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VOL. 117 | NO. 19 | Tuesday, January 28, 2003

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Panel explores wall between religion, state

Panel explores wall between religion, state


The Daily News

While the topic at last years Institute on the Profession of Law was post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism law and its threat to civil liberties, discussion during the next installment will center on a 227-year-old debate that continues to rip a jagged line into American life, politics and courtrooms.

Philip Hamburger, author of Separation of Church and State and a law professor at the University of Chicago, is keynote speaker Monday at the Rhodes College Meeman Center for Lifelong Learning event.

The program, in its 16th year, runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Bryan Campus Life Center.

Hamburgers book, published in 2002, has been cited as a resource for judges rulings as high as the Supreme Court.

We started off thinking about the issue of religion and law which is a permanent subject in American law and often in the headlines, said Rhodes College associate professor of political science Daniel Cullen about planning the event.

Hamburgers book is the first to fully detail the history and forces us to refocus (on the Founding Fathers intentions).

While Hamburger does not offer political or legal prescriptions for the controversial topic, Separation of Church and State basically conveys through historical research/letters that the legal interpretation of the First Amendment derives as much or more from Thomas Jeffersons phrase in an 1802 letter, separation between church and state describing the amendment as it does from the amendments actual language, ratified by Congress seven years earlier: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Cullen said Hamburgers book explains that the legal wall of separation arose during the early part of the 19th century, when a powerful anti-Catholic faction was concerned the Catholic Church might become involved in the nations political landscape.

Since then, and particularly in the 20th century, the topic has resulted in such landmark rulings many decided in the Supreme Court ranging from school voucher programs to prayer in public schools.

Cullen said the topics of separation of church and state and freedom of expression are on a collision course.

It remains a dramatic issue, Cullen said. Liberals regard the ruling as a rigid separation barrier between church and government, while conservatives see it as religious bigotry.

After Hamburgers address, a panel of six guests with expertise or interest in the subject will host a round table discussion, followed by a question and answer period with the audience.

We really have a blue ribbon panel full of people who have spent their lives dealing with this ruling, he said. It should be an exciting day.

Panelists include Elliot Mincberg, vice president, general counsel and legal director of People for the American Way Foundation; Douglas Kmiec, a Constitutional lawyer; and Bruce Kramer, president of Borod & Kramer, a well-known American Civil Liberties Union attorney.

The event is approved for general continuing legal education in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, and accounts for five hours credit.

Registration is $325, which includes handout materials, a continental breakfast and a box lunch. Rhodes students can attend the event free of charge, but must register.

Past events, which have featured lawyers Alan Dershowitz, Arthur Miller and Kenneth Starr, usually attract about 100 local lawyers, said event coordinator Marilyn Hury.

The topic is widespread enough to be of interest to not just lawyers but citizens, Cullen said.

For more information, call 843-3964.

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