Reflections on the Grodno, Belarus Conference
by Professor John Young
One of the more interesting creatures of children’s literature is the pushmi-pullyu. This two-headed creature that graced the world of Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle possessed one head on each end, and could only advance in one direction if the other half was willing to retreat. I was reminded of the pushmi-pullyu during a conference on “Religious Belief in Contemporary Society,” held in Grodno, Belarus, December 8-9, 2006. Sponsored by the Yanka Kupala State University of Grodno and the State Committee on Religious and National Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, the conference was attended by some 70 participants, including local clergy, government officials, and academics, and joined by ten foreign scholars from Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, United Kingdom, and Canada.
As with many other independent states, which have emerged from the former Soviet Union, Belarus struggles to find a balance between individual rights and social order. Like the fictional pushmi-pullyu, any gain in one direction is perceived as a retreat for the other. An early period of religious freedom in the aftermath of 1991 led to a wide variety of new religious beliefs and associations. This sudden growth raised concerns in Belarus that national identity and social stability were threatened, and a rigorous pursuit of order and stability began with a change of government in 1994. Sandwiched between Poland and Russia, the 10 million people of Belarus occupy a geographical, cultural, and historical crossroads. Their ancestors have witnessed some of the major military campaigns of European history, including those of Napoleon and Hitler. The human cost–one in five residents of Belarus perished during World War II – has left a mark on a culture that cherishes peace and stability. Reconciling agency with order and balancing rights and responsibilities is a challenging political task in every society. Belarus is home to a variety of religious confessions: about two-thirds of the population described themselves as religious believers. Among that group, 80% identify with Orthodoxy, and 15% with Catholicism. Most of the remaining believers are Protestant, with additional Moslem and Jewish congregations. (Of a total of 2,829 registered religious congregations, three are LDS.) A 2002 law on religion affirmed a practice of state registration of religious association, restricting property use for religious meetings, visas for foreign clergy, and the importation of religious literature. The law was justified as a legitimate effort to defend historical traditions and national identity. The law makes a distinction between traditional and nontraditional religions.
Yet even though Catholicism and Calvinism have long established histories in Belarus, they have still faced challenges in obtaining building permits and visas for foreign priests. The same is true for autonomous Orthodox parishes outside the influence of the Moscow Patriarchate. In contrast, the official Belarusian Orthodox Church (exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church), enjoys unofficial status as preferred religion, and has been described by the President of Belarus as “one of the most important pillars of our state.” For many, Orthodoxy is synonymous with Belarusian national identity. Efforts to strengthen a national consciousness thus coincide with elevating the dominant traditional religion. In a society where such significant political, economic, and social change has occurred within the past generation, any defense of the past can be persuasive.
The Orthodox Church is one of the few institutions to link disparate historical eras with the present. If, as Burke once noted, a society is a partnership among the dead, the living, and the unborn, then such links are indeed critical. Perhaps, most importantly, Orthodox theology, with its emphasis on sobornost (loosely translated as unity or togetherness) offers a remedy to the negative consequences of individualism unfettered by social responsibility. As with many religions, the Orthodox faith teaches that individual agency ennobles only when balanced by a commitment to the collective good. Thus, the contemporary climate for religious freedom in Belarus is circumscribed within a greater concern for tradition and national identity. The pushmi-pullyu (in Russian, tyan-i-tolkai) animates the relationship, with any gains in religious freedom perceived as threatening social solidarity, and vice-versa.
This tension was evident during many of the discussions at the Grodno conference. Specific papers highlighted such topics as the impact of new religious movements on society, the collaboration of churches in philanthropic work, the influence of religious freedom on national identity, and the predicted demise of Christian civilization. Underlying such discussion, however, was a perceived trade-off between individual rights and the public good. Inasmuch as the public good is equated with one particular tradition and one particular faith, then finding a balance between the two will remain an eternal and elusive pursuit. An alternative approach would be to highlight, first, how individual freedoms tempered by a commitment to the public good can strengthen society; and, second, how different faiths all have capacity to benefit society. In this regard, Belarus actually has a wonderful, alternative tradition. The legal tradition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the 16th century declared a strong commitment to religious tolerance. The third legal code of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1588) declared, “And if there should be significant difference in the Christian faith, we vow to ourselves and to our descendants for all time, under oath, on our faith, dignity and conscience, that those who differ in faith will keep peace with one another.” Helping to promote this tradition is the work of the International Center for Law and Religious Studies.
