In the ongoing debate on religious freedoms in America, the easy answers, it can be said, dont have a prayer.
West Virginia Universitys College of Law enters that area next month when it hosts a major symposium from the front pew of the issue:The Religious Clauses of the 21st Century,which will be April 12-13 at the law school.
The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy is co-sponsoring the event.
A gathering of the nations preeminent scholars of law and religion will give a present-tense look at the clauses in the Constitution which read,Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
One of those top scholars is Douglas Laycock, the Yale Kamisar Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, who will deliver keynote address for symposium on the evening of April 12.
Laycock regularly testifies before congressional committees and has argued religious liberty cases before the Supreme Court and other courts. While hell talk about case law interpreting the religious clauses, he also says hell explore their fundamental meaning while touching on the human components that inspired them in the first place.
Its like everything else,Laycock said recently from his office in Hutchins Hall on UMs Ann Arbor campus.We take religious liberty for granted until we lose part of it.
Religious liberty and expression are at the heart of the debate and those clauses are open to interpretation like never before, symposium organizers say. And despite the wisdom and foresight of the Constitutions framers, government today is grappling with issues and circumstances that simply werent around when the Constitution was written.
Questions and quandaries like: Should taxpayer money be used to fund faith-based social services programs? Should there be limits on the rights of public school children to express themselves religiously during the school day? Should religious groups be exempted from anti-discrimination laws that govern everyone else?
The idea of separation of church and state isnt read as strictly as it once was,said John Taylor, a WVU professor of law who is helping organize the symposium.Of course, people disagree pretty strongly about whether this is a good thing.Because feeling can run high about matters of church and state, Laycock said that one of the symposiums main goals will be showing how a little bit of tolerance can go a long way toward creating positive changes for religious people in America and the world.
I hope,he said,that people come away from it with the idea that religious liberty is just as important for the other guy.
For more information and a complete list of symposium participants and their bios, visitwww.wvu.edu/~/law/ReligionClauses.html.