2024 Religious Liberty Fellowship

The 6th annual JRCLS Religious Liberty Fellowship was held on May 20 - 24, 2024, at the Founding Forward campus near historic Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  The program gathered 22 law students, new attorneys, and undergraduate students from diverse faith backgrounds, schools and career pursuits to learn from distinguished religious liberty experts and develop actual religious liberty initiatives to implement in their local schools and communities.   

This year’s curriculum included a discussion on statutory protections presented by Josh McDaniel, Director of the Harvard Law School Religious Freedom Clinic.  Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, traveled to the campus with his family to teach the Fellows about the Free Exercise Clause.  A session on the Establishment Clause was led by Kayla Toney, associate counsel at First Liberty Institute.  Jennie Lichter, Deputy General Counsel for Catholic University, discussed religious liberty in higher education.  

David Colton, past chair of the International Advisory Council for the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, taught about the history, results and challenges of religious liberty in both the United States and across the globe. David Harmer, National Director of Founding Forward, shared insights from latter-day scripture into the Constitutional Convention.  He also spoke about George Washington’s divinely inspired role, an apt discussion for the audience of religious fellows gathered near historic battlefields where American independence was won.

Volunteers from the JRCLS Religious Freedom Committee also presented to the Fellows, with committee chair, Robert Snyder, giving an introduction about the Law Society, and committee member Annika Boone Barkdull leading a discussion on church autonomy issues. Tanner Bean, also a committee member, participated throughout the conference and led an insightful discussion with his client, Bridger Jensen, founder of the Singularism religious practice, on practical legislative applications relating to religious freedom.

In addition to hearing from wonderful speakers, the Fellows toured historic Valley Forge, visiting soldier encampments and George Washington’s Headquarters, among other sites.  They also spent an afternoon in historic Philadelphia, touring the National Constitution Museum and visiting the Liberty Bell and other landmarks.

Throughout the week, the Fellows developed action plans to implement religious liberty initiatives in their communities over the next year and presented them to the Fellows, answering questions and receiving feedback about their plans.  These initiatives include the following: 

  • Organizing an interfaith religious freedom music festival
  • Cataloging indigenous religious sites in the Pacific Islands and working to protect those sacred areas
  • Creating an informational guide for event planners on meeting the needs of religiously diverse audiences 
  • Drafting law review articles regarding religious freedom
  • Creating a Tik Tok series regarding Christian nationalism and how it relates to religious freedom
  • Developing a teachers’ training program regarding religious inclusivity
  • Engaging in dialogues regarding the role of religious freedom on college campuses, especially amid Israeli-Palestinian conflict issues

We are grateful to Annika Boone Barkdull, Tanner Bean and the rest of the Religious Freedom Committee, and to Amy Parker, JRCLS Events Manager, for their work on this important and meaningful weeklong fellowship program.