Monday, November 22, 2004

The Eternal Law?

I never went to law school, though I was accepted into one. I fell asleep the first day and that was that. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't think law is very important; it is, and I'm very glad that other people also find it great fun.

Now we have three new law schools which stress the religious application of law in the United States. Not the application of law to religion, but the application of religion to law. The idea is to groom a new generation of lawyers who can take on all the favorite issues of the Christian Right: the right to practise religion in public schools and in the public arena in general, the drive to ban abortions for good and so on.

The New York Times describes the newest religion-and-law school in the country:

The class in civil procedure, at the new Liberty School of Law here, began with a prayer.
"The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul," said Prof. Jeffrey C. Tuomala, quoting Psalm 19. "The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple."
But decisions of the United States Supreme Court, Professor Tuomala went on, are not always trustworthy. "Something that is contrary to the law of nature," he said, "cannot be law."
The school, part of Liberty University, whose chancellor is the Rev. Jerry Falwell, is for now a makeshift affair in a vast industrial building that used to be a cellular phone factory. Its students compensate for the surroundings by dressing well - many of the men wore jackets and ties - and by showing attentive enthusiasm, even for a heavy dose of civil procedure at 8 a.m.
The school, which says its mission is to train "ministers of justice," is part of a movement around the nation that means to bring a religious perspective to the law and a moral component to legal practice.
"People are realizing that some of the biggest issues of the day are being decided in the courts - the 2000 presidential election, the question of what is marriage, abortion, stem-cell research, cloning,'' said Jeffrey A. Brauch, the dean of Regent Law School, which was founded in 1986 in Virginia Beach by Pat Robertson, the television evangelist. "And maybe there are eternal principles of justice that will tell us how to approach these questions."

Talk about creating activist lawyers! I find it hard to see how these future lawyers could interpret the law based on the Constitution and so on, if they regard the Biblical messages more central. There's also the additional problem that not all their future clients might be Christians.

Still, the same article also points out why such schools are needed:

The claim that professors at the leading law schools tilt to the left is supported by statistics. According to a forthcoming study of 21 top law schools from 1991 to 2002 by John McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern University, approximately 80 percent of the professors at those schools who made campaign contributions primarily supported Democrats, while 15 percent primarily supported Republicans.
Peter H. Schuck, a law professor at Yale, where 92 percent of faculty political contributions went to Democrats, said Dean Green was right to question whether religious perspectives are welcomed at mainstream law schools.
"There is a sort of soft tolerance of competing views," Professor Schuck, who described himself as a political moderate, said, "but no real interest in exposing students to seriously developed contrary points of view that proceed from a strong faith-based perspective. Fundamentalism is derided."

This assumes that the professors teach their own political beliefs, of course, which I doubt is the practice in most law schools. They are not known for being bastions of radical lefty values.

I admit that having more ethical people in law would be good as it would be good in most other professions. But there is something madrassa-like in this approach of segregated religion-based education in law. And as a female divinity, I always worry about why the eternal laws are only those that were written up by nomadic patriarchal tribes two thousand years ago.