Election years tend to prompt profound discussions about morality, conscience and belief, even if politicians tend to reduce them to bumper-sticker trivialities. No such shallowness pervades the discourse at Miami Law, where a stimulating subject will dominate the Secular Law Society's first event since its founding earlier this semester.
The topic of Thursday's conversation will be "Debating Religious Exemption: The Obama Mandate, The First Amendment, and The Catholic Church." The head-to-head match-up will pit Kenneth E. Loukinen, the Director of Florida Operations for American Atheists, who will represent the secular viewpoint, against Father Roberto Cid, the director of Radio Paz and Pax Catholic Communications, the radio ministry of the Archdiocese of Miami, who will defend the church's position at the invitation of the Catholic Law Students Association. The moderator will be Miami Law Professor David Abraham.
The debate – with an emphasis on the Obama mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for birth control – will take place on Thursday in Room F309 at the law school. Lunch will be provided at 12:30 p.m. and the discussion will start shortly afterward.
The Secular Law Society's founder is first-year student Charles Haskell, who points out that it is not his intention "to be offensive or provocative." He said that most SLS events will focus on the intersection of law and religion, although this week's debate will be somewhat unusual in that neither speaker is a lawyer. The discussion, he said, will delve into the "moral and philosophical underpinnings of the birth control issue," with future events focusing more "on the legal side of things."
Haskell, a JD/MA student who worked in journalism before coming to Miami Law last fall, said his aim is to be scrupulously objective: "I enjoy religious debates and hearing both sides of these issues, regardless of my own opinion. That said, I dislike the taboo nature of discussing religious belief. My hope for the organization is to create a forum where religious ideas, and the lack of evidence supporting faith-based thinking, can be questioned in a respectful way. It should be clear – the group's purpose is not to advocate against the right to religious belief, but rather to separate this thinking from public policy and law. Religious people, more than anyone, should join this group. It's in favor of upholding their right to religious freedom, without excluding or favoring any one group in particular."
Father Cid, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was ordained a priest in Miami in 2007. Earlier, he obtained a degree in accounting from the Universidad de Buenos Aires and a doctorate in economics from the University of Miami. He serves as parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Plantation.
Loukinen is an activist for atheist rights and the separation of church and state. He was a founding member and president of Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists. For more than 25 years, Loukinen has been a firefighter and paramedic with the Broward Sheriff's Office.