Divinity School “Church & State in America” Class Makes Trip to Washington, DC
Divinity School students in “Church and State in America”, a class co-taught by Dr. James M. Dunn, Resident Professor of Christianity and Public Policy and Melissa Rogers, Director of the Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, travelled to Washington, DC, October 19 – 22, during the students’ fall break. The purpose of the trip was to give students first hand experience with the organizations and individuals working on the front lines of church and state issues in America.
Rogers, who resides in DC, is also a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and Dunn previously served as the Executive Director of The Baptist Joint Committee for 20 years. Student Ashley Sims noted, “We could not have professors who are better connected and recognized in the public policy community on religious freedom.” Fellow student Maria Nkonge said of her professors, “because of their respect in the field they were able to bring in an outstanding group of experts to speak to the class during our DC excursion.”
Guest speakers this year included Washington Post columnist and Brooking Institution Fellow E.J. Dionne, more than 30-time Emmy winning journalist Bill Moyers, as well as staff for North Carolina Senator Richard Burr. The class also heard from current and former representatives from the Justice Department, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Religion News Service, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and the ACLU.
Dunn said, “The splendidly focused series of presentations by our guests matched as accurately as I could have possibly hoped the academic purposes of the class. The level of dialogue was consequently one of the most mature and focused we have had.”
While in DC, the students toured the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court. They also took a twilight tour of monuments, including the new monument honoring the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
When asked about the impact of the trip, Rogers said: “The speakers are truly those who are on the frontlines of First Amendment issues. Through personal interaction with these speakers and touring our nation’s capital, students develop a deeper understanding of religion’s role in government and society. Aspiring ministers must carefully consider these issues before they face them in the field, and our students have demonstrated the kind of thoughtfulness and leadership that makes us proud.”
The class met for a long weekend in September, made the DC trip in October, and has one final weekend class in November where they will discuss and synthesize all that they learned in DC.
Student John Callaway said, “Seeing the respect our professors are given in DC made me realize how important they are in their field. I also realized how helpful it is to us for them to leverage their networks for an invaluable educational experience for us. I’ll remember this trip for a long time.”
All students in the class are pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree, with one student pursuing the dual Juris Doctorate/Master of Divinity.
Media Contact: Lance Henry