Baha'i News -- Professor mixes law, religion

Professor mixes law, religion

BY TOBY MANTHEY / Lincoln Journal Star

It's a case that may never have a verdict: In God We Trust v. The Separation of Chuch and State.

But according to University of Nebraska College of Law Professor Brian Lepard, religion and the law don't have to work against each other, and his May 2002 book, "Rethinking Humanitarian Intervention" shows why.

The book has received a positive blurb in the celebrated magazine The Economist, and he just returned from signing the book at the United Nations for a group of nongovernmental organizations. The book relates religious and ethical principles to the use of military force in humanitarian efforts.

"We can't ignore the fact that -- throughout history -- our secular laws were based on religious and ethical beliefs," Lepard said.

The eclectic mix of law and religion is typical of Lepard, a former tax attorney who teaches tax law and international law. Lepard said university teaching was the one place he knew he could pursue his diverse interests.

Lately, those interests have been heavily focused on law and God.

In "Rethinking Humanitarian Intervention," Lepard discusses the principle of "unity in diversity," which he says is found in at least seven major religions and the U.N. charter, and can be used to support international human rights laws.

"Various scriptures support that we're all members of the same human family," Lepard said in explaining the principle. "Part of the principle is an appreciation of diversity. We should take pride in our own nationality, country and religion."

Leaders at the United Nations are seeing religious support as critical to the success of human rights laws, Lepard said, because religions play a major role in people's thoughts and actions.

In real terms, Lepard said, getting that kind of support would mean more conferences and consultations between lawmakers and religious leaders.

"It's pretty obvious that if we're dealing with Islamic fanaticism and terrorism, we have to have Islamist leaders say (terrorism) is not part of Islam," he said.

Steven Willborn, dean of the College of Law, said Lepard's book was the result of an "active mind"tackling difficult problems. He said most legal traditions emphasize the separation of church and state.

"(Lepard) is not fighting those; he's approaching it from a different angle," Willborn said. "It's unusual in that he's trying to use religion actively as a source of strength in the law."

Lepard finds his own strength and direction from the Baha'i faith, where he first found the principle of unity in diversity. Lepard met his wife -- with whom he has two sons, ages 6 and 9 -- while working for the United Nations office of the Baha'i International Community.

Terry Johnson, a fellow Baha'i, said Lepard is well-known and active in the local Baha'i community, which he helps out by using his legal skills on occasion.

The Baha'i faith believes humanity is a single race, and historical forces will eventually break down barriers such as race, class and creed.

Similarly, if religion is to be involved in the law, it must be tolerant, Lepard said.

"Concern about religious intolerance is responsible for fear and the separation of church and state," he said.

Lately, Lepard has been seeing the principles in his book at work in the United States' problems with Iraq.

Lepard said other principles flow out of the principle of diversity, such as the "principle of consultation," found in the U.N.'s policy that the use of force is so serious as to be a last resort, and any use other than self-defense must be approved by the Security Council.

"I'm pleased to see President Bush appears to be advocating working with the Security Council," Lepard said.

And Lepard said those who fear the United Nations will establish a kind of sinister "New World Order" misunderstood the organization. The United Nations is an easy scapegoat, but it's not a world government, he said, but a group of sovereign states.

"We're all fearful about world events," he said. "It's tempting to point the finger that this organization is causing problems or infringing on U.S. sovereignty."

Reach Toby Manthey at 473-7395 or

©Copyright 2002, Lincoln Journal Star

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