The 21st Annual International Law and Religion Symposium opened on Sunday evening, October 5, 2014, in the Moot Court Room of the J. Reuben Clark Law School on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Those in attendance and listening in via live webinar were welcomed by Law School Dean James R. Rasband and Brigham Young University President Kevin J Worthen. Professor W. Cole Durham, Jr., Director of the Symposium’s sponsoring organization, the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, presented the Center’s Distinguished Service Award to Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who then delivered the Keynote Address.
“This is an unsettled and unsettling time for religious liberty,” said Senator Hatch. “Both at home and abroad, religious liberty is under attack. What was once a broad consensus here in the United States that religious freedom deserves special protection has recently crumbled. … Internationally we see many troubling attacks on religious liberty.” Senator Hatch’s remarks were concerned with “why religious freedom matters, how it is under attack, and what each of us as global citizens and thought leaders can do to protect this most precious and fundamental freedom.”
Noting that religious freedom is “the oldest internationally recognized human right,” Senator Hatch decried the several ways in which “pressure is mounting to deprive religious freedom of its foundational status in the cultural and political life of our nation.” He recounted the near unanimous bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress twenty years ago for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and succeeding legislation to strenghten religious freedom protections. “But unfortunately,” he said, “times have changed.” Many senators who supported RFRA two decades ago “are now pushing legislation that would render it impotent,” and in a recent case before the Supreme Court the “administration, in effect, was asking the Court to read the Free Exercise Clause right out of the First Amendment and hold that a church is no different from any other group in terms of its relation to government. Churches, in the administration’s view, are just another social group.”
Senator Hatch urged his hearers — “academics, government leaders, journalists” — to work within their own spheres of influence to remind their fellow citizens “of our shared religious heritage and the tremendous good religion has accomplished in our society.”
To read Senator Hatch’s remarks in their entirety, please click the link below.