WM. T. (Bill) Robinson III ’67
Institute for Religious Liberty
Save the date for the fall interfaith event scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. We are excited to share that the keynote speaker is Rashad Hussain, United States ambassador at-large for International Religious Freedom, a position created by the International Religious Freedom act of 1998. Ambassador Hussain is the first Muslim-American to hold this position.
To advance the American concept of religious freedom as an unalienable right and the protection of this right for all people.
Beginnings of the Institute
The Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III ’67 Institute for Religious Liberty (IRL) serves to advance the American concept of religious freedom as an unalienable right and the protection of this right for all people. It was established in 2015 after several local business and educational leaders, including representatives from Hebrew Union College, discussed the need to celebrate and educate others about the constitutional privilege and right to freely worship and practice religion.
“Religious freedom is part of the warp and woof of our nation,” said Gary P. Zola, Ph.D., who represents Hebrew Union College on the IRL Executive Committee. “In light of contemporary events that capture the headlines daily, it is difficult to identify a more salient and timely subject to explore in a forum of this sort.”
Headed by Executive Director Raymond G. Hebert, Ph.D., dean of the College emeritus, the IRL strives to accomplish its mission through education and dialogue in the form of academic symposia and lectures featuring internationally renowned speakers.
2021-2022 Academic Year
Fleeing for Freedom: Local Impact and Responses
The Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III ’67 Institute for Religious Liberty (IRL) hosted an interfaith event on April 7, 2021, entitled “Fleeing for Freedom: Local Impact and Responses.” Panelists in the spring discussion included John A. Koehlinger, executive director of Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM), Dennis Caffrey, a Spanish-speaking volunteer medical interpreter working with Siloam Health in Nashville, Tenn., and Fr. Athanasius Habtu Ghebreab, Ph.D., an immigrant himself, he arrived in the U.S. in the ’70s and now serves as parish priest at Holy Trinity Eritrean Orthodox Church and a senior faculty member at the University of Cincinnati. “The William T. Robinson Institute for Religious Liberty presents our community with important opportunities to gain knowledge through experienced perspectives that uphold the practice of academic and religious freedom,” says University President Joseph L. Chillo, LP.D. “These panelists not only offer unique messages into the strength found in collaboration, but also the importance of working to bridge the divide between ourselves and others to make justice and peace a reality.”
The subject broached by this panel was timely in light of current events taking place between the Ukraine and Russia. Panelists all serve refugees in unique ways. CLICK HERE to learn more about the panelists and to watch a video of the event.
The Problem with Religious Liberty
The Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III ’67 Institute for Religious Liberty (IRL) hosted a spring lecture on Feb. 24, 2022, entitled “The Problem with Religious Liberty” featuring Patrick J. Deneen, Ph.D., the David A. Potenziani Memorial Chair of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Joining Harris were guest commentators Jeanne Schindler, Ph.D., a Research Fellow of the John Paul II Institute at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and John T. Spence, Ph.D., AICP, professor of political science at Thomas More University. Deneen touched on the issue that religious liberty presents in the political arena and the complexities it creates. His talk incorporated how in antiquity the belief in the “city’s” religion was not separated from the political. There was no expectation that the individual could have a different belief than that of the civilization or city in which they were an inhabitant. Deneen outlined this concept in detail using Athens of ancient Greece and Rome as examples. He then continued to cover how this same ideal was present in other forms throughout the ages even being experienced by St. Thomas More in the England of Henry VIII. Deneen than approached the modern day political environment and the idea that we are trying to maintain two “cities,” as we tolerate people of different religious values within the same governmental system. Is it possible to successfully maintain that type of environment? Deneen, Schindler, and Spence then spoke to some of the nuances that must be considered in this balancing act. To view the event, please visit tmuky.us/22irldeneen.
