J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Respect and Tolerance Encouraged by ASU President Dr. Michael Crow at Religious Freedom Workshop in Tempe, Arizona on November 17

Arizona State University President Dr. Michael M. Crow was the keynote speaker at the religious freedom workshop organized by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society on November 17, 2017. The event was co-sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society and Alliance Defending Freedom.

The first of three speakers was Jeremy Tedesco of Alliance Defending Freedom. Mr. Tedesco  has worked extensively on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and chose that case as his topic. Rather than dive into constitutional issues from the start, he spent the first 30 minutes of his presentation talking about the business owner--Jack Phillips--caught in the middle of the legal battle. Tedesco introduced who Phillips is as a person, what his personal life is like, and why he felt compelled to act the way he did. Painted as a bigot in most media outlets, Mr. Phillips is a caring, generous man to his family, employees and customers. Now, because of outside threats that have affected his business, he has had to layoff long-time employees in order to survive the reduced business. Tedesco ended his speech by talking about the constitutional issues at stake and making his prediction of the outcome (which was several weeks before oral argument).

The second speaker was Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, MD. Dr. Jasser is the leader of a Muslim reform movement called the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. His speech focused mostly on international issues affecting Muslims and how governments and countries in the Middle East and elsewhere can and should do more to protect and promote democracy. He advocated supporting causes and groups that promote democracies within those countries and said America could do more. After his speech he raced off to the airport to catch a plane to Salt Lake City, where he was scheduled to speak the next day to the J. Reuben Clark Society’s Salt Lake Chapter on the same subject.

 As always, Dr. Michael Crow’s speech was incredible. He has been the president of ASU, now the nation’s largest university with over 70,000 students, since 2002. During this time he has been generous in his support of the JRCLSin Arizona and has spoken at previous Society functions. He has also been involved in other efforts supporting the BYU schools. For example, he was the first ever non-LDS speaker for a BYU-Idaho devotional in its 129-year history, which he participated in on May 23, 2017.  See  https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865680553/BYU-Idaho-invites-first-non-Mormon-to-give-devotional.html.

Dr. Crow’s speech started with a history lesson on the building where the workshop was being hosted – the ASU LDS Institute Building. The 44,000 square foot building is located in the middle of the ASU Tempe campus and is one of the nicest buildings on campus, complete with a large parking structure where parking is hard to find or very expensive. The building was dedicated by President Eyring in 2007.  See https://www.lds.org/church/news/tempe-institute-a-lighthouse-for-nations-largest-university-?lang=eng (citing “The Institute at Tempe,” Church News, Sept. 22, 2007).  Before the current structure was built the students met in a dilapidated building in the same location. There was talk about moving Institute off campus where a nicer facility could be built.  But Dr. Crow invited the Church – as well as other faith-based organizations and religions—to “plant their flags deep in the soil of the university.”  

Dr. Crow also said ASU goes out of its way to invite and promote student organizations and clubs that relate to spiritual and religious beliefs, whatever they might be. There are 70 such organizations. These organizations are overseen by ASU’s Council of Religious Advisors.

Occasionally there are reports that religious speech as been “chilled” by a professor and such reports are quickly investigated and dealt with appropriately. He also said ASU has been sued in federal court multiple times in attempts to expel religious organizations from campus. Those lawsuits have all been opposed and defeated by ASU.

Dr. Crow summarized his thoughts on religious liberty and the public university as follows: respect and tolerance should be practiced by all, and universities have a responsibility to foster these attributes and encourage their growth and development in its students.

By Scott Brown, partner with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP, chair elect for the Greater Phoenix Chapter and member of the JRCLS’ Religious Freedom Committee.

Posted: January 31, 2018