News and Events
Nootbaar Institute Hosts Forum on Obama, Religious Faith, and the Public Square
Three days after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, students, faculty, and staff at Pepperdine University gathered at the School of Law, thirsty for analysis of the new administration. The Herbert and Elinor Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics brought two of Pepperdine's most lauded experts in law and rhetoric together in a forum titled "Obama, Religious Faith, and the Public Square: A Conversation with Doug Kmiec and John Jones," which took place on Friday, Jan. 23, before a standing-room-only crowd.
The speakers were Douglas Kmiec, the Caruso Family Chair in Constitutional Law, and John Jones, professor of communications at Pepperdine's Seaver College.
Kmiec was an early supporter of Barack Obama and wrote the book Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama. As an invited guest on Obama's train ride to the inauguration, he had many conversations with the president about faith, public discourse, and abortion, which he shared with the audience.
"I am a Catholic, and the teaching of the Catholic Church is quite absolute on the matter of abortion. It is an intrinsic evil that can be justified under no circumstances, and not only that, but it is the teaching of the church that if I voted for a candidate because of the belief that Senator Obama has, that I'd go to hell. And I've been told that's where I'm going due to my endorsement of the senator," Kmiec said, followed by laughter from the crowd. "So I had to write a book about. I'm hoping God likes to read."
Kmiec praised Obama as he "stopped religion from being a wedge issue" in the last election, and for ability to find a common ground in the abortion issue. "Senator Obama said, 'I want to reduce the number of abortions, and the way to do that is by addressing the cause of those abortions, and we know that a woman in poverty are four times more likely to have an abortion than a woman not in poverty, so don't we think that if we provide decent health care and decent shelter and decent maternity leave, and an adoption process that is not overly cumbersome and expensive, but welcoming and encouraging and dignified, that in fact we will have that result?' That's what he wrote into the platform."
Professor Jones has written and spoken widely about the speeches of both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. He called Obama "the best political orator since Reagan." Jones' most recent work is Reagan at Moscow State University: Consubstantiality Underlying Conflict, Rhetoric, and Public Affairs (Spring 2007).
"I am very encouraged to hear a Democrat making faith a central part of his rhetoric," said Jones, who categorizes himself as "opposed to abortion with a couple of exceptions."
"I recognize that it is a complicated issue," said Jones. "We are dealing with a clash of two values that Americans esteem most highly: one is the value of human life; the second is individual liberty. And so, which one, when they conflict, do we privilege over the other? That's a tough one. For me the answer is pretty clear, but the one who holds President Obama's position, I think he did the best job he could rhetorically with that."
The purpose of the Herbert & Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion & Ethics is to explore the nexus between law, religion, and ethics. It provides students and faculty the opportunity to explore these areas through interdisciplinary seminars, conferences, and symposia.
For more information about the Institute, visit the School of Law Web site. A video of the conversation between Kmiec and Jones will be available soon.