Friday, January 25, 2013

Religious Liberty Clinic at Stanford Law School

Libertarians and conservatives alike can rejoice that Stanford Law School--an influential, top ranked School of Law--has created a clinic where students will be able to participate in cases with a "freedom of religion" component.

The NY Times describes the nature of the cases the clinic will pursue:
“In framing our docket, we decided we would represent the believers,” said James A. Sonne, the clinic’s founding director, explaining that the believers, rather than governments, were the ones in need of student lawyers to defend them. “Our job is religious liberty rather than freedom from religion.”

Mr. Sonne, who grew up the son of a psychoanalyst in a nominally Episcopalian home near Cherry Hill, N.J., converted to Roman Catholicism while a student at Duke University. He went on to Harvard Law School and later a professorship at Ave Maria School of Law, a Catholic institution. He acknowledges the political coloration of much of the religious-freedom debate but says he does not want his clinic to be seen as a program for conservatives.
The National Catholic Register went a bit deeper in explaining the cases they will take:
Based at Stanford’s Mills Legal Clinic, the training program will focus on two types of cases: plaintiffs seeking “accommodation” of religious beliefs and practices and plaintiffs engaging with the public square, possibly to secure access to public facilities or obtain approval for building houses of worship.

“Real-time" cases include a prisoner who converted to Judaism and now needs permission to be circumcised and zoning approval for a mosque. Sonne said that students would work on cases that were less likely to be entangled in partisan politics, avoiding, for example, legal challenges to the HHS mandate or free-exercise cases arising from opposition to same-sex “marriage"...

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has represented plaintiffs from many religious traditions, and Sonne suggested that the public interest group’s “vision fits in well with an academic environment that offers a different perspective: Whether you are representing a mosque or an evangelical church, the question is whether they have the freedom to act in accord with their conscience.”

Sonne added that the decision to select less incendiary cases for the clinic docket did not signal a retreat from a strong commitment to religious liberty: “We think that religious liberty is a natural right. The kind of cases we will handle will manifest that belief, regardless of the issue.”
I was genuinely (and happily) surprised that a part of the higher-education establishment would consent to this type of clinic. Perhaps there is still some hope that our most prestigious graduate programs, who have a great deal of influence in determining who among us will eventually access the most important levers of power, may be embracing a bit more ideological diversity. From the Times story:
Lawrence C. Marshall, the associate dean for clinical legal education at Stanford Law School [states] “My mission has been to make clinical education as central to legal education as it is to medical education. Just as we are concerned about diversity in gender, race and ethnicity, we ought to be committed to ideological diversity.” Mr. Marshall became a hero to liberals for his work to exonerate death penalty inmates when he was a professor at Northwestern Law School a decade ago.

[Bold face is my emphasis]
A welcome development indeed.

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Always sniffing for the truth

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