Religion: UVa Students Debate the Role of Religion in the Public Square
On Monday, February 25, UVa. students gathered in the University Chapel for a Debate and Forum on Religion in the Public Square. The event was sponsored by the Washington Literary Society and Debating Union, Miller Center of Public Affairs, and Orthodox Christian Fellowship.
The evening began with a presentation by Isabelle Kinnard, the Vice President for Education at the Council for America's First Freedom, and author of the white paper for the Miller Center's March 6 debate in Richmond. Dr. Kinnard traced the colonial history of the relationship between religion and government, parsed the First Amendment based on this context, and described the legislative landscape of the issue.
The focus then turned to members of the Washington Society who debated the same resolution that will be debated on March 6, "Religion should have no place in politics or government." Fourth-year student Trevor Dobson and third-year student Rachel Carr argued for the resolution, saying that morality is separate from religion and only by leaving religion out can productive debate on policy matters take place. Third-year student Svantje Swider and fourth-year student Brian Kemmerer disagreed, claiming that the morals of pious people draw from religion and cannot be distinguished. The two sides clashed over majority rule and discrimination before urging the audience to support them in their final speeches.
After gathering their thoughts, several members of the audience rose to speak. First-year student Alex Cortes blasted what he saw as excessive application of the Establishment clause of the first amendment by courts that "legislate from the bench." Fellow first-year Owen Gallagher attacked the Svantje Swider and Brian Kemmer's argument about religion as a unifying force, pointing to the diversity of belief in America and a sizable non-believer portion of the population. First-year Law student and President of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship Brian Schmalzbach closed the evening, defending religion's ability to be a force in sound debate on policy matters.
Many in attendance commented on their heightened interest in the topic and thanked the sponsoring organizations for providing an opportunity to listen and comment on the issue. Video from the event will be posted shortly.