J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Report on Religious Freedom Conference held in
Atlanta, Georgia, at Emory University on November 6-7

The Atlanta Chapter co-sponsored a religious freedom conference with the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University on November 6 and 7. The conference was titled “Restoring Religious Freedom: Law, Religion, Equality and Dignity.” The conference began on Sunday evening with a discussion between 

Professor Cole Durham of the J. Reuben Clark Law School and Jan Figel, EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Professor Durham and Special Envoy Figel discussed the causes and possible ways to avoid religious genocides. Both speakers emphasized that religious freedom and freedom of conscience are fundamental requirements for individual liberty and human rights.

The conference continued all day on Monday, November 7 with a series of panel discussions addressing different religious issues. The first panel featured scholars from India, the United Kingdom, Italy and Israel discussing the ways the legal systems in their respective countries deal with legal issues related to religious belief and practice. A second panel discussed the challenges of accommodating the competing claims of advocates of LGBT rights on the one hand and people with religious objections to same-sex marriage on the other.


Balancing these competing claims was also the subject of the keynote address for the conference, which was given at lunch by Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia. Professor Laycock took as his theme the call for “liberty and justice for all” in the Pledge of Allegiance. He noted that advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage both believe that their conduct is part of their personal identity and both feel compelled to act consistent with that identity. He called for respect for the values on both sides of this debate, and emphasized the importance of political compromise like the Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendment that passed in Utah earlier this year.

The afternoon panels featured a discussion about equality and dignity from the perspectives of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and a discussion of specific legal issues affecting freedom of religion in the United States.

The conference was informative and edifying, and was especially satisfying because of the diverse viewpoints that were expressed and the strong intellectual rigor that the speakers brought to their presentations. Special thanks go to Bill Maycock of the Atlanta Chapter of the Law Society, and to Mark Goldfeder and John Witte of Emory University, who brought in speakers from around the country and across the world to participate at the conference.

By Steven Hardy, Immediate Past Chair, Atlanta Chapter

Posted: November 17, 2016