Religious freedom: It’s a topic that has received intense national attention in recent months, following the actions of Kentucky Court Clerk Kim Davis —who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples because of her religious beliefs.
Davis spent five days in jail after ignoring a court order that she issue marriage licenses to all couples, following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 that legalized gay marriage. Her actions drew both ire and support, and the high profile case is one example of many cases before legislatures and courts that have addressed conflicts between civil rights and religious liberties.
In Utah, other issues of religious freedom have also made headlines, including a recent announcement by the LDS Church on church membership of same-sex couples and their children. Continued attention on the topic is one reason students at the S.J. Quinney College of Law helped to organize a symposium discussing the issue. Sponsored by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, the event featured discussion by attorneys, faith community leaders and a legislator on various topics related to religious freedom.
Kylie Orme, a U law student who helped to organize and participated in the symposium, recently spoke about the discussion on religious freedom that took place on Nov. 7.
Q: What prompted students to organize the event?
A: This was the first time the symposium was held. The student chapter of J. Reuben Clark Society (JRCLS), had been discussing the possibility of a religion-themed event for quite some time. Luckily, the Salt Lake JRCLS chapter had been wanting to do something as well, so we teamed up to make it happen at the law school this year.
Both groups were interested in hosting an event that discussed both navigating and balancing religion, especially within a professional field. Religious freedom is a sensitive topic for many religious and non-religious individuals, so we wanted to create an environment where people felt safe to discuss their ideas.
Q: You discussed an interesting issue that is receiving much debate in the public —both in Utah locally and nationally. How did the event help law students —and others who attended—help put current issues related to law and religious freedom into context?
A: In many ways, civil discourse is the challenge of our time. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of being correct—one person is right, so the other one has to be wrong. But the world is not quite that black and white. There is always room for compromise and debate when two ideas compete, as long as both sides are willing to respectfully come to the table.
That is exactly why we intentionally engaged speakers and panelists with diverse perspectives on a number of social issues. Moreover, we set up the symposium in such a way that attendees came away with an overview of the current legal landscape, as well as a sense of the common ground shared by all people on fundamental principles of religious freedom.
Q: What do you hope those who attended walked away with?
A: What I hope people walked away with is a new or renewed appreciation for religious freedom. Those who attended the symposium hopefully came away with an understanding of how they can work together and become involved in promoting religious freedom.
I ultimately hope to humanize the issue of religious freedom to both those who promote it and those who dissent, because this is not a hypothetical. It is not a case in a casebook. It’s an issue that affects many people in a very real and meaningful way. I am convinced that when you allow yourself to see an issue from someone else’s perspective, hearts and minds open, and people can begin to work toward a greater good. The symposium was meant to do just that.