Religious Freedom Addressed at SJU School of Law Conference in Rome

June 26, 2013

Scholars, policymakers, and students from the Unites States and Europe explored the role that religious freedom plays in international law and politics during a two-day conference that St. John’s School of Law cosponsored in Rome, Italy.

Entitled “International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values,” the conference took place from June 20 to 21. The Center for International and Comparative Law and the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s School of Law joined in cosponsoring the event along with the Department of Law at the Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta, (LUMSA). 

“We are delighted to continue our collaboration with LUMSA, which began when we cohosted a June 2012 conference on ‘State-Sponsored Religious Symbols in the US and Europe’ at its main campus in Rome,” said Mark L. Movsesian, J.D., the Frederick A. Whitney Professor of Contract Law and the director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s Law. “With its historic importance as a center of law and culture, Rome offers a wonderful backdrop for this important dialogue on religious freedom in its global context.”

The conference began with a private audience that Pope Francis held for the conference participants, including 75 St John’s alumni, faculty, students, trustees, and friends at the Hall of Consistory in the Papal Palace on Friday, June 20. The Holy Father spoke to the group saying, “Religious freedom is a fundamental right of man, reflecting his highest dignity—an indispensible condition for fully realizing human potential.”

Dean Michael A. Simons, St. John’s Law, addressed the Holy Father on behalf of St. John’s. “You are an inspiration to all of us here today, to all of the St. John’s family back home, and to me personally,” he said. Dean Simons expressed gratitude to the Holy Father for his leadership of the Church and for supporting the conference.  He then presented Pope Francis—a soccer enthusiast—with a personalized St. John’s soccer jersey.

According to the cosponsors, the conference aimed to bring about dialogue among leading scholars from around the globe; to contribute to the growing body of knowledge about religious freedom at the international, national, and local levels; and to help identify the challenges to religious freedom, as well as the most effective methods of protecting religious freedom around the globe.

Thomas Farr, Ph.D., professor of law and religion at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, keynoted the conference, discussing the historical and current panorama of international religious freedom. Three panel sessions followed. Topics included “The Politics of International Religious Freedom,” “Christian and Muslim Perspectives on International Religious Freedom,” and “Comparative Perspectives on International Religious Freedom.” 

“The conference highlighted the challenges facing governments like the United States, which have incorporated religious freedom into their human rights policies,” said Margaret E. McGuinness, J.D., professor, St. John’s Law, “as well as the UN, which must balance the interests of different national and regional traditions when defining and protecting freedom of religion, a core commitment of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”