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Advocating for Those Silenced: Pepperdine Hosts Conference on Religious Asylum

Pepperdine University's Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics hosted a conference examining religious-based claims for asylum titled "Asylum: A Home for the Oppressed," on November 9 on Pepperdine's Malibu campus.

The continuing war on Christians in Sudan and Eritrea, the Iranian crackdown on all religious practice except certain forms of Islam, and tales of religious persecution worldwide have a common thread: religious oppression of a kind not found in the United States.

"It is important for those of us who take religious freedom for granted, to appreciate the dangers posed to those people of faith and conscience who are threatened in other parts of the world," states The Honorable Bruce Einhorn, a retired federal immigration judge who participated in the conference.

Conference speakers saw the event as an important time for lawmakers, religious leaders, lawyers and ordinary citizens to understand the problems faced by those suffering at the hand of true religious extremism, and how U.S. asylum laws can help, if enforced correctly.

The panel discussions examined religious-based claims for asylum to better understand U.S. laws crafted for the protection of the world's religious refugees and other prisoners of conscience. Additionally, organizers said the conference expresses the University's solidarity with those persons persecuted for their nonviolent confessions of faith.

The keynote lunch address was given by Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, the former U.S. ambassador-at-large in charge of the secretary of state's Office of War Crimes Issues. His previous posts include the State Department where he served as a special counsel and policy advisor on war crimes issues, and U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as a war crimes prosecutor. While working and living in Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide, Ambassador Prosper was appointed lead trial attorney and prosecuted Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu, the first case of genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

In addition, three panels of experts presented in the fields of asylum and religious liberty. Speakers included School of Law dean Ken Starr; Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.; Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.; Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic at UC Hastings College of Law; Michele Pistone, professor and director of the clinical program at Villanova University School of Law; and The Honorable Bruce J. Einhorn, retired federal immigration judge.