BYU ICLRS Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Defending Religious Freedom

News Story

For the past 25 years, the International Center for Law and Religion Studies (ICLRS) at the J. Reuben Clark Law School of Brigham Young University (Utah) has brought together government, academic and religious leaders to explore principles of religious liberty and ways to better implement them. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns and operates Brigham Young University.

The 2018 International Law and Religion Symposium was held October 7–9 and commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) with the theme “Human Dignity and Freedom of Religion or Belief.” Session topics included the history and implementation of the UDHR, human dignity as a central idea of human rights and the protection of international religious freedom and human dignity.

Since the symposium’s inception in 1993, more than 1,300 delegates from 125 countries have participated. This year’s contributors included 98 delegates from 51 countries, including three Canadians. Giuliana Natale — the director of Inclusion and Religious Freedom, Office of Human Rights, Global Affairs Canada — participated in the first plenary session. She summarized key Canadian initiatives, both domestic and international, in support of freedom of religion and belief.

Professor Solange Lefebvre, Research Chair for the Management of Cultural and Religious Diversity, University of Montreal, and professor Dwight Newman, law professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights in Constitutional and International law, University of Saskatchewan, participated in the Canada session, reviewing past and present leading cases in Canadian human rights law.

Professor W. Cole Durham Jr., ICLRS founding director and Susa Young Gates professor of law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, summarized: “Dignity is the towering backdrop of our conversations. It is the foundation of our rights. It is a reminder that our moral life is lived in the arid foothills but that we are called to higher places.”

Human dignity and freedom of religion or belief is of paramount importance to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Russell M. Nelson, 17th president of the Church, has said, “Religious liberty is essential if we are to raise up righteous children. Morally responsible families will not marginalize religious liberty; they will nurture and protect it” (quoted in “People of Faith Should Defend Freedom of Religion, Elder Oaks Says”).

Further, Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president for the Church, reminds us that “[Women] are a potent force for creating a society where peace, religious freedom, and human rights can truly thrive” (“Sister Bingham Says Religious Freedom Is Critical to Empowering Women”).

Religious freedom should be of concern to everyone. Speaking to the Argentina Council for Foreign Relations in 2015, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counsellor in the First Presidency, emphasized that the religious and irreligious should be unified in defending matters of conscience (see “Challenges to Religious Freedom”).

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