A Frontline Perspective from a Lifelong Jewish Activist
On Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 the IRL presented a fall interfaith program featuring American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris. Since 1990 David Harris has led American Jewish Committee (AJC), which has been described by the New York Times as the “dean of American Jewish organizations.” Harris was dubbed by the late Israeli President Shimon Peres as the “foreign minister of the Jewish people.” Harris has been honored more than 20 times, including by the governments of Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Moldova, Poland, Spain, and Ukraine for his international efforts on behalf of the defense of human rights, advancement of the transatlantic partnership, and dedication to the Jewish people. He has written hundreds of articles in leading media outlets. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania and London School of Economics, Harris has been a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University and Oxford University. Two commentators enhanced the event with the first being Shakila Ahmad, who has been the board chair and president of the Islamic Center for Greater Cincinnati (ICGC). She was the first woman to serve in this capacity at such an institution in the US. Ahmad is the founding chair of the ICGC’s Muslim Mothers Against Violence Initiative and in Greater Cincinnati interfaith circles she has been recognized for building bridges in a troubled world. She currently serves on the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council made up of leaders across the country whose goals include strengthening state and federal legislation against hate crimes and promoting the contributions of Jewish and Muslim Americans. This bipartisan council was organized to fight Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The second commentator was James P. Buchanan, Ph.D., former Director of the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue at Xavier University, who studied comparative religions and ethics at Yale University and the University of Chicago. He also studied and taught in Paris, Moscow, Beijing, and Hong Kong. Buchanan formerly held the Besl Family Chair and professorship in ethics/religion and society at Xavier University and the Carolyn Werner Gannett Chair in humanities at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has lectured worldwide and is published widely on a range of global ethical issues. To read the press release that accompanied this event, click here.
Reclaiming the “Publick Happiness,” America’s Higher Education Legacy
On Thursday, April 15, 2021 at 7 p.m. the IRL presented a lecture featuring Paul L. Gaston, Ph.D. virtually via Zoom. Gaston is a frequent speaker at national conferences, an Association of American Colleges & Universities Distinguished Fellow, and a consultant to Lumina Foundation. He is the author of several books including: “General Education Transformed” (2015), “Higher Education Accreditation” (2014), “General Education and Liberal Learning” (2010), and “The Challenge of Bologna” (2010). He is completing a book on higher education credentials scheduled for publication in 2021. Gaston earned a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Virginia, where he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. Commentators for the lecture included Debra Humphreys, Ph.D., and Kim Haverkos, Ph.D. Debra Humphreys, Ph.D., vice president of strategic engagement for the Lumina Foundation of Indianapolis, Indiana, for whom she directs efforts to assure the quality of education beyond high school. She received a bachelor’s degree from Williams College and master’s and doctorate in English from Rutgers University. Humphreys has senior leadership experience with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) and has decades of experience in higher education reform focused on improving teaching and learning, curriculum redesign, and quality assurance. Kim Haverkos, Ph.D., is dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Thomas More University. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Xavier University and a master’s degree in science education from the University of Cincinnati. Haverkos joined the Education Department in fall 2012 after receiving her doctorate from Miami University. Her dissertation work explored girls’ attitudes and behaviors around “going green” and STEM and her areas of research/teaching continue to focus on education, cultural studies, and issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She teaches on both graduate and undergraduate program levels.
2020-2021 Academic Year
Beyond Dialogue: The Power of Interfaith Collaboration
This fall event was held virtually on Oct. 28, 2020 and featured James P. Buchanan, Ph.D. Buchanan is director of the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue at Xavier University (since 2003), studied comparative religions and ethics at Yale University and the University of Chicago. He also studied and taught in Paris, Moscow, Beijing, and Hong Kong. Buchanan formerly held the Besl Family Chair and professorship in ethics/religion and society at Xavier University and the Carolyn Werner Gannett Chair in humanities at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has lectured worldwide and is published widely on a range of global ethical issues. Commentators for the event included Aaron Bludworth and Gary Zola, Ph.D. Aaron Bludworth, CEO of Cincinnati based marketing services company Fern, is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has held various local leadership roles in his stake (diocese) and ward (congregation) where he currently serves as the Elders Quorum President (a priesthood and service organization within the local church). He has been active in numerous political efforts, having worked on presidential, senatorial, and congressional campaigns as well as numerous local races. Gary Phillip Zola, Ph.D., is executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and the Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor of the American Jewish Experience & Reform Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. Zola serves as editor of The Marcus Center’s award-winning biannual publication, The American Jewish Archives Journal. President Barack Obama appointed Zola on three separate occasions (2011, 2014, AND 2017) to serve as a member of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, an independent agency of the federal government.
