From 14 to 16 February 2018, Professor Brett Scharffs, Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, and Center Senior Fellow, Neville Rochow SC, participated in a major conference in Sydney and Adelaide Australia. The conference featured leading academics and experts from Australia, the Pacific, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, addressing the conference theme: ‘Freedom of Religion or Belief: Creating the Constitutional Space for Other Fundamental Freedoms’.
The Center partnered in the conference with the University of Adelaide Law and Religion Project, Research Unit for the Study of Society, Ethics and Law and University of Notre Dame of Australia, Sydney School of Law. Its key organisers were Neville Rochow SC and Professor Paul Babie of the University of Adelaide. The first two days of the conference were held at the Sydney campus of the University of Notre Dame of Australia. The last day was held in the Moot Courtroom of the Adelaide Law School.
The timing of the conference came at a critical point in Australia’s constitutional history: the Australian Prime Minister has recently appointed an expert panel to report on whether and how Australia should change its laws to better allow for freedom of religion or belief. That Panel is due to report in early April 2018. The Panel approached the conference organisers to have a roundtable session on the subject with leading academics and other experts who were present at the conference. Both Professor Brett Scharffs; and Senior Fellow and Neville Rochow SC from the Center were among those specifically asked to make oral submissions to the Panel during the roundtable session. Neville Rochow was asked to make the first oral submissions at the roundtable session. Subsequently, one of the Panel members approached separately him to inquire about his experiences in the European Union with Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty. The Panel was particularly interested in Professor Scharffs’ experience in the United States and asked him to expand upon the politicisation of freedom of religion that had occurred there.
Soon after the conference, the organisers received an invitation from the European Parliament to express interest in a research project with the European Parliament and to consider the possibility of participating with the Parliament in a conference in Brussels.
Sharon Eubank, Director of LDS Charities and First Counsellor in the General Relief Society Presidency of the LDS Church presented on the international charitable and emergency relief work of LDS Charities. The LDS Church gained prominence as a result of this session as a first responder and charitable partner with several other aid agencies.
The standard of presentations was extremely high. At a dedicated session held as a part of the Adelaide sessions on 16 February 2018 all in attendance agreed to produce a substantial academic book and possibly other more generally accessible publications from the papers and proceedings of the conference.
Over the three days of the conference, the following made presentations in the sessions:
Professor Brett Scharffs, (BYU); Professor Michael Quinlan, (Dean, Notre Dame Law School); Professor Paul Babie (University of Adelaide Law and Religion Project, Research Unit for the Study of Society, Ethics and Law); Professor Carolyn Evans (Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Provost, University of Melbourne); Dr Keith Thompson (Assistant Dean, Notre Dame Law School); Professor Alex Deagon (Queensland University of Technology); Archbishop Porteous (Catholic Archdiocese of Hobart); Professor Rick Sarre (University of South Australia Law School); Dr Joel Harrison (Macquarie University Law School); Dr Paul Taylor (University of Notre Dame Law School); Professor Neville Rochow SC (University of Adelaide, Australia); Professor Eugene Tan (Singapore Management University); Jessica Giles (Open University, UK); Simon McCrossan (Evangelical Alliance, UK); Professor Patrick Parkinson AM (University of Sydney Law School, Australia); Dr Jeremy Patrick (University of Southern Queensland School of Law and Justice, Australia); Reverend Peter Kurti and Bishop (retired) Robert Forsyth (respectively Senior Research Fellow and Senior Fellow, Centre for Independent Studies, Australia); Sharon Eubank (Director, LDS Charities, United States); Professor Pauline Ridge (Australian National University); Mark Fowler (University of Queensland; Notre Dame Law School, Australia); Fearghas O’Beara (Adviser to the Vice-President and Secretary-General of the European Parliament, Belgium); Professor Mark Hill QC (Cardiff, UK); A/Professor Neil Foster (University of Newcastle Law School, Australia); the Honourable Phillip Ruddock MP (Former Attorney-General; Chair of the Expert Panel, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet) and Panel Members Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, the Honourable Dr Annabelle Bennett AO, SC, and Professor Nicholas Aroney; Professor Zachary Calo (Hamid bin Khalafi University, Qatar); Joshua Forrester (Murdoch University, Australia); Professor Augusto Zimmerman (Sheridan College, Faculty of Business, Australia); Dr Ping Xiong (University of South Australia Law School); Dr Brian Adams (Director, Centre for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue, Griffith University, Australia); Dr Renae Barker (University of Western Australia).
No conference of this size and importance can be a success without the contributions of many who have assisted in the planning and execution behind the scenes. Special acknowledgment and thanks go to the students and staff of each of the university law schools who worked unstintingly to ensure success. In addition, thanks go to the Andersens and Murdocks from the Auckland office of the LDS Church Area Legal Counsel, who stepped in to add to the great work of the student volunteers. The combined work of all who graciously volunteered made the conference a success.