WARSAW, Poland You won't find Brigham Young University law professor Richard Wilkins in Provo these days he is managing a family studies institute in far-off Qatar, except this week when you will find him in Warsaw, speaking at the fourth World Congress of Families.
He and several other Utahns are among the 130-plus speakers at the international event, which promotes pro-family social and political agendas.
Also speaking at the international conference are Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero, BYU law professor Lynn Wardle, World Family Policy Center executive director Scott Loveless and LDS Church general authority Elder Bruce C. Hafen.
Exhibitors who pay for space at the convention also include the Family First Foundation, with headquarters in Bountiful, and BYU's World Family Policy Center.
Mero said pro-family lobbying groups converging in the first world congresses in 1997 made for a "very Utah-centric" event. It continues as a forum for private lobbying organizations to gather ideas they can take home to promote pro-life, pro-family social agendas.
The Utah representatives form an identifiable bloc on the agenda but are in a remarkable minority among the delegates overall. This year's congress has a significant Roman Catholic influence because of the presence and influence the church has in Poland. Nuns and priests and a few regional church authorities are very visible at the conference, as is a Catholic influence on the way events are structured.
Polish event sponsors were able to prohibit The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from offering any proselyting materials and resisted having the church list its name on the banner above its booth. The LDS representatives are offering the church's "Proclamation on the Family" in all six of the conference's sponsored languages and a version of the church's Family Home Evening resource book that excludes all scriptural references.
BYU's Loveless said the many advocacy groups at the conference take different approaches in the way they work to attract attention. Some of the groups come on pretty strong.
"We are much less militant," Loveless said of the approach the World Family Policy Center is taking.
What can, and should, come from the conference is an increased awareness of the idea that individual rights have to be balanced with societal obligations.
"Family is where that is best lived," he said.
"There two competing moralities: 'I can do what I want,' and 'I can do what I should.' The 'I want' is the motto of the individualist. What gets lost are our mutual obligations to each other," Loveless said.
Loveless sees no conscious effort in the world to attack the family structure directly but, like many at the Warsaw event, sees individual rights agendas picking away at family rights piece-meal. What the pro-family organizations are trying to do is heighten an awareness of effects current social agendas have on the rights of the family.
One example, Wilkins said, is the way discussion items at the United Nations unexpectedly influence federal law. Another comes from the U.S. Supreme Court. "Until recently, it was unthinkable that any state or federal court would enforce the terms of a treaty that had not been ratified by the United States Senate.
"No longer. On March 1, 2005, in Roper v. Simmons, Justice (Anthony) Kennedy cited the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child a treaty never ratified to support the conclusion of five justices," he said.Comment on this story
The effects international politics have on laws in the United States are "a very dangerous reality," Wilkins said.Loveless, Wardle and Elder Hafen are all scheduled to speak today.