January 27, 2011 12:06 Age: 3 yrs

EPIC Grant Leads to Balancing Church and State Issues at State Department

By: Lori Johnston

Jenny Hernandez 12L 12T spent this summer balancing church and state.

Hernandez joined U.S. Department of State employees who attended events featuring Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus through her internship with the Office of International Religious Freedom, which seeks to promote freedom of religion worldwide as a human right and a source of stability for countries.

“It also was really interesting to see the contrast between the public speeches of Clinton that I saw, which I knew everything she said would be taken as guidance for State, as opposed to the very informal speaking event where I saw Petraeus simply try to address and engage with State employees on the importance and issues of their day-to-day work,” she says.

Hernandez received one of 36 Emory Public Interest Committee summer grants, funding students working in public interest who otherwise would have gone unpaid.

The internship had Hernandez compiling information for the office’s annual 1,000-plus-page report on the state of religious freedom in all 195 countries.

Hernandez was part of a team that gleaned information from reports, working with embassies and doing database research to find examples of religious freedom and persecution in the Middle East and North Africa, specifically. The 195-country report is mandated by and presented to Congress.

A major issue she learned about was the Moroccan government’s deportation of more 100 Christians, many American, within the past year, including some who had lived there more than a decade.

The charges were for proselytism to Muslims, or trying to convert Muslims to another religion, which is illegal in Morocco. Deportees were not allowed to appeal and have had to remain outside the country, despite owning property and businesses in Morocco. The situation included many complex issues, related to religious freedom—simple due process concerns and freedom of speech issues, Hernandez says.

Law and government need to address religious freedom issues because if not, “you’re completely isolating a huge part of what makes society,” Hernandez says.

A person’s religious beliefs and how those beliefs translate to how one wishes to live have the potential to cause strife in society unless the state is aware and respectful of these beliefs and practices, she says.

“Religion is always viewed as the problem in many societal issues, but why isn’t religion part of the solution?”

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