On June 22, 2012, leading American and European scholars, judges and politicians gathered in Rome, Italy for a conference on “State-Sponsored Religious Displays in the U.S. and Europe,” the latest in a series of events on timely and important topics in law and religion sponsored by CLR. Co-hosted by CLR and the Department of Law at Rome’s Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta (LUMSA), the conference took place at LUMSA’s main campus, near the Vatican. Proceedings were in English and Italian with simultaneous translation.
State-sponsored religious displays have been the subject of much recent litigation in the United States and in Europe. American courts have heard challenges to the constitutionality of public Christmas crèches, Ten Commandments monuments and Latin crosses on war memorials. Across the Atlantic, last year, the European Court of Human Rights handed down a major decision on Italy’s practice of placing crucifixes in all public school classrooms. Speakers at the conference addressed these cases from a variety of perspectives: historical, jurisprudential and sociological. Panels included:
- Cultural or Religious? Understanding Symbols in Public Places
- The Lautsi Case and the Margin of Appreciation
- State-Sponsored Religious Displays in Comparative Perspective
Papers presented at the Rome conference will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies.
“Partnering with LUMSA on this conference was a wonderful opportunity for us,” said CLR Director Mark L. Movsesian. “We were able to combine our resources and expertise in very effective ways. A comparative approach to law and religion is increasingly important, both for scholars and practicing lawyers. Actually, it was an American lawyer who argued the Italian crucifix case before the European Court of Human Rights. Because St. John’s has campuses in Rome and Paris, we’re in a great position to contribute to the growing global dialogue on these issues.”
Exploring the law’s global reach is a cornerstone of a St. John’s legal education. “We are proud to be a diverse community of students, scholars and educators and very much value the different cultural and religious perspectives that inform the law in the U.S. and abroad,” said Dean Michael A. Simons, who moderated one of the panels at the Rome conference. “The Rome conference and other CLR initiatives reflect our commitment to fostering a robust, global conversation about the relationship between religion and the state.” Dean Simons added that St. John’s is “pleased to partner with LUMSA, one of Italy’s top private universities and, like St. John’s, a Catholic institution.”
Established in 2010, the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s School of Law provides a forum for the study of law and religion from domestic, international and comparative perspectives. In addition to hosting academic conferences and speakers from academia and public life, it also coordinates the Law School’s law and religion curriculum and promotes dialogue among scholars with different viewpoints, both religious and non-religious.