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Multiculturalism fuels debate on church and state

March 19, 2010

Home to more than 30 Islamic centers and the longest-serving Muslim elected official in the U.S. (General Assembly Senator Larry Shaw), North Carolina is a microcosm of the challenges faced by the 300 million Muslims worldwide who live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion.

Although their challenges have become even greater in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the Iraq War, Muslims are not the only religious group coping with the complicated relationship between law and religion. To some extent, all Western societies are struggling to find ways to accommodate non-Christian cultural practices.

On March 23, a former policy advisor from the Department of Homeland Security and now Counsel, Bill of Rights Defense Committee will join with religious and legal scholars to address these issues in “The Rule of Law and the Rule of God: A Symposium on Ethics, Religion & Law.”  The event will run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Benson University Center’s Pugh Auditorium.

“It is important for people to understand that religion and state are not disconnected and to fruitfully engage in discussions about how law and religion can make distinct contributions to the welfare of humanity,” says Simeon Ilesanmi, Washington M. Wingate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Religion at Wake Forest, who organized the conference.

“That the United States is immune to issues of religious fanaticism is untrue,” Ilesanmi added. “We need to cultivate an attitude of tolerance and speak honestly about how religious texts can be exploited by extremists of all faiths for political gain.”

The conference also will explore how other countries are grappling with issues of church and state.  For example, in France and Germany, head coverings have brought Islamic gender issues and terrorism fears to the forefront. Meanwhile Britain is struggling with strategies for allowing both traditional Islamic shari’a law to coexist with secular law.

Attendance is free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged.

The Conversation Includes:

Anita L. Allen-Castellitto, Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania Law School

Sahar Aziz, Counsel, Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Lynn Davidman, Professor of Modern Jewish Studies, University of Kansas

Simeon Ilesanmi, Professor of Religion, Wake Forest University

John Kelsay, Professor of Religion and Ethics, Florida State University

Win-Chiat Lee, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Wake Forest University

Mark Lilla, Professor of the Humanities, Columbia University

Andrew March, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Law, Yale University

Richard Miller, Professor of Religious Studies, Indiana University

Wilson Parker, Professor of Law, Wake Forest University

Frank Ravitch, Professor of Law Michigan State University

William Schweiker, Professor of Theological Ethics, University of Chicago Divinity School

Press Contacts:

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

Ellen Sterner Sedeno
(214) 546-8893

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