LDS law society's International Religious Liberty Award given to Sen. Joseph Lieberman
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Declaring he stands with the LDS community against religious discrimination, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (DI-Conn.), accepted the International Religious Liberty Award of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies on Oct. 7 in Washington D.C. The award recognizes outstanding contributions of those who work to protect and promote religious liberty.
At a ceremony on Capitol Hill, James R. Rasband, dean of the Brigham Young University Law School, presented the award to the senator who is a widely respected advocate of religious freedom and a man who honors his own religious convictions. Sen. Lieberman co-sponsored the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, which created a commission, an ambassador at large, and a reporting system to monitor and respond to religious persecution.
The event brought together members of two groups affiliated with the BYU Law School — the DC Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the law society and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies in Provo, Utah. Cole Durham, director of the center, congratulated the senator and emphasized the critical role of freedom of religion in protecting religious rights. He noted that 16th-century scholar William Tyndale was put to death simply for translating the Bible into English.
Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), introduced Lieberman, his long-time friend, as being fair-minded and smart, noting that “the country and the Church could not have had a better advocate for the cause of religious freedom around the world.” Sen. Lieberman likewise praised Sen. Bennett’s contributions to the Senate, saying “the Senate is going to be a lesser place without him.”
Sen. Lieberman thanked the two groups for providing “courageous and critical leadership” in the struggle to protect religious liberty. He also pointed to the example of J. Reuben Clark, a Latter-day Saint and American statesman who followed his own religious convictions.
“Ambassador Clark understood that religious liberty is a fundamental human right, and that religious freedom is essential to who we are as Americans — to our beliefs, our purpose and, indeed, to our destiny as a nation,” Sen. Lieberman said.
The senator described how America is rooted in an ancient religious tradition founded upon scripture and commandment — the law. Americans also share the basic belief, he said, that “we are not here by accident,” but are endowed with the “spark of the divine.”
“The mission of freedom is to liberate people and realize that potential that is in each of us,” he said, emphasizing that “threats to religious freedom anywhere are offenses against our common humanity everywhere.”
Sen. Lieberman also examined the relationship between laws and values.
“We as a nation have been defined by our values and purposes as a nation, and by our laws that express those values,” he said.
But he pointed out that despite progress to extend freedom’s reach, religious freedom is under threat in many countries around the world.
“Half of the world’s population lives in regimes that limit or suppress basic religious freedoms,” he observed. This threat led to the creation of the International Religious Freedom Act.
Sen. Lieberman said he believes that “American foreign policy is at its best when we are true to our national values.” The senator urged that more be done to advance democracy and the rule of law but he warned that religious freedoms need protection or they may be lost in the effort to promote democracy.
On a more personal note, he said being Jewish helped him identify with the “sting” of religious discrimination, bigotry, misunderstandings and falsehoods that have too often been directed at the LDS Church.
“I will stand with you,” he said, reiterating that when one group is attacked, all are.
Sen. Lieberman said he is proud of the work of the commission and remains confident that America has expanded the franchise of freedom.
“Advancing these freedoms has been our purpose and destiny,” he said, stressing that such work is best accomplished through law.
This is the first year the law society has presented the award.
Performing for the occasion were violinist Jenny Oaks Baker and soloist Lisa Hopkins Seegmiller, both members of the Church. According to Doug Bush, chairman-elect of the law society, the award ceremony is part of an initiative the society adopted to educate people about religious liberty and to recognize those who have advanced its cause. Other events include a panel discussion among legal experts — held this year at the Georgetown University Law Center — a moot court competition to be held in February, and a student writing competition. Tim Taylor, an LDS student at Harvard Law School, received the writing award this year.
Members of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society are attorneys or law school students of any religion who support the mission of the society, which is to affirm the strength brought to the law by a lawyer’s personal religious conviction and to promote fairness and virtue founded upon the rule of law.