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Constitution Day at MU Focuses on Religious Liberty

Monday, September 24, 2012
Marymount celebrated its ninth annual Constitution Day Luncheon with a distinguished guest speaker, Robert F. Destro, J.D., professor of Law at The Catholic University of America and the director and founder of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion, who spoke on Religious Liberty: The Culture Wars at Home and in the Middle East.

He took issue with efforts to “force religion out of the public square.” Mr. Destro stated that Article 6 of the Constitution provides the first mention of religious freedom, saying “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” However, he pointed out that this does not mean that religion is removed from the public arena.

“The idea of the separation of church and state actually has a religious foundation,” he explained, giving the example of when Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” And, he emphasized “the central role religion plays in our institutions, organizations, and government.”

With regard to international relations, Mr. Destro sees our policies hampered by a blind spot. “We think separation of church and state means democracy can only happen in a secular state,” he explained, adding, “We have to “take people as we find them. …This requires an obligation to learn about others and have a dialogue.” He stressed that in working with other nations, we need to include their religious leaders in the discussion.

At the end of his talk, Mr. Destro took questions, mostly from students, regarding his views on the line between religious freedom and human rights; on the debate about employer-provided health care that includes birth control; on polygamy; and on the recent anti-American protests in the Arab world, sparked by a privately-made video that Muslims found offensive.

Marymount’s Department of History and Politics, which hosted the luncheon, provided free copies of the Constitution.
- Robert F. Destro, J.D.

– Anita Pacheco ’14, a Politics major, asks a follow-up question of Mr. Destro following the presentation.
Robert F. Destro, J.D. is co-author, with Michael S. Ariens, of Religious Liberty in a Pluralistic Society (Carolina Academic Press, 2nd edition 2002), the leading law school textbook in the United States on the subject of religious liberty. From 1983 to 1989, he served as a commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and led the commission's discussions in the areas of discrimination on the basis of disability, national origin, and religion. In addition, he was general counsel to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights from 1977 to 1982.