Religious ideas are essential for a healthy public discourse, law professor Stephen Carter LAW ’79 said in a lecture at the Law School Auditorium on Thursday night.

Carter, who spoke to an audience of about a hundred people, discussed the origin of Christian just war theory and what he sees as religion’s positive role in public debate, emphasizing that religion has historically been perceived and has acted as a positive political force.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”15051″ ]

Audience members generally said they found Carter to be inclusive in his ideology and impressive in his command of political and religious history.

Carter said religious thought can contribute positively to political discourse and that only recently has religion’s role in politics become a controversial issue.

“It was only after the Moral Majority [emerged] that religion has been seen as a great threat to American values,” Carter said. “I think it’s not one now. To treat it as one is dangerous because we lose important arguments in politics.”

Carter described historical developments such as the abolition of slavery, the women’s suffrage movement and the labor movement as liberal, progressive causes with prominent religious support. He noted that there was little controversy when evangelical voters contributed significantly to President Jimmy Carter’s election.

Carter also said that Christian just war theory, a body of Christian ideology that seeks to outline conditions under which war is justified, can contribute a more moral perspective to policy-making.

“If we think about the problem of deciding not simply what we can justify but what we ought to do, we can have a richer conversation about war and about peace,” he said.

Audience members were generally positive about Carter’s lecture, noting his spirit of inclusiveness and religious openness.

“I thought he put religion into a new perspective that I never thought about before,” Joanna Jeon GRD ’07 said.

Alex Nizet DIV ’07, a practicing lawyer, said he appreciated Carter’s belief in the power of religion as a proactive force.

“He has a great reverence for the role of religion in making and shaping firm policy,” Nizet said.

Kristina Scurry LAW ’08, co-chair of the Yale Law Christian Fellowship, said she hopes the lecture series will contribute to the religious dialogue at the Law School.

“The Law School really tries to get young people to think about how they want to live their lives as lawyers,” Scurry said. “The Christian Fellowship thinks we have a lot to add to that discussion.”

This lecture was the first in a series co-sponsored by the Yale Law Christian Fellowship and the Rivendell Institute — a group of campus ministers — called “Public Voices/Public Faith.”

“The theme of the series regards the challenges and contribution of religious faith in public discourse,” David Mahan, one of the directors of the Rivendell Institute, wrote in an e-mail.

The three remaining speakers in the series — all Yale professors — are Harry Stout, John Hare and Miroslav Volf.