Three thought leaders from the South Pacific—Linda Folaumoetu’i, Juliet Chevalier-Watts and Sheikh Mohammad Amir—were among the presenters at this week’s International Law and Religion Symposium at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, United States.
The theme of this, the 26th annual International Law and Religion Symposium, was “Human Dignity and Religious Freedom: Preventing and Responding to Persecution.”
According to the International Center for Law and Religion Studies’, “The 2019 Annual International Law and Religion Symposium focuses a light on persecution, with a particular emphasis on how implementing the concepts of human dignity and religious freedom can help prevent and respond to persecution worldwide.”
In her presentation, Linda Folaumoetu’i (Attorney-General of Tonga) noted that, unlike many other countries, her country does not face a lot of religious persecution or restrictions on religious freedom. While most Tongans are devout Christians, she explained, there is a high degree of tolerance for individuals of other faiths or belief systems.
As an example, she shared the story of a person from another country who arrived in Tonga with a fake passport. While he was in custody and his case was being heard, many locals brought him food and provided other support.
This, Mrs. Folaumoetu’i said, is typical of the Tongan way of acceptance of and service to others.
Juliet Chevalier-Watts, associate director of the Waikato Public Law and Policy Research Unit at Waikato University, spoke about the benefits of religiously motivated charitable activities on economies and societies.
She was followed by Sheikh Mohammad Amir, chairman of the board of Islamic scholars of New Zealand, who talked about the March 2019 shootings in two Christchurch mosques. He said that we need to understand each other and our respective faiths to avoid similar events in the future.
In his closing remarks, Professor Brett Scharffs, director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, introduced the “Punta Del Este Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere”. Written in 2018 by several scholars, this document reaffirms the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
At the conclusion of the conference, Elder K. Brett Nattress of the Pacific Area Presidency attended a luncheon in Salt Lake City with the International Law and Religion Symposium delegates.
“Along with Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, I was delighted to meet the delegates from the South Pacific,” Elder Nattress said.
“Each one of them contributed to the symposium in thoughtful and constructive ways. We are grateful that they came to the symposium and hope to work with them in the future to do good in our Pacific communities.”
Elder Nattress continued: “President Russell M. Nelson, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke to the group at the luncheon. He expressed love and appreciation to them, inviting future collaboration in order to defend religious freedom and bless individuals and families around the world.”