Welcome to Talk About: Law and Religion

Donlu Thayer
Senior Editor, International Center for Law and Religion Studies

Talk About: Law and Religion is a forum for publishing ideas and opinions about the topic and task that command our attention here at the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University Law School:  to secure the blessings of freedom of religion and belief for all people.  Such freedom, we believe, is fundamental to all other freedoms, is uniquely important for the flourishing of human beings and for the stability of our societies.

As do many of our associates in this work worldwide, we  approach our task as lawyers, but also as scholars and teachers, as citizens and believers. In all our roles we affirm the importance of the rule of law, in the context of an “ordered liberty” that can define, promote, and protect individual and collective freedoms, including and essentially the freedom of religion, conscience,  or belief, provided in virtually all of the world’s constitutions, and in international instruments to which most of the governments of the world subscribe.

As lawyers admitted to American bars, we have sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, which in the first right enumerated in its Bill of Rights protects freedom of religion. We have sworn moreover to follow professional codes that demand, for example, conduct “characterized at all times by personal courtesy and professional integrity in the fullest sense ….  mindful of our obligations to the administration of justice, which is a truth-seeking process designed to resolve human and societal problems in a rational, peaceful, and efficient manner. We must remain committed to the rule of law as the foundation for a just and peaceful society.” [Preamble, Utah Rules of Professionalism and Civility]

As believers we follow a faith tradition whose founder, Joseph Smith, declared that “by proving contraries truth is made manifest.” If proving contraries might seem the very occupation of lawyers in a common law tradition, we know that , in practice, the truth-seeking process can be a casualty of a relentless march to victory — not only in the courtroom but in the halls of government, in public discourse, even in private conversation. Proving contraries is a patient, thoughtul, yielding,  humble task, easily destroyed by adversarial postures bent towards victory at all costs.

Do we really, as some people are saying these days, live in a “post-truth age”? Are we more partisans than citizens?  Is the quest for triumph of one’s personal agenda, the push for vindication of one’s own thoughts or desires, all there is in the public conversation?  Is there even a conversation going on?  Is anyone listening?

We know that of course many are listening, that many have thoughtul things to say that can help us test the contraries in matters essential to the preservation of the human race, and the elevation of the human spirit, bringing us closer to mutual understanding. Bringing us closer to truth. We just have to keep the conversation going.

As a high-conflict mediator I learned the critical importance of creating and maintaining the “safe space”, the space where differing, even fundamentally opposing needs, desires, motives, points of view can be heard and held, no resolution forced, until people participating in good faith can come to concord, or at the very least can part in peace.  Tough work.

This forum is meant to be a safe space where writers can present ideas, sometimes difficult or controversial, about the interface of law and religion,  and where readers can prove the contraries, in the hopes of moving towards fruitful mutual understanding.

Welcome to the conversation!