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   from the issue of February 16, 2006

Finding 'Hope for a Global Ethic'


A religious base formed in his father's Sunday school lessons and tempered in the halls of the United Nations has allowed Brian Lepard to build a career in international law and ethics.

NEW BOOK - Brian Lepard, professor of Law, stands next to his new book,
 NEW BOOK - Brian Lepard, professor of Law, stands next to his new book, "Hope for a Global Ethic." In the book Lepard suggests that only a global ethic - a relatively specific set of shared ethical principles -will ultimately be sufficient to support the positive, unifying and harmonizing forces in the world today. Photo by Tom Slocum/Photography.

Lessons learned have also allowed Lepard, a professor of Law, to see the potential for international law and world religions to work together, finding a common ground based on ethical principles and understanding. He outlines those beliefs in his most recent book, "Hope for a Global Ethic: Shared Principals in Religious Scriptures."

The book focuses on the similarities of world religions and common ethical principals found in sacred writings. It is designed to reach a broad audience, focusing on shared principles that can - if practiced - help solve world issues peacefully.

"There is a significant commonality of shared values," Lepard said, calling the global ethic a "call for unity in diversity."

Lepard's journey to international law and ethics professor took him first into the study of religious freedom and ultimately human rights law and tax law.

Following his graduation from Princeton University in 1983, Lepard worked for three years as an international human rights law specialist at the United Nations Office of the Bahá'í International Community. The non-governmental group has long called for the creation of a system of international governance, based on the principle of collective security, which would encompass all of the nations of the world and lay the foundations for a lasting peace.

While working for the group, Lepard brought the persecution of Iran's Bahá'í religious community to the attention of the United Nations.

"The experience was a windfall," Lepard said. "It inspired me to study international law."

In 1992, he was invited to an Albanian conference on religious freedom. Unlike many countries where lip-service was paid to religion and/or religious freedom, Lepard said, Albania outlawed religion outright and set about rounding up and imprisoning people from numerous faiths.

Lepard said watching people who had been imprisoned for 30-40 years face the communist officials who put them in prison was a moving experience.

"One priest looked at an official, pointed his finger and said, 'I remember the day you put me behind bars; I will never forget - I cannot forget; but I can forgive you,'" Lepard said.

Ten years ago, Lepard came to UNL. However, his quest for knowledge, specifically knowledge related to human rights, international law and ethics, continues.

"Different factors shaped my desire," Lepard said.

At the forefront of those factors is his religious faith. He points to his father's experience in Methodist Sunday school classes in Alliance and to the influence of his father's best friend, a member of the Bahá'í faith and a Rhodes Scholar. The friend encouraged Lepard's father, a student at Northwestern, to explore the faith at a time when the national Bahá'í House of Worship was being built in Wilmette, Illinois, outside Chicago. His father attended its dedication in 1953.

Through his family's foundation in the faith and his own journey, Lepard felt the need to explore humanitarian intervention, leading to his first book, "Rethinking Humanitarian Intervention: A Fresh Legal Approach Based on Fundamental Ethical Principles in International Law and World Religions," published in 2002.

"I wanted to pursue an interest in military force and human rights," Lepard said. "For example, do we have a legal or ethical obligation to intervene, to use military force? I began a systematic look at the ethical teachings of different religions."

Lepard studied seven religions and their ethical values systems: Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá'í Faith.

"We hear about the differences," Lepard said. "As a Bahá'í, I did believe that all religions teach that all people are part of one human family. What really surprised me was how many things religions do share."

The belief in unity is strong, as is the belief in diversity and the value of the diverse members of the human family as brothers, he said. Through a study of the scriptures for each of the faiths, writings that profess the highest ideals for that faith, Lepard focused on practical, social ethics.

Lepard points to a significant shift in human rights since 1948 and to a proliferation of human rights treaties as positive indicators for humankind. Military action had been used for any number of reasons throughout history, yet "world leaders now feel that any kind of military action ultimately must promote human rights. That is a radical departure from the past," he said.

"I think we are seeing a great deal of progress," Lepard said. "It's not perfect, certainly not perfect, but it is progress."



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