Law Student Receives Internship with the U.S. State Department, Office of International Religious Freedom
Suzanne Sitthichai, a second year law student at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, and former Summer Research Fellow, recently accepted an invitation to intern at the Office of International Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State during the summer of 2007. Suzanne is the first Summer Research Fellow to apply for, and receive, an internship with the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom. Each year, the Center employs up to a dozen Summer Research Fellows after their first year of law school. They complete a six-week externship at one of the offices of the International Legal Counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These offices are located in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Peru, Russia and Salt Lake. Following their externship, the Summer Research Fellows return to Provo to support the scholarship of the Center by performing legal research on a variety of religious freedom issues. During her assignment at the State Department, Suzanne will be assigned to the geographical area of East Asia and the Pacific, working with the senior staff member who oversees that area of the world. According to the U.S. State Department website, “The Office of International Religious Freedom has the mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy.” Suzanne will help the office to “monitor religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommend and implement policies in respective regions or countries, and develop programs to promote religious freedom.” See http://www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/. One of the important outputs of this office is an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom that includes an assessment for each country in the world. Ultimately, the work of this office is used by Congress and the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Suzanne is a fluent Thai speaker and well-qualified for her assignment to East Asia and the Pacific. She has also been an important contributor to the Center’s research efforts on religious freedom. The Center congratulates Suzanne on receiving this prestigious externship and wishes her well in her continued law school studies.
Center Completes Successful Fundraising During 2006
Two thousand six was a successful year for fundraising by the Center, bringing it ever closer to its endowment-funding goals. The Center built on the past success of the “Cornerstone Campaign” by establishing a development committee headed by members of the International Advisory Council. The Development Committee now meets bi-monthly to review its progress and coordinate its efforts. As a result, the Center received significant new pledges and cash donations toward its goal of becoming self-funded through its endowment. The Center wishes to express its deep appreciation to the members of the Development Committee and the many generous donors to the Center. With the continued help and support of our generous donors, the Center hopes to continue its momentum into 2007.
Cole Durham to Assist with Thai Constitution
Through legal staff of the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, Cole Durham has recently been requested to assist building a team of foreign experts to provide comments on proposed provisions for a new constitution for the kingdom of Thailand. During the Fall of 2006, a bloodless coup toppled the Thai government led by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Now, the military leadership is anxious to revise the Thai constitution paving the way for democratic rule. Professor Durham comes at this task with the experience gained last year when he assisted the interim Iraqi government formulate the new constitution with particular emphasis on its extremely important religious provisions. He will now put this experience to work on behalf of 62 million Thai citizens. As the history the United States and of many other nations illustrate, new constitutions do not generally arise from peaceful circumstances, but often follow political revolution. Although the circumstances surrounding the formation of a country’s new constitution may be tumultuous, its importance in the lives of the citizens is paramount. The constitution provides the framework for a legal system designed to protect the human rights of the citizens, including the right to religious freedom. We wish Professor Durham well in this extremely important assignment.
Religious Organizations and the Law
William Bassett, author of “Religious Organizations and the Law,” has asked Professor Durham to assume responsibility for updating and supplementing the treatise. This seminal work on the legal operations of religious organizations in the United States has been an indispensable tool for practitioners, scholars and general counsel of religious organizations. We commend Professor Bassett on his groundbreaking work in this field and hope to add to his legacy.
Thanks to the Madsens
The Center wishes to express gratitude to Erlyn and Duane Madsen, members of the International Advisory Council, for helping the Center develop improved systems of communication with the many friends of the Center. Based on their experience, we are developing new methods for maintaining our network of friends and colleagues.
