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Nootbaar Conference 2016: "Doing Justice Without Doing Harm"

The annual Nootbaar Conference took place on March 11th and 12th at the Malibu campus of Pepperdine Law School. Professor Robert Cochran (director of the Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics) was the main conductor of the two-day event that hosted numerous speakers from across the world. This year's theme of "Doing Justice Without Doing Harm" is derived via:

"ancient roots —'do justice' (Micah 6:8) and 'do no harm' (Hippocrates). The first theme is a call to do justice and to serve a hurting world. What do our traditions say about justice to the 21st century? What are the great injustices and causes of suffering in our world? How might they be addressed by individuals, religious congregations, NGOs, and governments?

A second theme (raised powerfully in Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert's book "When Helping Hurts") will be how individuals, groups, and laws might avoid doing harm as we attempt to do good. Attempts to help can generate dependence or harm bystanders. The work of governments and NGOs can undercut local institutions like religious congregations and businesses that might address local problems. Laws can have unintended consequences that do greater harm than good. We need to make a difference, but to do so wisely." Read more on the Nootbaar Conference Site.

The conference opened on Friday morning with introductions by Professor Cochran, followed by a panel entitled "Doing Justice" with Rabbi Elliot Dorff of American Jewish University and Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission as speakers. Speeches by Rabbi Dorff and Professor Ahmed Taha discussed doing good and giving to the poor as required in Judaism and Islam respectively. These discussions worked to bridge gaps between the religions, showing that Judaism, Christianity and Islam ultimately have similar principles when regarding justice. The Torah, for example, emphasizes that doing what is "right" may be more beneficial than doing what is "good." In other words, many believe that giving money to a homeless person is a helpful act. In some cases this may be so, however, in other cases the charitable money may be used to buy something ultimately harmful to the recipient. A more effective approach (the "right" act) may instead be offering the homeless person a job or supply him with means or support to obtain one, as this would provide long-term stability.

Speaker Brian Fikkert captured the human nature's desire and willingness to help others, while simultaneously illustrating how this desire is inherently effective when there is a deeper message within. He explained that we must proceed with caution in our quest to help others. If we treat economically underprivileged people as if they are entirely unaware of how to care for themselves, we may begin to exercise a "God complex," in turn helping them establish their independence less and less. The key to transforming lives, rather, is to provide empowering, enriching experiences that depict their unique value and contributions to the world around them. Fikkert connected his point back to his theory that as humans, we long to experience relationships with (1) God, (2) ourselves, (3) others, and with (4) the rest of creation. It is due to this that the truly efficient and inspiring way to help others is to connect with them relationally over supplying monetary donations. His book (co-authored with Steve Corbett) When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself was mentioned by speakers throughout the conference as an exemplary paradigm to working with church groups and making a successful impact on people's lives.

The conference then split into separate meeting rooms. Listeners had the option to attend a panel entitled "Doing Justice and Avoiding Harm on the Front Lines" or one entitled "Religious Freedom and Third-Party Harms." The former included discussions on: the rising rate of sexual abuse domestically by founder and executive director of Saving Innocence Kim Biddle; helping the homeless of Los Angeles's skid row by Professor Stringfellow-Otey; and observations on making a difference in Uganda through the Global Justice Program by Professor Jim Gash.

The second day of the conference began with speeches on Love and Justice, Criminal Law, and Race. The separate panels covered "International Justice," "Rethinking Justice and Substantive Law: Torts, Tax, and Intellectual Property," "Religion and Law," and "Western Concepts of Law and Justice." The final panel focused on teaching law students how to love justice. It brought together the main ideas that were emphasized throughout the conference and connected them to justice and the power of faith in restoring a community. At the religion and law panel Myriam Sabry, a second year Pepperdine law student, said she learned of an epidemic she had previously been unaware of: A speaker from China discussed issues of international adoption and how children are often adopted at the expense of their mothers, whereas outsiders in the U.S. are falsely led to believe they are helping the family by the adoption.

Established in 2007, the purpose of the Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics is to educate law students on interrelationships between law, religion and ethics, as well as immerse students in the field of human rights and religious freedom organizations across the globe.

---Written by Alexa Brown & Monica Haider

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