John Inazu to discuss First Amendment, free expression


James Buckser
Staff writer

John Inazu approaches the topic of religious expression from a legal and academic background.

“My entry into this conversation is maybe to broaden the topic a bit to the First Amendment more holistically,” Inazu said, “to think about the role that religious expression plays in the context of expression more generally, in the context of dissent and difference in this country.”

Inazu will speak at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, closing out Week Eight of the Interfaith Lecture Series and its theme “Freedom of Religious Expression.”

Inazu is an author and the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University. He became a law professor after practicing law for some time and finding the job too “fast-paced.” As a professor, Inazu said he has more freedom.

“I still have a lot of plate-spinning and a lot of responsibilities, but I get to set my own calendars,” Inazu said. “I don’t miss things that I don’t want to miss, so I can be there for kids’ events and for different vacations and things like that without worrying that some boss or some client is going to call me off at the last minute.”

In addition to his academic work, Inazu is the author of several books, with a new book, Learning to Disagree: The Surprising Path to Navigating Differences with Empathy and Respect forthcoming in 2024. His most recent book, 2020’s Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference, was the product of a collaboration with Timothy Keller.

Inazu said he and Keller realized that the seemingly disparate work they were doing, speaking to legal audiences and congregations respectively, had things in common.

“We were saying very similar things,” Inazu said. “We thought about this book as a way to engage Christians specifically with how to think and live in a world of difference, in a world that they don’t control, how to have a posture of neighborliness but also a posture of integrity.”

Uncommon Ground features perspectives from a “pretty eclectic group” of faith leaders, artists and professors, Inazu said, in an effort to produce a creative work for a variety of audiences.

Inazu’s lecture will begin focusing on his scholarly work around the First Amendment, he said, “trying to think with the audience about what the right of assembly is” and why it’s important.

The talk will then transition into some of Inazu’s later work, he said, focusing more on what “we do as citizens given the reality of this difference and the complexity that it presents in our lives.”

Inazu is also aware that other speakers this week will have addressed the current moment of polarization.

“I’ll try to give some practical thoughts about how do we engage with people across deep differences,” Inazu said. “How can we assume a different posture that might be more open to engagement without actually sacrificing any of our own beliefs?”

Inazu hopes Chautauquans will gain a better appreciation of the First Amendment, and think about everyday applications of the civic practices he will be discussing.

“I hope that people would be interested in thinking through, maybe there’s one relationship, or one potential relationship in their lives where they can start to implement some of these ideas,” Inazu said. “I think in the current moment of our country, we all have a role to play in trying to think through how to engage across our differences.”


The author James Buckser

James Buckser is a rising junior at Boston University studying journalism. At BU he works with The Daily Free Press and WTBU News, among other campus publications. He is very excited to be reporting on the Interfaith Lecture Series during his first season at Chautauqua, and for the opportunity to interview a wide array of interesting voices. While currently residing in New England, James grew up in Upstate New York, and is looking forward to returning. Outside of reporting, James enjoys going on poorly-planned runs and playing the guitar badly.