How I wish that God would speak!

The Newcastle Lawyers’ Christian fellowship is running another of our breakfast meetings for lawyers (and other interested folk!) in Newcastle, on Wednesday 14 June 2023, from 7:30-8:30 am.  Our venue will once again be the Moot Court with-the-best-views-of-a-harbour (aka Room X-703) in the NuSpace Building, the University of Newcastle (corner of Hunter St and Auckland St). We are glad to welcome David Robertson back to speak about what the ancient Hebrew Book of Job can tell us about wanting God to speak in the midst of suffering.

No matter what our occupation or where we’re from, we’re all familiar with suffering. The enigmatic 3,000 year old man Job & his story of suffering must rank as one of the most gut-wrenching, eye-watering tales in the great catalogue of human misery down the centuries. Join Newcastle City Legal presenter David Robertson as he brings this ancient story to life – and shows us the surprising comfort it offers.

More information is available here, where you can also register. Cost is $5 (which includes a coffee) or $10 for pastries for breakfast.

I should also mention that I will be speaking at the upcoming City Legal National Conference in Canberra on 24-25 August, on ‘The Ethics of Freedom: Religious Freedom in the Workplace’. This Seminar is one of the 2 CPD points on offer at the Conference in the areas of Ethics & Professional Responsibility along with Practice Management & Business Skills. See Conference Brochure here. There will also be great speakers like Max Jeganathan, John Bales, Dan Anderson & Wilbur Longbottom. More details and Conference Rego are available here.

Law & Religion Junior Faculty Conference- UND, Chicago, Oct 2023

Academics who are working in the Law & Religion area may be interested in this upcoming conference at the University of Notre Dame in Chicago, especially those who are in the first decade of their academic career. I am informed that offers of papers will be considered even from those based outside the US. Here are the details:

Notre Dame Law School in Chicago
Notre Dame Law School in Chicago

The University of Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative invites junior faculty to submit abstracts of works in progress to be considered for presentation at a Law & Religion Junior Faculty Conferenceto be held at Notre Dame Law School’s Chicago Campus October 27-28, 2023.

We are looking for submissions of proposed articles that will make significant contributions in the field of law and religion. If your paper is selected, you will receive a $1,500 honorarium + travel costs, and dedicated commentary on your paper from a distinguished scholar in this field. You also commit that you will have a working draft circulated at least one month before the Conference. For more information and to submit a 500-word abstract of your proposed article by April 28th, 2023visit our website. If you already have a working draft of your article, you may also submit that with your abstract for consideration during the selection process. 

Qualifications: Submissions are limited to unpublished papers by junior faculty, meaning tenure-track law faculty who have been teaching for no more than 10 years. Aspiring scholars who have not yet obtained their first tenure-track appointments, including teaching or other fellows and visiting assistant professors, are also welcome to submit papers for consideration.

  • Submissions may not have been accepted for publication by a journal, and the article must remain substantively revisable (for purposes of incorporating changes resulting from conference feedback).
  • There is a limit of one submission per person.
  • Co-authored pieces will be accepted only if both authors are junior faculty members. Any honorarium awarded on the basis of a co-authored piece must be shared.

Selection: Submissions will be competitively selected by a jury of distinguished scholars in the field of law and religion. 

Reach out to Stephanie Barclay at stephanie.barclay@nd.edu with any additional questions.

Academic conference on Theology and Jurisprudence- call for papers

I am happy to post this call for academic papers to be presented at a forthcoming conference in Adelaide (South Australia) on “Theology and Jurisprudence”. (For the moment this will be of interest only to those academics who would like to suggest a paper to be presented.)

Call for papers

Theology and Jurisprudence Symposium  

10 February 2023, Adelaide Law School (‘ALS’), South Australia

Proposal submission deadline: 1 November 2022

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Freedom of speech for University student protected

A recent decision of the NSW Supreme Court has applied a rarely used provision in legislation setting up Australian universities to provide a legal remedy for a student penalised for her comments on a controversial issue. In Thiab v Western Sydney University [2022] NSWSC 760 (10 June 2022) Parker J ruled that the actions of Western Sydney University (“WSU”) in penalising the student, Ms Thiab, for comments she had made expressing disagreement with the State’s compulsory vaccination requirements, were unlawful. The case is an interesting example of protection of a student’s freedom of speech through application of the legislation establishing the University, and would apply not only to “political” comments as in this case, but also to religious beliefs.

