May 5, 2011

Commencement 2011: Brittain Award

Silas Allard combines law and religion for human rights

Silas Allard

Silas Allard cobbled together odd jobs for a few years in St. Louis after college, trying to pay his rent while volunteering for Amnesty International and Students for a Free Tibet. Then he started working at the Center for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma in an afterschool program with children newly resettled from Afghanistan, Somalia, Liberia and dozens of other countries.

The experience solidified his commitment to pursue a graduate program that would allow him to combine his interests in law and religion, which he found through the Center for the Study of Law and Religion joint degree program.

Allard, a candidate for Juris Doctor and Master of Theological Studies, is this year’s recipient of Emory’s highest student honor, the Marion Luther Brittain Award, which honors service to Emory and the greater community without expectation of recognition.

His nominators called Allard a “tireless and mature student leader” and “community builder” through his stellar academics, his work as co-chair of a conference honoring the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights held at Emory, and his service with the Emory Public Interest Committee.

“I came in wanting to think about human rights in a broad sense, which has a strong legal component but in a myriad of ways is influenced by religion and religious communities around the world,” he says.

Asylum and migration are interests

By combining the “constructs, language, methodologies and hermeneutics” of law and religion, Allard believes he can influence human rights policies and practices, particularly in the areas of asylum and migration.

“I am deeply troubled by the way in which refugees are perceived as incapacitated and pitiable, particularly by the legal regime of asylum—a view which leads to understandings of asylum as an act of discretionary charity,” he says. “People seek asylum because they have been forced to make an often difficult and devastating choice. An ethical asylum law recognizes that decision.”

He was grateful for the opportunity to work as a research assistant for Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law Abdullahi An-Na’im, whose emphasis is on Islam, human rights and the secular state.

And through experiences such as serving as editor-in-chief of Emory International Law Review, clerking at the ACLU of Georgia, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project, and interning at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva last summer, Allard has gained practical experience that informed his academic perspective.  “I want to be able to navigate between both worlds,” he says.

The $5,000 stipend that accompanies the Brittain award will allow Allard to move to New York City, where he will serve as a law clerk in the office of the chief judge of the Court of International Trade.

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