Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Religious Liberty Clinic at Stanford Law School

Ethan Bronner, At Stanford, Clinical Training for Defense of Religious Liberty NYTimes (Jan. 21, 2013):

Backed by two conservative groups, Stanford Law School has opened the nation’s only clinic devoted to religious liberty, an indication both of where the church-state debate has moved and of the growth in hands-on legal education.

Begun with $1.6 million from the John Templeton Foundation, funneled through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the school’s new Religious Liberty Clinic partly reflects a feeling that clinical education, historically dominated by the left’s concerns about poverty and housing, needs to expand.

“The 47 percent of the people who voted for Mitt Romney deserve a curriculum as well,” said Lawrence C. Marshall, the associate dean for clinical legal education at Stanford Law School. “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.

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“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.

His first four students — a Mormon, a Methodist, a Catholic and someone brought up as a Seventh-day Adventist — agree, saying they were drawn to the clinic by the profound questions it raises and the real lawyering it offers, from meeting a potential client to appellate review.

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Barry Lynn, the executive director ofAmericans United for Separation of Church and State, said he was “shocked that a major law school would accept a gift from Becket,” which he described as “a group that wants to give religious institutions or individuals a kind of preferential treatment, even if that hurts a third party.”

But Hannah C. Smith of Becket, who took part in a panel discussion here on Monday to observe the clinic’s opening, said what liberals like Mr. Lynn call the strict wall of separation is found nowhere in the Constitution. Her group, she said, is working to show that “there are certain God-given rights that existed before the state. God gave people the yearning to discover him. Religious freedom means we have to protect the right to search for religious truth free from government intrusion.”


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