Conversations at New Paltz: November Conference Explores Relationship of First Amendment's Free Speech and Free Exercise Provisions
NEW PALTZ -- The "conscience clauses" of the First Amendment affirm the right to free speech and religious freedom. Many scholars believe that these rights were understood by the founders to be mutually reinforcing. However, there have been many recent circumstances - often highly publicized -- in which they have appeared to be in tension.
"The role of religion in American public life has been a major theme in the current presidential election. Both major party candidates have declared themselves as men of faith," said Gerald Benjamin, SUNY New Paltz' dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. "George W. Bush named Jesus as his favorite philosopher. Joe Lieberman, an observant Jew, has regularly introduced religion and religious values into public policy discussions. This makes our conference, to be held just days after the presidential election, extremely timely."
Benjamin is New Paltz' organizer for a Nov. 9-10 conference that will bring together experts in higher education, law, religion, history, philosophy and human rights to examine the conscience clauses. The university is teaming with the National Coalition Against Censorship, with support from the Dyson Foundation, to co-sponsor the conference at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz.
"The presidential campaign is merely highlighting a tension that is readily apparent in everyday life," says Joan Bertin, NCAC's executive director. "As Americans, we have more and more questions about the place of religion in public life, the role of the state in promoting or neutralizing it, and the rights of believers, non-believers and those with minority religious views."
By exploring the link between free speech and free exercise, the conference will seek to clarify the meaning of the First Amendment as it applies to contemporary life. Issues such as controversy over school prayer, removing evolution from school curricula, banning Harry Potter books and claims that the First Amendment is used to favor secular speech at the expense of religious expression and values all tie into the conscience clauses.
"By tackling these issues we hope to reinvigorate the relationships between the religious, academic, civil rights and legal communities," said Benjamin.
The keynote speaker on the conference's opening day is Floyd Abrams, a noted First Amendment litigator who has represented many of the nation's leading newspapers and magazines. He is a partner in the New York City law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel and the William J. Brennan Jr. Visiting Professor of Law and Journalism at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
The conference will open with a roundtable discussion titled "Exploring the Tensions Between Free Speech, Separation and Religious Observance," to be conducted by Professor Norman Dorsen, former President of the American Civil Liberties Union and Professor of Law at New York University.
Events on the second day include:
- A debate titled "Should Religious Expression be Governed by the Same Rules as Secular Expression?"
- Two panel discussions: "What About Blasphemy: Should Anti-Religious Speech be Treated Like Other Types of Speech?" and "Religion and Spirituality in the Public Sphere: Implications for Speech and Religious Freedoms."
(Brief biographical information about each of the confirmed participants is below.)
The conference is open to the public. The registration of $289 includes lodging at the Mohonk Mountain House, all meals during the conference and conference materials. The registration fee for participants who will not stay overnight is $150. Those interested in attending should contact registration coordinator Carolyn Honold at (845) 257-3240 for more information.
Biographical information on participants (in alphabetical order):
Floyd Abrams, partner in the New York law firm of Cahill Gordon and Reindel, is one of the most noted litigators on First Amendment issues in the United States. He was co-counsel to the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case and has frequently represented national and international media firms before the Supreme Court. Recently, he served as the William J. Brennan, Jr. Visiting Professor of First Amendment Law at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
Gerald Benjamin, State University of New York at New Paltz' dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. He is SUNY New Paltz' organizer for this conference and has taught political science for 30 years.
Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, is a practicing lawyer, the author of numerous scholarly articles on law and policy and a member of the faculty at Columbia University. She is NCAC's organizer for this conference.
Roger Bowen, president of the State University of New York at New Paltz, a noted proponent of free speech and academic freedom, he initiated Conversations at New Paltz in 1998 specifically to address First Amendment issues.
Ram Cnaan, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, is director of the program for the Study of Organized Religion and Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania. He is author of The Newer Deal: Social Work and Religion in Partnership (Columbia University Press, 1999).
Elizabeth J. Coleman, director of the Civil Rights Division of the Anti-Defamation League. Formerly the chairman and chief executive officer of Maidenform Worldwide, Inc., she is chair of the board of the National Women's Law Center. She served as a United States delegate to the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
Norman Dorsen, Stokes Professor of Law, New York University School of Law, was general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union between 1969 and 1976, and president between 1976 and 1991. Between 1996 and 2000 he was chairman of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
Marci Hamilton, the Thomas H. Lee Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University and Visiting Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law. She has in progress a book on The Reformed Constitution: Representation, Calvinism, and Congressional Responsibility.
Luke Charles Harris, associate professor of Political Science at Vassar College, is an expert on constitutional law and affirmative action. He is the author, with Uma Narayan, of "Affirmative Action and the Myth of Preferential Treatment: A Transformative Critique of the Terms of the Affirmative Action Debate."
Marjorie Heins directs the Free Expression Policy Project at the National Coalition Against Censorship. She is author of Sex, Sin, and Blasphemy: A Guide to America's Censorship Wars (New Press, 1993, 1998).
George Kannar, vice dean and professor of law at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law. In addition to his work in professional and scholarly journals, he has written for The New Republic and Christianity & Crisis. Among his scholarly publications is a Yale Law Journal essay on "The Constitutional Catechism of Antonin Scalia."
Nancy Kassop, acting chair of the Political Science Department at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is a noted scholar on the American presidency. She began teaching at New Paltz in 1984.
Alan Kors, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, teaches in the field of European Intellectual history, and is editor-in-chief of the Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. His colleagues at Penn elected him four times to the University and School Committees on Academic Freedom and Responsibility.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is a frequent commentator in national forums on church-state issues, and co-author of The Right to Religious Liberty: The Basic ACLU Guide to Religious Rights.
Vincent McCarthy, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice Northeast Inc. He was the lead counsel in Schenk v. Pro Choice Network, in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that floating bubble zones around individuals outside abortion clinics violated the First Amendment.
Robert Miraldi, professor of Journalism at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He was an investigative reporter in New York City for 10 years and recently published The Muckrakers: Evangelical Crusaders (Praeger Press of Westport, Conn., 2000). He also published Muckraking and Objectivity: Journalism's Colliding Traditions (Greenwood Press, 1991).
Robert O'Neil, professor of law and university professor, University of Virginia, and director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, chairs the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors. Among his recent publications is a book on Free Expression in Cybespace.
Anthony R. Picarello Jr., counsel to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, was essays editor for the Virginia Law Review, and clerk to Chief Judge Gene Carter of the United States District Court in Portland, Maine. His undergraduate and graduate training at the University of Chicago and Harvard was in Religious Studies, Social Anthropology and Comparative Religion.
Rosemary Salomone, professor of law and former associate academic dean of the St. John's University School of Law, was formerly associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a trustee of the State University of New York. She is the author of Visions of Schooling: Conscience, Community, and Common Education (Yale University Press, 2000).
Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and founder of the Religious Coalition's Black Church Initiative. A pioneer in opening the dialogue within the Black Church on reproductive issues, Reverend Veazey has chaired the Theological Commission of the National Baptist Convention and presently serves as pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
James Weinstein, Amelia D. Lewis Professor of Constitutional Law at the Arizona State College of Law, is an internationally acknowledged authority on freedom of speech. His most recent book is Hate Speech, Pornography and the Radical Attack on Free Speech Doctrine (Westview, 1999).
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