2019-2020 Academic Year
Understanding Anti-Semitism–Then and Now – October 2019
On Wednesday, October 30, 2019, the William T. Robinson III Institute for Religious Liberty presented a fall interfaith program.
The title was “Explaining Anti-Semitism—Then and Now” and the keynote speaker was Michael A. Meyer, Ph.D., Adolph S. Ochs Professor of Jewish History at Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati campus. During the week of the first anniversary of the deadly attack on the Jewish community in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Dr. Meyer shared examples of anti-Semitic acts throughout history and discussed the multiple kinds of anti-Semitism, emphasizing the need for vigilance because anti-Semitic acts, dormant for a time, have once again returned with virulence as have many other hate crimes. He emphasized that the outbreak of hate is a challenge to all us. While we realize that there are many differences among us, religiously and otherwise, “beneath our differences is a common humanity.” The first of the two commentators was Todd Walatka, Ph.D., the interim director of the Masters of Divinity Program and associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Walatka’s expertise is in the ecclesiology of Vatican II, theology and racism and the relationships between Judaism and Christianity. He was followed by Shakila Ahmad, who has been the board chair and president of the Islamic Center for Greater Cincinnati (ICGC)—the first women to serve in this capacity at such an institution in the U.S. Well known in Greater Cincinnati interfaith circles, she has been recognized for building bridges in a troubled world. She currently serves on the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council made up of leaders across the country whose goals include strengthening federal legislation against hate crimes and fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. A spirited discussion followed during the question and answer session.
Click here for the official press release and photos from this event.
Civil Dialogue: An Antidote to Polarization – February 2020
On Thursday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m., the IRL hosted guest speaker Reverend Kristen Farrington to discuss an antidote to polarization. Farrington was previously the executive director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute in Washington, D.C. She is currently the assistant chaplain at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandra, Virginia. While she was at the Freedom Forum Institute, compelling programs were hosted that engaged in the central debates of our time, including the role of a free press in a democracy, promoting civil dialogue and the significance of religious freedom in a pluralistic society – all programs that educate the public about the religious liberty principles of the First Amendment.
Sherri Goren Slovin was one of the two commentators for the event. Slovin has practiced family law and mediation for more than 35 years and is one of only 12 Ohio Supreme Court Board certified family relations specialists in Cincinnati. She was named the 2011 Cincinnati Best Family Relations Lawyer and the 2013 and 2015 Cincinnati Best Family Mediator by Best Lawyers in the United States, a peer-selection distinction given to only one lawyer in each practice area in each city. Additionally, she has received the highest peer review rating (AV) by Martindale Hubbell and has consistently been selected for the Ohio Super Lawyers Top 25 Female Lawyers in Cincinnati.
David Lapp, the second commentator of the evening, is a co-founder of Better Angels, a bipartisan citizens’ movement that brings together red and blue Americans to depolarize America. Lapp helped to found Better Angels in the aftermath of the 2016 election when he and others organized a workshop that brought together a handful of Trump supporters and Clinton supporters. Lapp serves as a co-investigator in the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project and his writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review and First Things among other mainstream, conservative and liberal news outlets.
To read the complete press release and watch a video of the event, Click here.
Beyond Dialogue: The Power of Interfaith Collaboration – October 2020
The William T. Robinson III ’67 Institute for Religious Liberty presented “Beyond Dialogue: The Power of Interfaith Collaboration.” Guest speakers included James P. Buchanan, Ph.D., Aaron Bludworth, and Gary Phillip Zola, Ph.D. Dr. Buchanan is the director fo the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue at Xavier University. Mr. Bludworth is the CEO of Chicago based Invision Diversified Holdings and Fern. Dr. Zola is the executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and a professor at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
2018-19 Academic Year
American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us – November 2018
On Thursday, November 15, 2018, the IRL featured Dr. David Campbell, Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame, who described the results from the book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, co-authored by him and Robert Putnam. Commenting from their respective religious traditions were Rabbi Michael Danziger, Jolene Edmunds Rockwood from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Fr. Nicholas Rottman.
