National Review offers in-depth look at BYU's religious freedom and media conference

It's summer, which means that your GetReligionistas -- like many other folks -- are spread out all over the place.

One or two are outside of the United States (think rainforests) and others are on the move for family reasons, etc. In a week or so, I head over to Prague for lectures during this summer's European Journalism Institute.

Like I said, it's summer and these things happen, creating occasional gaps in what we publish.

So, instead of a Friday Five collection from Bobby Ross, Jr., let's flash back a bit to his round-up about the religious freedom and journalism event that recently took Ross, and me, out to the law school at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Click here to flash back to Bobby'r Friday Five wrap on that.

In the weeks ahead, speeches and panels from that event will go online. You really, for example, want to see the keynote speech in the media track, by Emma Green of The Atlantic. Watch updated versions of this space and this one, too, as the links go live. Here is a Facebook link for the "Getting It Right" panel shown in the tweet at the top of this post.

Now, if you want to read an extended piece about this conference, click here for the National Review feature -- by Utah-based scribe Betsy VanDenBerghe -- that just ran with this headline: "Religious-Freedom and LGBT Advocates Offer Rare Lessons in Pluralism." Here is the overture:

In late June, as the United States descended into a high-combustion immigration debate marked by a degree of rancor extraordinary even for an era characterized by discord, an alternate universe quietly unfolded in which cultural-political rivals of goodwill came together to discuss an equally contentious issue: the tension between religious freedom and LGBT rights.
Resuscitating such old-school notions as common ground and fairness for all, the fifth Religious Freedom Annual Review, hosted by the Brigham Young University International Center for Law and Religion Studies in Provo, Utah, gathered legal scholars, LGBT advocates, journalists, and concerned Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to grapple over court cases, questions about higher education and journalistic fairness, and -- surprise! -- common feelings of vulnerability.
“This is not a kumbaya attempt to paper over differences, but an effort to understand what’s at stake if we give up on the messy work of pluralism,” said William Pierce, a First Amendment advocate and senior director of APCO Worldwide, a public-affairs and communications-strategy consultancy. While the mostly professional and scholarly attendees gave the event the the look of a legal convention, a few clerical collars, kippahs, rainbow stickers, and headscarves attested to the viewpoint diversity that was most evident in panels and breakout sessions. Participants offered an unusual witness both that strongly held convictions -- religious, cultural, political -- are not going to disappear anytime soon and that they can be reasonably debated in measured arguments free of name-calling, shout-downs, and unfriending.

It's hard to know what to quote from this piece (trigger warning: Ross and I are quoted several times). I will point to one more passage, linked to the ultimate hot-button issue in our current journalism/political marketplace:

Many speakers and panelists despaired over the impoverishment of our society’s deeply polarized discourse. “Finding common ground is where the rubber meets the road in pluralism,” insisted Boston College theology professor Erik Owens, and being unable to disagree constructively bodes ill for the already ill body politic. Emma Green of The Atlantic looks to religious organizations themselves for examples of religious communities “used to working out hard things among themselves.” As people with Bible-based values feel more and more on the defensive, “how far will it go?” she wondered. “Will we even be able to talk to each other?” She, along with others, blamed the self-segregating silos of social media for some of the problem. “Twitter is a nasty place, and I would suggest you never go there,” she quipped.
On a more hopeful note for common-ground initiatives, LGBT-rights advocates and religious-freedom advocates offered heartfelt praise for the Utah Compromise of 2015, bipartisan legislation hammered out by religious and state leaders alongside Equality Utah, an LGBT-rights advocacy group. The Utah Compromise offers core protections to religious and LGBT communities alike -- a remarkable give-and-take that has not been repeated on either the local or the national level since its successful implementation three years ago. “It’s not happening in other states even though the LGBT side would be wise to get help with employment and housing discrimination,” said Tyler Deaton, a conservative gay-rights advocate who described meeting his husband on a Wheaton College Republican get-out-the-vote tour. Eskridge, the gay-rights advocate from Yale Law School, explained that national LGBT-rights groups don’t seem interested in building on what he regards as Utah’s “deeply principled statute.” However, Pierce, who specializes in finding-areas-of-agreement consulting, sees healthy conversations finally taking place in several states and thinks that they could lead to dialogue at the national level.

That's enough. Please read it all and, if you will, please let us know if you see other pieces drawn from the blitz of content aired during this gathering.

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