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The D.C. Immersion at the Newseum’s Religious Freedom Center

This student post was written by Religion & Public Life Certificate student, Eliza Grover.
Please see author bio at the end of post.


The D.C. Immersion at the Newseum’s Religious Freedom Center is a required conference for all students enrolled in the Religious Freedom Center courses. The immersion lasted two and a half days, and included Newseum First Amendment Center broadcasts, lectures, trainings, and individual class discussions. Overall, I had a great experience at the immersion, and I learned so much about religious freedom and diversity. There are three parts of the immersion that I would like to highlight: a lecture from Charles Haynes, a public event about Muslims in America, and a public event about the separation of church and state.

There must be compromises made by both parties in order for everyone’s rights to be respected.

All of the staff at the Newseum was very kind and very interesting, but there was one lecture from the Newseum’s Religious Freedom Center founder, Dr. Charles Haynes, that I found particularly interesting. Haynes has done a lot of advocacy work for religious liberty in the public sphere, and his lecture focused on what religious freedom looked like today in the public sphere. One example he gave is the seeming conflict between religious liberty and civil liberty (gay marriage); he said that there must be compromises made by both parties in order for everyone’s rights to be respected. He also talked about how restrictions to religious liberty are at the heart of most of today’s violent conflicts and how an increased awareness of the issues will help bring about resolution. Haynes’s passion for respecting religious beliefs of all people was very inspiring.

It is easy to think that such ignorance and bigotry does not exist within the United States, but it is shocking how many people still feel frightened by things that are unfamiliar to them. 

The Newseum’s First Amendment Center often hosts public events that are webcasted or broadcasted in other ways, and there were two of these that I attended during the immersion that were very fascinating to me. The first was a talk about Muslims in America and the discrimination that they face. There was a panel of experts- some Muslim and some not- representing various organizations that advocate for Muslims in the United States. I was moved by many of the experiences that the panelists shared, and the panel prompted me to think a lot about how ignorance and bigotry has led to so much suffering. It is easy to think that such ignorance and bigotry does not exist within the United States, but it is shocking how many people still feel frightened by things that are unfamiliar to them.

Restrictions to religious liberty are at the heart of most of today’s violent conflicts.

The second public event that I found especially interesting was a talk on separation of church and state and where that line should be drawn. Again, there was a panel of experts on this issue who represented organizations that varied placement on the political spectrum. It was interesting to hear about the history of separation of church and state in the United States and other nations, and the current dilemmas that a lack of separation of church and state has caused — i.e. abortion, gay marriage, and education. I found my own ideas and concepts of separation of church and state challenged, and it was very interesting to learn about various court cases that are still under debate.

I would encourage any students at Claremont who are interested in learning more about religious freedom to enroll in the Newseum’s courses. They are filled with Supreme Court cases, historical examples, and news articles of present events. My resolve to advocate for religious freedom has been deepened, and I feel that these classes have improved my knowledge about the subject of human rights and religious freedom.

Claremont Lincoln University, in partnership with the Newseum Institute in Washington, DC, is proud to offer online courses designed to equip civic and religious leaders to become constitutional and human rights specialists on issues of religion and public life. The online experience is supplemented with a three-day immersion in Washington, DC, with national experts and faculty. Courses in this certificate award 3 credits per course from Claremont Lincoln University. To learn more, visit our website for more information.


About the Author

Eliza Grover is a communications officer at the United States Agency for International Development in the Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad. Eliza received her B.A. in Political Science from Brigham Young University in 2014, and is currently pursuing a M.A. in International Law and Organizations at the George Washington University. She worked previously as a program assistant in USAID in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and has also spent time in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Utah State Legislature. Outside of work and school, Eliza loves to run, cook, and spend time with her husband.

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1 comment

  • Eliza, thank you for sharing your thoughtful reflection about the DC Immersion Experience. It is always enlightening to read the student’s perspective. I’m glad to know that you have been challenged and inspired by your engagement in our courses.