Religious Liberty: Our First, Most Cherished Liberty – February 2019
On Thursday, February 7, 2019, The Institute for Religious Liberty welcomed The Most Reverend William Edward Lori, S.T.D. 16th Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph. D. Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, a University Fellow, and Associate Professor of Political Science at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Archbishop Lori as the first head of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Dr. Hunter Baker, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Union University in Jackson, TN, and author of The Necessity of Courage in the Defense of Religious Liberty both shared their perceptions of the state of religious liberty in the last decade. Click here to see pictures from the event.
2017-18 Academic Year
Religious Liberty: Common Origins an Interfaith Dialogue – November 2017
Wednesday evening, Nov. 8, the IRL hosted three distinguished scholars for an interfaith dialogue featuring the three Abrahamic traditions: Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim. Moderated by Dr. Catherine Sherron, Chairperson of the Philosophy Department at Thomas More, the speakers included Dr. Jeffrey Zalar, who holds the Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Endowed Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Jonathan Cohen, Dean and Associate Professor of Talmud and Halakhic Literature at Hebrew Union College, and Dr. Waleed El-Ansary, University Chair of Islamic Studies, Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice at Xavier University.
Religious Liberty at a Crossroads – January 2018
On Wednesday, Jan. 24, the IRL presented “Religious Liberty at a Crossroads,” in honor of recently-deceased alumnus and member of the IRL Executive Committee, William T. Robinson III. This event emphasized recent Religious Liberty legal cases, in particular, the Little Sisters of the Poor Religious Liberty Case. The speakers included experts on all of the related cases from the older Hobby Lobby Case to the more recent Trinity Lutheran and Masterpiece Cake Cases. Dr. Kathleen Jagger VP for Academic Affairs and Dean of The College moderated the event which included Professor Kevin C. Walsh from the University of Richmond School of Law who was the original attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor; Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies for the Cato Institute and Editor-in-Chief for the Cato Supreme Court Review. He is also the co-author of Religious Liberties for Corporations? Hobby Lobby, the Affordable Care Act, and the Constitution, and Professor Frederick Gedicks who holds the Guy Anderson Chair, one of three endowed chairs at Brigham Young Law School. He is widely published on law and religion, constitutional law, and constitutional interpretation, including two books, The Rhetoric of Church and State: A Critical Analysis of Religion Clause Jurisprudence (Duke University Press, 1995), and Choosing the Dream: The Future of Religion in American Public Life (Greenwood Press, 1991) (with Roger Hendrix). For more information and photos of this event, please click here.
2016-17 Academic Year
Academic Symposium – February 2017
On Friday, Feb. 17, the IRL presented Joshua Charles, author of the book Liberty’s Secrets: The Lost Wisdom of America’s Founders, as the keynote speaker. Thomas More University’s own J.T. Spence, Ph.D., and Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D., of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., offered a commentary on Mr. Charles’ work after the keynote address.
Saturday, Feb. 18, the Symposium continued featuring a panel discussion on the crucial linkage between religious liberty and economic freedom, moderated by Joshua Charles. Kevin E. Schmiesing, Ph.D., a research fellow for the Acton Institute and well-known author on Catholic social thought and economics, was the keynote speaker on day two of the Symposium. Kevin Brown, Ph.D., Asbury University, Sister Mary Kay Kramer, CDP Thomas More University Alumna, and adjunct professor, and Brett Greenhalgh, President, Cincinnati Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints and founding member of the Institute for Religious Liberty’s Executive Committee served as commentators. For photos from this event, please click here.
2015-16 Academic Year
Inaugural event – February 2016
The Thomas More University Institute for Religious Liberty, in partnership with Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, held an Inaugural Event on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, at the Connor Convocation Center on the Thomas More University Crestview Hills campus at 7 p.m. in the evening. The event featured two religious thought leaders: U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom Rabbi David Saperstein, and Archbishop of Louisville and the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops the Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D. While in attendance at this event, Michael Galligan-Stierle, Ph.D., President/CEO of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, commented that, “of the nearly 1,000 scholarly centers and institutes at Catholic universities, some of which look at religion and politics or religion and law, Thomas More College is the only one I know of with a clear and sharp focus on religious liberty.” For photos from this event, please click here.
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