Faith vs. freedom: Does religion have a place in the public square?

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The news of the day is full of loud, messy intersections between religion and politics.

Roman Catholic bishops go to court to resist the birth control provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Muslims in Dearborn, Mich., lobby successfully for accommodations on student-led prayer in public schools. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives declares 2012 the "Year of the Bible."

Mothers who still warn their children not to talk religion or politics in polite company may be wasting their breath. Yet the debates that turn on people's religious freedom and government's regard (or disregard) for faith are worth having in a society that must balance assorted rights.

How that balance is achieved will be examined by a distinguished panel at a Post-Gazette town meeting on "Religion in the Public Square," presented by PNC Financial Services. Sponsored by The Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame, the event will be held Friday at 4 p.m. at Heinz History Center. Admission is free, but attendees should register at or call 412-263-3850.

The panelists will be: James A. Gibson, senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill; Naomi Schaefer Riley, columnist for the New York Post; Gerald Seib, Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal; and Peter Smith, the Post-Gazette's new religion writer. The moderator will be David Shribman, executive editor of the Post-Gazette.

Religion is a personal matter, but when it spills over into the nation's civic life it is everybody's business.

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