First Amendment will take center stage in conference | AspenTimes.com

First Amendment will take center stage in conference

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

America was founded on the provision that its inhabitants were allowed freedom of religion, as spelled out in the First Amendment.

Times have changed and so has America’s relationship to the amendment, says local religion columnist Dave Hale, who is helping organize the second annual Res Publica conference in Aspen. The event begins today and runs through Saturday.

The First Amendment and its place in a changing America will be the conference’s centerpiece. The meeting of religious scholars and community leaders is titled “In (Whose) God (Do) We Trust?” Attendees will examine how far the First Amendment has come in 250 years.

The conference will also feature a public forum on the teaching of yoga in public schools ? a controversy that divided Aspen School District parents just a few months ago. The forum, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Aspen Chapel, will allow a panel of international and local theological scholars to discuss how yoga’s plight in public schools reflects the nation’s growing derision for organized religion.

“Yoga in public schools is endemic of a larger issue this country has to face,” said Hale, self-appointed apparatchik for the conference.

Keynote speakers for the conference include Dr. Randall Balmer, professor of American Religion at Columbia University and a syndicated religion columnist, and Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and the author of “The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism.” Balmer’s presentation, titled “One Nation Under God: Defending the First Amendment in Perilous Times,” will help kick off the conference at 7:30 p.m. today at the Wheeler Opera House. Sachedina’s interfaith talk, “Religious Pluralism After 9-11,” will take place during the conference’s presentation of doctoral papers.

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Representatives of Harvard University’s religious studies department, as well as a number of Colorado theologians, will also be on hand for presentations throughout the weekend.

“This is an all-star cast,” Hale said of the presenters. “We’re very fortunate to have that caliber of person come to Aspen and make themselves available to people.”

Events will be held at the Mountain Chalet, the Wheeler Opera House and the Aspen Chapel.

The conference begins at 6 p.m. today at the Mountain Chalet with a welcoming reception and will conclude with a participant breakfast on Saturday.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]