News Release

Canadian Delegates Contribute to BYU International Law and Religion Symposium

Brigham Young University’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies (ICLRS) hosted its 26th annual International Law and Religion Symposium (ILRS) on October 6–8 in Provo, Utah. Five Canadians were among the 106 delegates from 56 countries. All delegates addressed the theme “Human Dignity and Freedom of Religion or Belief: Preventing and Addressing Persecution.” The symposium offered simultaneous translation in 10 languages and was livestreamed from Brigham Young University, a university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Canadian delegates included Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Dr. Geoffrey Cameron, national director of public affairs for the Bahá’í Community of Canada and chair of Our Whole Society; Dr. Ron Kuipers, president of the Institute for Christian Studies; Mustafa Farooq, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims; and Douglas Todd, journalist for the Vancouver Sun and Postmedia News and chair of the International Association of Religion Journalists. Each contributed significantly to their respective panels.

In his keynote address, Fernand de Varennes warned listeners of the increase in human rights violations against minority groups globally. He cautioned, “More than ever since the Second World War, we need a renewed commitment towards the multilateral system for protecting the most vulnerable. This must be based on recognizing the inherent dignity and respecting the equality and rights of all members of the human family, founded as they are on international human rights and the values of freedom, justice and peace.”

Ron Kuipers spoke in the “Human Dignity and Religious Freedom: Conceptual Frameworks” session. Geoffrey Cameron and Mustafa Farooq presented in the “Interfaith Perspectives on Human Dignity, Religious Freedom and Persecution” session. Douglas Todd offered insights on the “Religious Freedom and Human Dignity: Media Perspectives” panel. All advocated for increased understanding and respect. The presentations can be viewed online at

Freedom of religion and belief is of paramount importance to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Upon arrival at the symposium, ILRS delegates were introduced to the film “Legacy,” which depicts early Church history when adherents were subject to religious persecution and forced from their homes, leading them to trek west and settle in the Salt Lake Valley. Current Church leaders continue to advocate for freedom of religion and belief for all.

In her symposium closing remarks, Elizabeth Clark (associate director for ICLRS, program chair of ILRS and Church member) encouraged all to substitute “refugee” with “victim of persecution” as she quoted Church leader Patrick Kearon: “Being a refugee may be a defining moment in the lives of those who are refugees, but being a refugee does not define them. Like countless thousands before them, this will be a period — we hope a short period — in their lives. Some of them will go on to be Nobel laureates, public servants, physicians, scientists, musicians, artists, religious leaders and contributors in other fields. Indeed, many of them were these things before they lost everything. This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us” (“Refuge From the Storm,” Apr. 2016 general conference).

Clark encouraged the expansion of our understanding and support beyond national, religious and cultural borders. As she explained that the Zulu greeting sawubona means “I see you,” she petitioned for greater individual awareness. She concluded, “My hope is that each of us can do better, that I can do better, that we can relate to everyone we meet, that we see them and greet them, ‘Sawubona (I see you).’”

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