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Monday, April 14, 2014

Orange County Religion and the Law Symposium

(Written by Desiree Nordstrom.)

The Tenth Annual Orange County Religion & the Law Symposium was held March 20, 2014 at Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law in Orange, California.  This year’s Symposium was titled, “Rights of Conscience vs. Same-Sex Rights: Religious Liberty in the Post-Prop. 8 Environment.”

This event was sponsored by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society (Orange County Chapter), along with a number of co-sponsoring organizations, including Chapman Law School, the Christian Legal Society (both Orange County and Los Angeles Chapters), the Federalist Society (Orange County Lawyers Chapter), Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County, the Orange County Jewish Bar Association, Pepperdine University School of Law, the St. Thomas More Society of Orange County, Trinity Law School, Western State College of Law and Whittier Law School.

The program for the Symposium was a debate format in which the speakers, Prof. John C. Eastman and Prof. Lawrence E. Rosenthal, had a friendly and entertaining exchange.  Both speakers were highly qualified and engaging.  Prof. Eastman is the current Chair of the National Organization for Marriage and a Professor teaching constitutional law at Chapman Law School.   Prof. Rosenthal is also a Law Professor at Chapman Law School where he teaches civil rights and constitutional law.  Significantly, both speakers previously served as Law Clerks to Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Prof. Eastman and Prof. Rosenthal discussed numerous cases that have recently arisen when the definition of marriage has collided with the free exercise of religion.  These cases have involved, for example, a photographer who refused to photograph a same-sex wedding on religious grounds, a florist and a baker who similarly refused to provide their services for same-sex weddings, and a physician who refused to perform certain in vitro fertilization services for a same-sex couple.  The Professors not only debated about what is the current state of the law on these subjects, but also about where they believed the law was and should be heading.       

Jeff Shields, an Orange County attorney who served as the Moderator for the program said, “The importance of addressing these topics cannot be overemphasized, as the conflicts between same-sex rights and free exercise of religion rights will surely only continue to grow and loom larger in the future.”

There were approximately 150 in attendance at the Symposium from a wide variety of backgrounds, including judges, attorneys, professors, religious and community leaders, students and more. The Symposium was a great forum to have a dialogue about important legal and religious topics.

One of those in attendance was Brent North, current Chair of the OC Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, who observed that “[i]n a world where finger pointing and fear mongering pass for deliberation, it was good to see these important issues discussed respectfully from both sides of the aisle.  The right to define marriage and the right to the free exercise of religion do not have to be mutually exclusive rights.  The panel did a great job of exploring the borderlands where these rights meet.”

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