Forum 2000‘s  first law-and-religion panel, “Religious Law and Human Rights,” took place this afternoon, chaired by Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan.  Prince Hassan opened the panel by speaking of the need for a real “bill of rights” for the “West Asian/North African” region, one that includes the right to be free from religious discrimination.  Michael Melchior, the Chief Rabbi of Norway, followed.  He noted the size of the audience that had gathered to hear the panel and said it reflected a new interest among intellectuals and policymakers in religion as a social phenomenon.  “God,” he said, “has returned to history.”  All religions, he continued – speaking of the Abrahamic faiths – have both totalitarian and dialectical impulses; we need to “minimalize the former and maximalize the latter,” and predicted that religious and political leaders have only a limited window of opportunity to accomplish this.  Journalist Shahira Amin from Egypt spoke about her doubts that the Arab Spring will usher in a secular society.  Although Egypt is historically a moderate society, she said, present-day Egyptian Islam is becoming radicalized as a result of Wahhabi influence.  Discrimination against Coptic Christians is a problem. She noted, though, that the Muslim Brotherhood has been speaking in more moderate terms since the revolution, perhaps in an attempt to appear politically responsible.  Tibetan Buddhist scholar Geshe Tenzin Dhargye spoke of the two key ethical principles in Buddhism, the laws of causation (karma) and non-harming behavior, and how they would inform a Buddhist approach to law and society.  In the final presentation, Bishop Václav Malý of the Catholic Archdiocese of Prague argued that Christianity provided the philosophical roots for human rights, “at least in Europe.”  Although people have now forgotten those roots, as a historical matter it was the Christian concept of Imago Dei that implied human dignity and freedom, including freedom of conscience and religion. He ended by saying that the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic does not favor a confessional state, but a pluralist state in which people with different religious and philosophical commitments, including non-religious commitments, can peacefully co-exist.  – MLM

For those not fortunate to be liveblogging from Prague, a live feed to Forum 2000 can be found here. – ARH

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