Nearons Donate Paintings to the Center
David and Linda Nearon have generously donated three paintings, which were painted by Linda Nearon. These paintings depict Al Khazneh (“the Treasury”) in Petra, Jordan, The St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine, and Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest Hungary. We are grateful to Linda for her artistic talent and generosity in sharing that talent with the Center. Al Khazneh Petra, Jordan St. Sophia Cathedral Kiev, Ukraine Vajdahunyad Castle Budapest, Hungary
Religious Human Rights Courses for Islamic Universities
Professor W. Cole Durham, Jr. has recently participated in two projects which would help introduce religious human rights courses into Islamic education systems at the graduate and undergraduate level. With Professor Tore Lindholm, of the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo, and the Oslo Coalition for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Professor Durham developed a set of course materials for a masters’ level law course focusing on the right to freedom of religion or belief in international and comparative constitutional law. Additionally, Professors Durham and Lindholm will introduce a religious freedom module that could be incorporated into an undergraduate human rights course. These projects were undertaken in conjunction with Islamic universities interested in developing religious freedom curricula.
Conference in Oslo, Norway On December 1-4, 2006, the Center co-sponsored the 2006 “Conference on Law and Religion in Transitional Societies: Comparative Approaches to the Rule of Law,” which was held in Oslo, Norway. Additional co-sponsors were the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief, University of Oslo; Institute for World Religions, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University School of Law; Pu Shi Institute for Social Science; and the Council on Faith and International Affairs.
Program • Remarks • Participants
Conference in Istanbul, Turkey On December 9-10, 2006, Professor W. Cole Durham, Jr. participated in the “International Symposium on Religion and State in Europe,” which was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Professor Durham presented a paper entitled “Globalization and Freedom of Religion: Respecting the Dignity of Difference.”
Conference in Grodno, Belarus
On December 8-9, 2006 Professor John F. Young participated in the “Religious Belief in Contemporary Society, held in Grodno, Belarus. Sponsored by the Yanka Kupala State University of Grodno and the State Committee on Religious and National Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, the conference was attended by some 70 participants, including local clergy, government officials, and academics, and joined by ten foreign scholars from Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, United Kingdom, and Canada.
Consultation in Bristol, England
Professor W. Cole Durham, Jr. participated in an Expert Consultation on the subject of The European Union and the Religious Dimensions of Law: Issues and Challenges,” which was held on January 12-13, 2007 at the University of Bristol School of Law, United Kingdom.
Islam and the European Court: A Critical View Prominent scholars discuss Refah Partisi (The Welfare Party) and Others v. Turkey and Leyla Sahin v. Turkey, two decisions from the European Court of Human Rights significantly impacting the free exercise of religion. Contributors offer critiques of the Court’s decisions as well as the resulting obstacles to future cases concerning religious freedom with a focus on Islam in particular.
Freedom of Religion or Belief: A Deskbook, Translations. The Center, in conjunction with the Oslo Coalition for Human Rights is sponsoring translation into Russian and Indonesian of select chapters of the Deskbook. Once translation is complete, the abridgment will be published and available for Russian and Indonesian scholars and others interested in religious freedom. The Center is also beginning work on translation of the Deskbook into Arabic and Mandarin Chinese.
February 16-17, 2007, J. Reuben Clark Law Society Annual Conference, Malibu, California February
27-March 1, 2007, International Religious Liberty Association 6th World Congress, Cape Town, South Africa March 1 International Advisory Council Meeting
March 5-6, 2007, Leadership Conference on the Future of Religion in the Public Schools: Beyond the Culture Wars, Nashville, Tennessee • Program
March 23, 2007, Financing of Religion in America and Europe, Milan, Italy • Program
April 22-25, 2007, Anniversary of the 1997 Religion Law, Perm, Russia
October 7-9, 2007, Fourteenth Annual International Law and Religion Symposium, Provo, Utah