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Kader weighs in on religious freedom in Balkans

June 23, 2008

Professor David Kader of ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia this month as part of two events discussing freedom of religion.

The first, a two-week seminar that began June 3 in Sarajevo, is sponsored by the U.S. State Department and organized by the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies at ASU. In this trip, a group of about 10 Arizonans is visiting the war-torn region to share discussions on “Faith Communities and Civil Society.”

The second event is a one-day conference on “Secularism and Religious Pluralism as a Prerequisite for Actual Democracy,” in Zagreb, Croatia, organized by the Open Society Institute. Kader was scheduled to deliver the conference’s plenary talk, titled “Religious Liberty in an Open Society.”

Kader, who teaches “Religion and the Constitution” at the College of Law, said the Sarajevo seminar will include discussions of the role religion has played in the country’s civil war and visits to all the major faith communities in the region, including churches, temples, mosques and schools.

“Bosnia has been through hell since the split, and a big source of the conflict is the religious differences: Eastern Serbian Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish,” Kader says.

Kader’s discussion of “Religious Institutions and the Law” included a panel with Stephen Batalden, director of the Melikian Center; Zdravko Grebo, a professor of law at the University of Sarajevo; and attorney Ahmet Zilic.

Kader has worked with the Melikian Center, speaking to delegations of religious leaders from Bosnia who have made two, two-week visits to Arizona in the past four years.

On those visits, Kader spoke to the delegations about “Religion and the Law in America,” outlining the constitutional and legal conditions governing the free expression of religion in America.

David Brokaw, assistant director of the Melikian Center, says the group specifically requested Kader because it found his discussion on the First Amendment so important.

“During the wars in the 1990s, the country was split down religious lines,” Brokaw says. “The goal is to facilitate and encourage dialogue.”
Kader says he does not “lecture” to the delegations about how religion should be regulated by the state.

“It’s too easy to be triumphal about the American experience with church and state,” Kader says. “We have had extraordinary success. Our country’s founders included a freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution. We’re one of the more religious populations in the world, with more people engaged in religion than other countries.

“We’ve had enormous religious liberty and limited religious strife for the bulk of the American story.”

But Kader says the American experience has had its shortcomings, too, particularly the way it has dealt with Native Americans and slavery, and it’s not necessarily the best for all countries.

“I’m not certain it’s a template for all societies,” Kader says. “The American model may or may not be useful.” 

Judith Nichols,
(480) 727-7895
College of Law