Symposium 2013: Fourth Plenary Session, Summaries and Conclusions

To bring the 20th Annual International Law and Religion Symposium to a close, Professor Cole Durham invited eight Symposium delegates

to join him in making summary comments. The delegates expressed their appreciation for the organizers of the conference and the gracious reception from volunteers and organizers alike. They also reflected on insights and inspiring concepts from the symposium. 

Rana R. Arna’out, Magistrate Court Judge, Judicial Council, Madaba Court of First Instance, Jordan
Judge Arna’out expressed appreciation for the diversity of the delegates and their experience and in learning how they deal with conflicts and obstacles. They have given her ideas on what to do regarding freedom of religion in Jordan. She mentioned that she was filled with ideas and concepts that she will enjoy discussing with her fellow judges upon returning home

Anna Nardini, Director General, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Italy
Director Nardine noted that the geography of religion in Italy has changed dramatically and requires constant dialogue, causing great thought for the Italian government  She noted that the poster for the symposium is very symbolic. The doors are all closed. She hopes that the next time we are together the doors will be open. 

Shiferaw Teklemariam, Minister of Federal Affairs, Ethiopia
Dr. Telemariam expressed how this symposium created the opportunity to learn of  other countries’ experiences and witness their high standards, and to rethink about the dynamics of religion and humanity. The design of symposium discourse brought a spirit of unity, collaboration, and cooperation to the issues of human rights and religious freedom. Dr. Telemariam reviewed highlights of Ethiopia’s path in preserving and protecting such rights and freedom, as they are working on a religion law in Ethiopia. This symposium suggested potential options. He concluded with an invitation for all to come visit his country and experience the Coffee Ceremony of Ethiopia 

Alejandro Ordoñez Maldonado, Attorney General of Colombia
Attorney General Ordoñez noted the tension between religious freedom and the state. He mentioned that presently in the West, we cannot say that a state religion exists, even though state secularism is a philosophy that public policy seeks to impose. Therefore, in essence, it has become a “secular religion,” hence the absolute necessity of conscious objection, the ability to abstain from a task due to rights of conscience. Dr. Ordoñez cited again Article 19 of the Constitution of Colombia, that allows for conscious objection, accessible by all citizens even public employees, permitting them not to be forced to act contrary to their beliefs. This remarkable option resolves the issue of conscience versus imposed duty.The tension that we are presently enduring is state secularism as a philosophy that as a public policy seeks to impose itself and marginalize religion and its effect on society. For example, abortion as a fundamental right and homosexual marriage are being taught in school. What happens to the rights of parents? Religion becomes an obstacle to the cultural engineering that is taking place. It is not a matter of finding religious states but of public policy seeking to neutralize the influence of religion in social life.  

Hermen Shastri, General Secretary, Council of Inter-Religious Harmony
Universal respect that there are constitutional frameworks, legal instruments and best practices throughout the world. Nations are evolving, and one needs to be aware of political realities. He expressed gratitude for the network and resources throughout the world to work on issues of religious freedom and human rights. He reiterated that universal respect is essential as well as learning about and from each other. This is the only way to truly foster understanding. 

Volodymyr Zagoldnyi, Judge, Supreme Court of Ukraine
Judge Zagoldni gratefully acknowledged Judge Clifford Wallace’s presence at the symposium and welcomed the insights he presented. He also expressed appreciation for Brigham Young University, the beauties of Utah, and the wonderful cultural entertainment. He presented beautiful gifts from the Supreme Court of Ukraine to Professor Cole Durham.

David Little, T.J. Dermot Dunphy Professor Emeritus of the Practice in Religion, Ethnicity, and International Conflict, Harvard Divinity School ; Research Fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs
Professor Little discussed theory, attitudes, and practice. Professor Gill’s argument that government should be reduced to allow freedom to flourish is very controversial and needs more investigation. The special character of rights of conscience deserves additional attention. Justification of rights, whether there is a natural standard that can be universal, deserves more attention as well. Alternative conflict resolution in the matter of religious disputes also deserves more focus. 

Dr. Little left three theories to ponder. First, reduced government allows people to practice their rights. One thing to consider is that it is expensive to enforce rights. Second, the right of religious freedom should be separate from other conscience freedoms. This is an especially controversial idea and should be given special attention. Third, justification of rights, the stating of grounds for enforcing human rights. The reasons for rights vary; therefore, no standard exists. Can a secular standard apply or must it vary according to cultural concerns? Professor Little, in conclusion, discussed the question of respect. In pursuit of respect, regarding rights of conscience, religions and the secular must discover mutual respect, and in cases of discord, alternative dispute resolution should be sought.

Rakesh Hamal, Executive Director, GP Koirala Foundation for Democracy, Peace & Development; Chairman: National Rehabilitation Society for the Disabled (NGO)
Nepal is drafting a new constitution after a long period of dominance by a particular religion. The symposium has influenced his thinking on religious freedom, and that freedom will be an important part of the new constitution.

Concluding remarks by Professor Durham
Following tradition, Cole Durham reviewed the themes of and summarized the symposium.  He said, “We have invited you into the heart of our community.”  He noted that his religion has been persecuted in the past and observed that one of the responsibilities we have is never to be guilty of persecuting the minority. Too often, a persecuted minority that becomes a majority then becomes the persecutor. Professor Durham also observed that religious freedom goes to the core of our religious identity.

Professor Durham discussed the metaphor of doorways (to Anna Nardini: The door on the bottom left is open slightly ….) Some ideas are sacred enough that they should be behind a closed door. In other ways, we should look for ways to open doors. We should find ways to look at complex issues and live together in practical ways. The doorway image suggests opening conversations. We appreciate the doorways that are opened to us. Doorways can be an entry way into sensing the illumination that others have. 

Areas of illumination: Thinking beyond the law. Alternative dispute resolution. Judiciary does not have all the answers. We need to struggle for the answers. We need to find holistic approaches, ways that think beyond the abstract collision of rights and find practical ways to live together. We need to resolve what has been called polarization amplification. We need to find ascending kinds of equality rather than descending kinds of equality.

One more doorway. There is a doorway to our campus that says “Enter to Learn; Go Forth to Serve.”  We’ve had an opportunity to be here. We hope you will find ways to take what you have learned here to make a difference.

With thanks to Joseph Hepworth and Gaylee Coverston for notes.