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West Virginia University Symposium to Examine Laws of Church and State in 21st Century

Event is April 12-13 at College of Law


Contact: John Taylor, 304-293-8180,; Vivian Hamilton, 304-293-6838,; both with the WVU College of Law


MORGANTOWN, W.Va., Feb. 16 /Standard Newswire/ -- Questions about church and state are hardly easy to answer, and they affect us all, whether we realize it or not.


Can state lawmakers pray before beginning legislative sessions?


Should religious groups be exempted from anti-discrimination laws that govern everyone else? Are there any limits on the rights of public schoolchildren to express themselves religiously during the school day? Should government use taxpayer funds to support faith-based social services programs?


What can we expect from the Supreme Court in the years ahead on these and other divisive issues that implicate the First Amendment's religion clauses?


And what do those clauses, which state, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," really mean in today's society?


West Virginia University's College of Law is hosting a symposium this spring to help give insight to these questions.


"The Religious Clauses in the 21st Century" will be April 12-13, featuring several leading legal and religion scholars from across the nation discussing possible new directions in the law of church and state.


The symposium is being co-sponsored by WVU's law school and the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. Vivian Hamilton and John Taylor, two WVU law professors who are organizing the forum with law professor William Marshall of the University of North Carolina, say the time is just right for such a gathering.


"We've seen very significant changes in the Supreme Court's thinking about the religion clauses in recent years, especially on issues involving public funding of private religious activity and government religious expression," Hamilton said.


Taylor seconds his colleague. "The idea of separation of church and state isn't read as strictly as it once was, and of course people disagree pretty strongly about whether this is a good thing," he said. "The new Roberts Court may change the playing field in still more dramatic ways."


WVU law faculty will join the symposium's guests to discuss a wide range of topics -- from military chaplains to the role of religion in politics.


Here are capsules on a few of the participants:


  • Douglas Laycock, the Yale Kamisar Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, will deliver the symposium keynote address on the evening of April 12. An influential and prolific scholar, Laycock is recognized as one of the country's leading authorities on religious liberty issues. He regularly testifies before congressional committees and has argued religion clauses cases before the United States Supreme Court and many other courts. Before moving to Michigan in 2006, Laycock taught law at the University of Texas and the University of Chicago.


  • Steven Gey, the David and Deborah Fonvielle and Donald and Janet Hinkle Professor of Law at Florida State University, will deliver a featured address following lunch on April 13. A leading writer on both the Religion and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, Gey is the author of a casebook on the law of church and state and has been named Professor of the Year by Florida State students on many occasions.


  • Kent Greenawalt, University Professor at Columbia Law School, is the author of several books on law and religion, including "Does God Belong in the Public Schools?, Religious Convictions and Political Choice," and "Religion and The Constitution, Volume I: Free Exercise and Fairness." Greenawalt will speak as part of an April 13 panel on government accommodation of religion.


  • Angela Carmella will join Greenawalt on the above panel. A professor of law at Seton Hall University since 1988, Carmella has published extensively on church-state topics and on Catholic social thought. She has co-edited a collection of essays entitled Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought, serves on the editorial council of the Journal of Church and State, and has been elected to the Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs.


  • William Marshall, William Rand Keenan, Jr. Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, will speak as part of a panel on government religious expression. Marshall, the symposium's co-organizer, has published extensively in the country's leading law reviews on topics ranging from religious liberty to the separation of powers to media law. He served as Deputy White House Counsel and Deputy Assistant to the President during the Clinton Administration.

"We couldn't be happier with the collection of scholars participating in the symposium," Hamilton said. "These are people whose ideas have had, and will continue to have, real influence on the way courts and the public think about issues of church and state."


Events like the symposium are central to the College of Law's mission, Dean John W. Fisher II said.


"Religious identity and expression are critically important in the lives of so many Americans," Fisher said. "Promoting discussion and understanding of these sorts of issues is one of the most important things can we do."


For more information and a complete list of symposium participants and their bios, visit