Campus Talks Religion in Panel Discussion

Published: September 13, 2010 | Read Time: 2 minutes

Former Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley once said, “Public Schools can neither foster religion nor preclude it.” Such is the charge with which public universities across the nation grapple in the balance of constitutional freedoms.

In the ever-raging debate, scholars, canonists, agnostics and politicians all bring to the table unique perspectives on religion’s role in the public sector, and in the interest of fostering a greater understanding of each, Southern Utah University’s Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service and the Interfaith Advisory Board will bring together a hodgepodge of experts on that very subject in a panel discussion titled, “The Role of Religion and Spirituality at Public Universities” this Thursday, September 16, at noon in the Sterling Church Auditorium within the Sharwan Smith Student Center.

As a public university, SUU takes seriously its responsibility to provide a learning environment that is inclusive and welcoming of diverse thought. The panel's intention is to open a dialogue about this and other topics related to religion in the public space.

Visiting panelists contributing to Thursday’s discussion will include Geshe Thupten Dorjee, a Buddhist monk currently teaching at the University of Arkansas; Steve Benson, a secular-humanist and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic; Kholoud al-Qubbaj, a Muslim faculty member who teaches a course on diversity at SUU; Jerry Iwarden, pastor for the Westview Assembly of God in Cedar City; Susan Wiltse Smith, an Episcopalian vicar; Dr. Kim Peterson, a religious instructor for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; and Dr. Ed Firmage, former White House Fellow for Civil Rights and an emeritus professor of law at the University of Utah.

Each participant will be allowed five minutes to state their perspective on the topic, after which the floor will be open to the audience for questions.

The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Brian Birch, director of the religious studies program at Utah Valley University and director of the Mormon Chapter of the Foundation for Inter-religious Diplomacy.

Religious tolerance and inclusivity lies at the heart of the Interfaith Advisory Board at Southern Utah University. Established two years ago, the council seeks to promote unity and understanding in Iron County and especially at SUU. Open interfaith dialogue amongst religious leaders and students is a paramount goal of the council; the upcoming panel discussion is the first in a series of open forums the council will sponsor this year.

This week’s panel discussion is free and open to the campus and local communities. Seating is limited, with overflow in the Student Center Theater. Light refreshments will be served following the panel.

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