Whitman alumnus Scott Thompson lectures on first amendment issues

Rose Woodbury

Whitman alumnus Scott Thompson ’05  is giving a lecture this afternoon, Thursday, Sept. 22, on the extent to which the U.S. government’s role in encouraging moderate forms of Islam violates the first amendment.

Thompson obtained his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Duke University after graduating from Whitman. While at Whitman, Thompson was a politics and rhetoric and film studies double major. He was also heavily involved in ASWC and an avid debater, leading the team to two national debate championships. He is currently working as a clerk in a federal court.

Forensics Professor Jim Hanson, who asked Thompson to return to Whitman to give a lecture, described the issue at stake.

“Our government has programs encouraging moderation in Islamic religious groups . . . the government is endorsing one view of religion over another and depending on how it’s set up, it may violate the first amendment,” he said.

Melissa Wilcox, Associate Professor of Religion, who currently teaches a course that looks at religious intolerance in the United States, commented on the nature of religious tolerance and the first amendment.

“Pretty much any religion other than mainstream Protestantism has seen issues with religious tolerance,” she said. “It depends on the era.”

Sophomore Ben Menzies, who will be attending the lecture, commented on the topic via email.

“Speaking globally, the U.S. has expanded its efforts in the past year to strengthen Muslim groups perceived as moderate in the Middle East and North Africa in an attempt to capitalize on the perceived opportunity created by the Arab Spring. ”

Menzies encouraged all students to attend the lecture.

“Although I anticipate that I will disagree with a substantial amount of Mr. Thompson’s lecture, I suspect it will be extremely informative and thought-provoking,” he said.

Hanson is excited to hear Thompson talk about the fine line between the government’s moderation of violence within religious groups and its attempt to moderate a religious group’s beliefs.

“[The government] probably could make [moderation of violence] constitutional if it focused exclusively on rejecting violence rather than rejecting aspects of the Islamic religion,” Hanson said.

Hanson said that students with many different interests would find the lecture worthwhile.

“If they’re interested in religious freedom, in how the U.S. interacts with Islamic groups in other countries, and if they are interested in legal issues period [students should come to the lecture],” he said.

Hanson notes that Thompson has a charismatic personality, and that his talk will likely be particularly engaging.

“Scott is a very congenial person that I think students will feel comfortable with and connect with,” he said.

Thompson’s lecture will take place at 2:30 p.m. in Hunter 107. Refreshments will be provided.