School of Law Hosts Top Law & Religion Scholars

January 10, 2007

On Friday, March 23, the St. John’s Journal of Legal Commentary hosted its Fourteenth Annual Symposium, “Religion and Morality in the Public Square: A Symposium on Philosophy, History and Law.”  The conference, which was organized by the Journal’s Research and Symposium Editor Lecia Greipp ’07, Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship Michael A. Simons, and Professor Nelson Tebbe, brought together top Law & Religion scholars for a day of thoughtful discussion and engaging debate.

Following the welcome remarks, the symposium opened with a keynote address by Noah Feldman, Cecelia Goetz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law and author of the recent book Divided by God: America’s Church-State Problem and What We Should Do About It.  Professor Feldman articulated two visions of the public square: a classically republican vision, where the goal of public discourse is to reach social consensus on contested questions; and a pluralistic vision, where the goal of public discourse is simply to provide a mechanism for democratic decision-making.

Two panel discussions followed. The first panel assessed the place that religious convictions ought to have in American political life. A starting point for the discussion was a recent comment by Senator Barack Obama that religious reasons ought to be “translated” into secular terms if they are to play a role in American political life. Professor Tebbe moderated this portion of the symposium, and the panelists included Christopher J. Eberle, Associate Professor of Philosophy, United States Naval Academy; Kent Greenawalt, University Professor, Columbia Law School; and Leslie Griffin, Larry and Joanne Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics, University of Houston Law Center.

Before the second panel discussion, a luncheon was held in the Mattone Family Atrium, where Justin Kramer, Editor-in-Chief of St. John’s Journal of Legal Commentary, introduced the luncheon speaker, Peter Steinfels.  Professor Steinfels is the Co-Director of the Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture and a religion columnist for the New York Times.  In his talk, Professor Steinfels addressed the question, “Is religious ignorance a crime against the First Amendment?” and discussed whether American citizens should be educated in the world’s religions in order to engage in public discourse regarding politics.

The second panel, moderated by Professor Simons, debated whether our constitutional commitments protect not only religious individuals, but also the rights of religious institutions or groups. Panelists included Richard W. Garnett, John Cardinal O’Hara, C.S.C. Associate Professor of Law, Notre Dame Law School; Philip Hamburger, Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law, Columbia Law School; John T. McGreevy, Professor of History, University of Notre Dame; and Bernadette A. Meyler, Assistant Professor of Law, Cornell Law School. 

Closing remarks were given first by Professor Tebbe, and then by Dean Mary C. Daly, who thanked everyone who made the event a success. “The discussion we have had today is of utmost importance for our national life,” Dean Daly said. “How we resolve the questions we have discussed will continue to shape our democracy, today just as in the past.”

Papers from the symposium will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Legal Commentary

For more information, please conact:
Michael A. Simons
[email protected]