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Biblical view of sex and gender “worthy of respect” after all

In a good development for religious freedom, the UK Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) in its decision in Mackereth v Department for Work and Pensions & Anor [2022] EAT 99 (29 June 2022) has ruled that a Biblical view of human sex and gender is “worthy of respect” and may be protected as a religious belief in an appropriate case. Unfortunately for Dr Mackereth, the outcome of the appeal was that the way he had been treated by the relevant Department in response to his protected belief was a “proportionate” and hence lawful action. As I will explain below, I think this part of the ruling may be challenged. But it is good to see common sense on the issue of the status of his belief, which is one that would be shared by many people in the community.

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Law and Religion elective for later year Law students

This is an announcement which may be of interest to readers of this blog who are, or who know, later year Australian law students. Please feel free to pass this on to others who may be interested.

Students in the final 2 years of their law program are invited to consider applying for cross-institutional study with Associate Professor Neil Foster at the University of Newcastle, NSW, who will be offering the course LAWS6095 “Law and Religion” in semester 2, 2022. The course is open to both postgrad JD students and LLB students in their final 2 years of study. (Of course those who are actually studying at the University of Newcastle are eligible, and I hope many will sign up; but this notice is for those who are studying elsewhere!)

If this is a course you would like to complete, please email Neil (neil.foster@newcastle.edu.au ) as soon as possible, and in any event before the end of March 2022. If you would like credit for the course as part of your Law studies, you will then also need to apply to your own University for this.

 The course description is:

“The course offers an overview of the interactions between law and religion. It lays the foundation for the area by discussing the historical connections between the development of the legal system and religion in the West, surveys major world religious perspectives on law, and then explores in more detail the classic issues of ‘establishment’ (to what extent is, or should be, religion given a privileged place in the law?) and ‘free exercise’ (how does the legal system acknowledge and uphold the right of free exercise of religion and balance that with other human rights?). It also explores some of the intersections between religion and other important legal areas such as criminal law and the law of private obligations. Students have the opportunity to develop essential problem solving and communication skills with specialized knowledge and skills for research, which will equip them for high level professional practice and further learning in this important area.”

The course will be taught for 3 hours per week for 12 weeks in semester 2: a 2-hour “live” seminar (with most people in the room, assuming COVID restrictions allow, but also an “online” option for those located outside Newcastle), and one hour of purely online content. Learning outcomes will be:

“On successful completion of the course students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate an advanced and integrated understanding of both the foundational elements of, and recent developments in, the discipline of law as it relates to religious belief;

2. Generate and evaluate complex ideas and concepts at both a concrete and abstract level on law and religion topics;

3. Employ research principles and methods applicable to the both domestic and international law in the area of religious belief, and apply cognitive, technical and creative skills to investigate and analyse complex information and problems to apply the law to solve those problems;

4. Use high level oral and written communication skills to interpret and transmit knowledge, skills and ideas to specialist and non-specialist audiences;

5. Engage responsibly with those who have differing opinions on important issues in a professional and respectful way;

6. Plan and execute a research-based project with a high level of personal autonomy and accountability;

7. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of their own presuppositions and developed skills in critical thinking which will allow them to effectively identify and evaluate the validity of these and those held by others.”

For those who are wondering about the educational benefits of such a course, you can read about them in a recent article published on SSRN: see Witte, John, “The Educational Values of Law and Religion Study (2021)” in William Schweiker, et al., eds., The Impact of Academic Research on Character Formation, Ethical Education, and the Communication of Values in Late Modern Pluralistic Societies (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt GmbH, 2021), 67-98, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3959083 .

Religious Freedom Weekend June 11-13, 2021

Let me commend this event, the “Religious Freedom weekend” to be celebrated over June 11-13, 2021; details available at this website: https://www.religiousfreedomweekend.com.au . The weekend is being sponsored by Freedom for Faith, a legal think-tank supporting religious freedom in Australia which I am proud to be associated with. This is not a conference, but simply a weekend where we are encouraging believers all over Australia, and those who just support the important human right of religious freedom, to celebrate religious freedom and consider what they can do to support this right.

There is a Resource Pack outlining some current challenges, with some suggestions for prayer for churches and other religious groups. There is a call which can be sent to Members of Parliament to support proposals to protect religious freedom, especially through laws prohibiting religious discrimination. Church leaders can also email for further resources.

I think this is a great resource and encourage all those who read this blog to support it and share it with others!

Gender Identity Laws and Basic Freedoms

I am presenting a paper on Feb 8, 2020 at the NCC National Conference 2020 “Strengthening Family, Faith, Freedom and Sovereignty in an ideologically hostile world”. The paper concerns the interaction between laws on “gender identity discrimination” and other basic freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The paper can be downloaded here: