democracy and from broad grassroots networks. Despite growing interest in democracy and political reform, secular political groups lost because they lacked money and such grassroots organizing. 
Under phase two of the transition, Egyptians become divided as they are asked to consider the type of state they would like to create and who is “Egyptian”. When advancing democracy, Egyptians prefer to use “civil state” and not “secular state” as the latter conjures notions of Colonialism and Western culture. Using that terminology, should a state be religious? Should a state be civil and neutral to religion in that it does not discriminate in belief? Are Egyptians Muslim, Sunni Muslim, or something else? The agreement on group identity will shape Egypt’s Constitution. 
Professor Hibbard stated that in addition to identity, Egypt will have to answer major questions regarding political philosophy: Is it the role of the state to use government coercive power to create a religious state if desired by the majority? The Salafists understand democracy to mean that if a majority of people vote in the Muslim Brotherhood then that party has the right to change the rules, including judicial procedure, women’s rights, and the rights of non-Muslims. Factions within the Muslim Brotherhood show generational divisions and ideological divisions. Some factions want more of a “civil state” than others. However, some Islamic scholars see the importance of distancing government and religion for the sake of protecting religion. Thus, an unintended consequence of Arab Spring is a very vibrant debate on what is the role of religion in society and how each group can interpret its own religion in a modern state. 

Second Plenary Session: Religious Organizations, Civil Society, and Pluralism

Jordan Pendergrass, Research Advisor

Allen Hertzke, Presidential Professor of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma, began the session by establishing a government-civil society paradox. Governments, he explained, feel the impulse to intrude upon civil society and whenever they succumb to the impulse their efficacy is undermined and certain classes are discouraged from making positive contributions to society. Mr. Hertzke cited a variety of social scientists whose findings point to the centrality of religious organizations. He continued by showing that there are strong correlations between social goods and the free exercise of religion. He made reference to the “Twin Tolerations” and the cycles of religious freedom and religious violence….

Third Plenary Session: Religion in Public and Private

Joe Hepworth, Research Advisor

Brett G. Scharffs, Francis R. Kirkham Professor of Law and Associate Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies, moderated the Third Plenary Session, titled “Religion in Public and Private.”

Hanna Kildani, Secretary General, Jordanian Christian Council of Churches, Jordan, argued for a balance between religion and democracy in civil society. Christian theology believes that religion serves mankind. Democracy and religion are seeking to…

Fourth Plenary Session: Conference Summation and Reflections on Conference Themes

Michael B. Wood, Research Advisor

The Nineteenth International Law and Religion Symposium concluded with its fourth plenary session.

Ten of the 80 delegates were selected to provide their personal reflections on the themes that developed during the symposium:

  • Ligia Dias Fonseca, First Lady, Office of the President of Cape Verde
  • William Schmidt, Doctor of Philosophy, Dean of Faculty of Religious Studies, Ethnocultural Studies and Regional Studies, John the Apostle Orthodox Institute, Russian Orthodox University, Russia

Africa: Ghana, Liberia, and South Africa

Brent Andrus, Regional Research Advisor for Africa

E.K. Quansah – Mountcrest University College; Accra, Ghana
Title: Religion, Democracy and Civil Society: The Case of “Witches” in Ghana

Religion plays a significant role in politics and society in most African nations and blends easily with politics. In Ghana, religious freedom is openly encouraged by the government. However, the practice of witchcraft is a serious issue. Yet, ironically, witchcraft is commonly encouraged by pastors of small, charismatic churches. It is common during calamities, such as the death of a child, for a scapegoat…

Armenia and Georgia

Robert F. Orton, Europe Area Research Manager

Stepan Danielyan, Armenia, is current editor-in-chief of both Religion and Society, a scientific journal, and the Religions in Armenia website ( He also serves as chair of “Collaboration for Democracy,” an NGO operating from Yerevan, and is a former producer and political commentator for Armenian National TV and author of more than 400 articles and interviews in international and local magazines. We are witnessing in Armenia, said Mr. Danielyan, the convergence of state with the national church which, along with other majority churches, aspire to an evolution into religious monopolies. As a result, churches have become the target of widespread criticism by society as reflected in proposed legislation which threatens religious…

Bolivia and Colombia

Mark Wood, Research Advisor

Maria Patricia Ariza-Velasco is Fourth Deputy Attorney before the Council of State, Procuraduria General de la Republica de Colombia. Ms. Ariza-Velasco reviewed the evolution and nature of religious freedoms as found in the Colombian constitution, statutes and case law. She discussed how these freedoms impact everyday life in Colombia in areas such as marriage, education, military service and in the guarantees of freedom of conscience. She stated that the assumption always favors the freedom of religion.

