News Story

Two Canadian Delegates Participate at BYU International Symposium

75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights commemorated

“Peacemakers needed” was the message of a beautiful print gifted to the participants of the 30th Annual International Law and Religion Symposium (ILRS) held at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) October 1–3, 2023. Brett Scharffs, director of the International Center of Law and Religion Studies (ICLRS) and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, explained the importance of the gift’s message to the 115 delegates from 52 countries who were invited to the symposium to discuss issues of human rights and freedom of religion or belief. The theme of the symposium was “Protecting the Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion: 75 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Two Canadian delegates were among those invited to give presentations: Rev. Dr. Andrew Bennett, program director for Faith Communities at Cardus, and Dr. Paul Rowe, professor of Political and International Studies at Trinity Western University.

Religious Freedom

During the “Academics” breakout session, Rowe discussed the progress of religious freedom as well as challenges associated with it. He said, “There has been remarkable progress in the promotion of religious freedom in international forums and in the halls of academia over the past two decades.”

Despite this progress, Rowe explained, “There remain very significant challenges to overcome in achieving multi- or bipartisan public support for [religious freedom] across multiple contexts. One … is the conflation of religious freedom issues with ideological or party politics. Another is resistance to the enshrinement of religion as a priority for bureaucracies. Finally, we find many scholars arguing that some of the flaws of religious freedom advocacy disqualify it as a legitimate policy concern. Each of these challenges are rooted in critiques that religious freedom advocates should take seriously. However, in the end, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that the cause of religious freedom remains central to state and global governance efforts.”

Stronger Faith Communities

During one of the plenary sessions, Bennett provided four steps for creating stronger integrated faith communities: (1) Advocate for a standard of care that exceeds the teaching to do to others as you would have them do to you (see Luke 6:31); he encouraged, “‘Self-empty’ for God and others,” meaning give your all to help and serve others. (2) Recognize that every person is created in the image of God (imago Dei). (3) Act authentically and with integrity, including when engaging in difficult conversations. (4) Take action; develop a plan of how to come together with other faith partners to advance the common good. He further encouraged participants to educate politicians on the important role of religion in society.

Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Sandra Pallin, national communication director for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, attended the symposium and expressed, “It’s humbling and energizing to engage with such an extraordinary group of individuals contributing so substantially around the world. The symposium itself is a model for how people of diverse thought, religion and culture can respectfully and meaningfully engage for the common good of humanity.”

Professor Elizabeth Clark, associate director of ICLRS and symposium organizer, said, “We’re excited to celebrate the [symposium’s] 30th anniversary and to look back and see the growth. We started as a small conference primarily hosting Eastern European leaders after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but over time, this has become truly global.”

This year, ILRS coincided with the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The ILCRS website states:

“The Universal Declaration and the rights of thought, conscience, and religion it protects continue to face challenges. Some question the claim to universal rights, while populist movements seek to entrench protections only for majority religions. Others wonder if diverse religions can truly create a cohesive society or fight against robust understandings of freedom of religion or belief” (“30th Annual International Law and Religion Symposium”).

Peacemakers Needed

As part of his closing remarks, Scharffs recalled the history of the UDHR, noting the significant contributions of Eleanor Roosevelt as its driving force. He said work on the UDHR commenced in 1946 in response to “barbarous acts which … outraged the conscience of mankind” during the Second World War (see “UDHR: Preamble”). The original Commission on Human Rights included 18 members from diverse political, cultural and religious backgrounds. Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the drafting committee. Two years later, over 50 countries participated in the final draft. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the UDHR on December 10, 1948, in Paris. UDHR sets out universal human rights to be universally projected (see “History of the Declaration”).

To mark the 75th anniversary of the UDHR, Scharffs announced that delegates would be gifted a Jorge Cocco Santángelo print of a commissioned piece of art titled “Peacemakers Needed.” The print reads: “Commissioned by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, ‘Peacemakers Needed’ reflects Christ’s profound teaching from the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ The painting is an invitation for everyone everywhere to strive to be peacemakers — to look past differences of place, nationality, religion, and race and focus on our shared bonds as members of a single human race.”

All 2023 ILRS sessions will soon be available at

Contributed by Heather Cameron

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