New Website to Focus on Freedom of Religion in American Public Schools

January 2009 – Nashville, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C.  

The First Amendment Center, with offices at Vanderbilt University and in Washington, D.C., has recently launched a new website dealing with freedom of religion in American public schools. Intended as a first step toward creating a one-stop web-based resource for schools and communities addressing these issues, this site, moderated by Charles C. Haynes, Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center, provides news, commentary and analysis, and blog discussion.

Religious Liberty and Religious Property Conference

January 2009 – Malibu, California

On 30 January 2009, the Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics at Pepperdine University School of Law hosted a Conference at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.  The conference was titled “Religious Liberty & Religious Property Disputes: Who Owns the Lord’s House?” Conference director Robert F. Cochran, Jr., the Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law and director of the Nootbaar Institute explained the focus of the gathering:  “We live in a time of uncertainty about the status of religious liberty. Courts have ordered religious hospitals and medical personnel to offer services that violate their religious beliefs. Sex abuse cases call into question whether courts can defer to church supervision of clergy, and religious organizations that require employees to share their religious commitments are charged with employment discrimination. At this conference, we considered the status of religious liberty in the United States.”

Landmarks Commission Threatens Presbyterian Church Ministry

July 2009 – New York City

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has summoned the West Park Presbyterian Church to a hearing, as a first step toward seizing control of the Church’s building as a municipal landmark, the first time that the Commission has sought to impose landmark regulations on an individual church over its objection since 1981. The Rev. N. J. L’Heureux, Jr., Executive Director of the Queens Federation of Churches and Chairman of the New York State Interfaith Commission on Landmarking Religious Property, told the Commissioners that the unanimous action of Congress in adopting the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000 was heavily influenced by the New York City LPC’s aggression against religious properties in the City. (Information and accompanying photograph taken from The Nexus of Queens Issue #369, July 19, 2009.)

“Reconciling Religious Values with Professionalism and Civility,” Religion and Law Program of the St. Thomas More Society, 5 November 2009

November 2009 – Salt Lake City

The St. Thomas More Society of Utah presented its First Annual Religion and the Law Program: “Reconciling Religious Values with Professionalism and Civility” on Thursday, November 5, 2009 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The program focused on the blending of spiritual beliefs with professionalism, civility, and professional responsibility. The panel discussion was moderated by Professor W. Cole Durham, Jr., Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University. Panelists included Alan Bachman, Assistant Utah Attorney General; Michael Lee, partner at Howrey LLP; Father Mike Sciumbato, Parish Priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church; and Michael Zimmerman, partner at Snell and Wilmer and former Chief Justice of the Utah State Supreme Court. 

“Religion, Ethics, and Peace: Honoring the Career of Professor David Little”

November 2009 – Boston

David Little, Professor of the Practice in Religion, Ethnicity, and International Conflict, has retired from Harvard.  To mark this event, the “Conference on Religion, Ethics, and Peace: Honoring the Career of Professor David Little,” co-sponsored by Harvard Divinity School and the Kroc Institute for International Peace at the University of Notre Dame, was held on November 13-14, 2009 at the Harvard Divinity School in Boston. The conference brought together leading scholars in the fields of religious ethics, religion, and human rights, and international peace studies to pay tribute to a scholar of great distinction and abiding influence.  A keynote lecture was delivered by John Witte, Jr., Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory Law School, and four panels were anchored by David Little’s colleagues and former students. ICLRS Director Cole Durham, Jr. joined participants Barney Twiss of Florida State University, Abdulaziz Sachedina of the University of Virginia, and Grace Kao of Claremont School of Theology in the panel addressing “Human Rights and Religious Freedom,” moderated by Gerard Powers, University of Notre Dame, with response by Jeremy Gunn, Al Akhawayn University, Morocco.

Committee on Religious Liberty Meeting, Washington, D.C.

September 2009 – Washington, D.C.

The Committee on Religious Liberty of the National Council of Churches in Christ met on 14 September 2009 at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., under the direction of Charles Haynes, chair, and The Rev. N. J. L’Heureux, Jr., moderator/secretary.  In attendance were 15 additional members of the Council, with 6 members sending regrets. Among the items considered at the meeting were a report by Melissa Rogers – Visiting Professor, Religious & Public Policy, Wake Forest University Divinity School and member of the new government Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships – on the progress on the Joint Statement on Religious Expression in American Public Life, which has been underway for the past two years and is expected to be completed and released by the end of the year.  Sarah Price of the Institute on Religious and Public Policy reported on international issues, including recent developments in Europe, the Middle East, China, India, North Korean, Vietnam, and Latin America. Charles Haynes recommended that members review the recent annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. 

For further details, please the the Minutes of the Conference.

Pew Forum Report: Global Restrictions on Religion

December 2009 – Washington, D.C.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has issued its report, “Global Restrictions on Religion,” a first of its kind quantitative study reviewing “an extensive number of sources to measure how governments and private actors infringe on religious beliefs and practices around the world.” The report may be consulted at the links below.

Center Co-sponsors “Defamation of Religions” Meeting at UN Headquarters – October 2009

Professor W. Cole Durham, Jr., ICLRS Director and member of the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief, moderated a roundtable discussion“Defamation of Religions: The Relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of religion”held in the Delegates’ Dining Room at the United Nations Headquarters on 28 October 2009. The meeting was co-sponsored by NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, The BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies, and The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.  In addition to Professor Durham, the discussion featured Dr. Peter Petkoff of Oxford University, Nasser Weddady of the American Islamic Congress, Angela C. Wu of the Becket Fund, Suhail Khan of the Institute for Global Engagement, and Elizabeth Cassidy of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.  

Summary from the Program

U.S. State Department Issues 2009 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom

October 2009 – Washington, D.C.

The United States Department of State has submitted to Congress its 2009 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. This report includes individual country chapters on the status of religious freedom worldwide.  In remarks accompanying the release of the report, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that religious freedom, the “first liberty mentioned in our Bill of Rights,” provides a cornerstone for every healthy society. “It empowers faith-based service. It fosters tolerance and respect among different communities. And it allows nations that uphold it to become more stable, secure and prosperous.” This year’s report, noted Secretary Clinton, “has a special focus on efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance” within the United…