Ninoska Lazarte, Councilwoman, Municipal Council of Cochabamba City, Bolivia, gave a brief description of the religious composition of the Bolivian population. She stated that in the future this information will be more difficult to obtain. Beginning…

Cape Verde and Brazil

Gaylee Coverston, Research Advisor

The session on Cape Verde and Brazil began with a presentation from Ligia Dias Fonseca, the First Lady of Cape Verde. She presented a general overview of Cape Verde, a republic consisting of ten islands with a relatively young population.  She spoke on the consitution of the republic partularly clarifying article 48, Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Creed.  Ms. Fonseca covered the legal requirements for registration of a religion and gave a statistical view of current religions in the country.  She emphasized the need for interaction and respect.  She also explained that even though Cape Verde is a civil state and the laws and statutes on religious freedom are clear and specific, a form of civil religion is expressed through certain civil ceremonies that are presided over by catholic representatives.&nbsp…

Central America: Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala

Mark Wood, Research Advisor

Marylin Vallarino, Member of Congress, National Congress of Panama
Ms. Vallarino spoke of the various institutions which form or mold a person’s behavior and character including the family, school, religion, media and “the street”. She focused on the importance of religion in helping to create just, compassionate, caring people and a society of peace, justice and fairness. She spoke of how this by-product of religion helps to temper the always present political temptation for…


Natalie Wright Romeri-Lewis, Research Advisor

Liu Peng, Director, Pu Shi Institute for Social Science, China presented the top ten issues in religion and the rule of law in China today. First, China must define the role of religion it wants in its society and determine whether religion is a negative or positive element in society. He feels that more people today, as opposed to the 1960s, feel religion is useful and positive in society, but “no one makes an announcement” to that fact. Second, the new model must protect religious freedom and preserve the separation of church and state….

Dominican Republic

Natalie Wright Romeri-Lewis, Research Advisor

Fidel Lorenzo Meran, Minister, Dominican Council of Evangelical Unity, described in detail the Christian roots of the Dominican Republic and how the country embeds Christianity in government. First, the name ‘Dominican Republic’ means ‘Land of God.’ As the Dominican Republic became independent, it did so enshrining three principles: “God, Fatherland, and Liberty.” The three principles reflect the trinity and are found in the Constitution. Next, the Constitution specifically mentions the Catholic and Evangelical churches by name. In addition, when taking an oath, politicians state, “I promise in front of God.” Furthermore, the flag of the Dominican Republic is the only flag in the world with an open Bible and a cross….

Europe: Italy, Germany, and Norway

Robert F. Orton
Regional Research Advisor

José T. Martín de Agar, Italy, has been a Catholic priest since 1976. He is a Doctor of Canon Law (1976) and Law (1984); an Assistant Professor of Canon Law at the Faculty of Canon Law of Navarra; and a Professor of Church-State Relations and State Law on Religion since 1978 in the same university. Since 1984, he has taught such subjects in Rome at the Faculty of Canon Law at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce. His interests include freedom of religion. The Pope has frequently addressed the topic of religious freedom. Freedom of religion should be a civil right and must…


Richard Hutchison, Regional Research Advisor

In a breakout session of the 19th annual International Law and Religion Symposium, Jesus Alcantara Mendez, Javier Saldana Serrano, and Maximo Moscoso Pintado each presented an analysis of issues involving religious liberties in Mexico.  

Maximo Moscos Pintado, the Religious Affairs Coordinator of the State of Tabasco, Secretaria de Gobernacion, presented an historical overview of religious liberties in Mexico. Starting with the original natives found in Mexico when the Spanish first arrived, Pintado traced the development of religious liberties…


Gaylee Coverston, Research Advisor

Professor Juan Carlos A. Valderrama started the session with a brief historical perspective of government in Peru, touching on the various types of regimes.  As he approached the concept of democracy and its development in Peru, he explained that civil and religious societies each have their reasons for existence, however, “Democracy and religion are two different realities and should not have influence on each other.” Professor Valderrama continued to illustrate how the various forms of government and influences from western liberty have lead to the current government committed to a lay state.

The session proceeded with Judge Jorge


Francesco Di Lillo, Research Advisor

Professor William Vladimirovich Schmidt, John the Apostle Orthodox Institute, Russian Orthodox University, and Ekaterina Elbakyan, Professor of Sociology and Management of Social Processes, Moscow Academy of Labor and Social Relations, presented during the session focusing on Russia about the relationship between the individual and religion, as well as the legal practice on matter related to religious freedom.

Professor Schmidt took an intensive philosophical approach discussing religion from the perspective of the three concepts of the human, the individual and the personality. These concepts create the foundations of metaphysical systems which, in turn, realize their potential in specific logical models (Cartesian, Trinitarianism and eclectic poliontologism). The concept of “human” can develop 1) as a personality with morality as its primary…


Francesco Di Lillo, Research Advisor

Taras Antoshevskyy, Director of the Religious Information Service of Ukraine, and Maksym Vasin, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Freedom, discussed the status of religious freedom in Ukraine.

Mr. Antoshevskyy, regarded as the leading Catholic expert on religious freedom in Ukraine, offered an historical overview of the presence of Christian denominations in Ukraine, their relationships with each other and the state, leading up to our days and. He explained that Ukraine enjoyed centuries of peaceful coexistence between different religious groups, even at times when the rest of Europe was thorn by religious persecutions….

United States

Natalie Wright Romeri-Lewis, Research Advisor




Ben Wishart, Research Advisor

DO Quang Hung, Professor, International Politics Department; Faculty of Political Science, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University discussed how Vietnam is striving to create more effective religious laws. Vietnam is a secular state, but is going through a period of “religious reconfiguration.”

New religious policy in Vietnam began on or around 1990 with a policy called, “Resolution 24.” Under this resolution two ordinances have significantly changed how religion in Vietnam is viewed…