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The rules of etiquette say not to introduce religion or politics as topics of conversation. The College of the State Bar of Texas is learning that lesson the hard way, after the latest issue of its scholarly and sedate bulletin generated some angry feedback. The college is a 24-year-old, State Bar-related group made up of 4,500 members who promote professionalism through legal education. The State Bar of Texas is a quasi-state agency. To join the college, members must complete 30 hours of continuing legal education a year � twice the amount of the Bar’s annual minimum CLE requirements. Three times a year, the group publishes and distributes The College Bulletin to all of its members. The College Bulletin is a publication that usually focuses on legal professionalism and contains articles on topics such as how to combat lawyer-bashing, or commentary by longtime attorneys offering sage advice about the practice of law. But the spring edition of the bulletin, released earlier this month, contains a God-focused article titled “Could 50 States Be Wrong?” The text reads, “An enlightening, encouraging look at the pronouncements of our fifty states (united, indeed!)” before listing excerpts of the preambles of the 50 state constitutions, all of which mention God or a supreme being. Examples of the preambles include California’s, from 1879 � “We, The People . . . grateful to Almighty God for our freedom” � and North Carolina’s, from 1868 � “We the Southern Baptist people . . . grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of the Nations, for our civil, political, and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those. . . .” The end of the bulletin article includes a link to its source, the U.S. Constitution Page of a Web site titled America’s Christian History ( www.americanchristianhistory.com/constitution07.html ). The page includes the text of the “Could 50 States Be Wrong?” article with an introduction that reads: “Somewhere along the way, the Federal Courts and the Supreme Court have misinterpreted the U.S. Constitution. How could fifty States be wrong? THIS IS VERY INTERESTING!” There is no byline on the article. “America’s founders did not intend for there to be a separation of God and state, as shown by the fact that all 50 states acknowledge God in their state constitutions,” the source article states. Eugene Cook, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, serves as editor of The College Bulletin and decided to print the “Could 50 States Be Wrong?” article in the bulletin. He says it has generated complaints from a few readers and from some members of the college’s board of directors. He expects more complaints, he says. The article in the bulletin, he says, seems to be generating more buzz than any opinion he ever wrote for the Texas Supreme Court, where he served as a justice from 1988 until 1992. The article has even prompted members of the college to suggest to him that articles should be screened before they’re published in the bulletin, Cook says. But his only purpose in printing the article was to make the publication more interesting and make people think, he says. “All it does is recognize the existence of almighty God,” Cook says of the article. He says he purposely did not include editorial commentary about the 50 preambles that was part of the America’s Christian History Web site’s article, but he felt he had to provide the Web site’s link since it was the source of the article. The Web site’s original article was e-mailed to Cook by a nonlawyer friend who lives in California, he says. “Do you realize if you could only publish what no one would object to, how thin your paper would be?” asks Cook, who retired six years ago from the practice of law. Cook is a former partner in Houston’s Bracewell & Giuliani. Pat Nester, executive director of the college, says the group is not normally in the business of creating religious controversy, although it does hold an annual CLE seminar on religious freedom cases.
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“The college doesn’t take a position on any religion one way or the other,” Nester says. “The articles that are put into the bulletin are not screened by anybody; the editor selects them all,” Nester says. “Although I think we will be a little more careful about something that is this controversial. We’ll have to develop some kind of screening. We’ll have more than one person look at what goes in.” Nester says he has received a letter from Randy Johnston, a partner in Dallas’ Johnston Tobey who is a member of the college, objecting to the article’s content. “When lawyers take an oath to uphold the Constitution and that same Constitution mandates a separation of Church and State, how can the College of the State Bar of Texas use money collected from lawyers to promote a religious agenda?” Johnston writes. “Do we simply have no respect at all for those members of our profession who exercise their constitutional right to not adopt a belief in God?” Weighing In Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Liberty Legal Institute, says he doesn’t understand why lawyers would have a problem with the “Could 50 States Be Wrong?” article in the college’s bulletin. “How could you fault a lawyer for quoting the constitutions of the 50 states in a legal publication?” Sasser asks. “I can tell what he was doing. He was being very cautious. And he put the source of where he got something. Sourcing something is not endorsing what they said.” Charles “Chip” Babcock is a media and intellectual property law partner in Jackson Walker in Dallas and a member of the college. He says that Cook was well within his First Amendment free-speech rights to publish such an article, but whether that article was proper for publication in a Bar-related bulletin is another matter. “If I were on the editorial board of that publication, which I’m not, I would question whether or not this article fits the mission statement of that publication,” Babcock says. “My feeling is that it does not.” Cook disagrees: “The constitutions of the 50 states are legal issues and the fact that they all accept and name a deity is as much a legal issue as it is a religious issue.” The college’s mission statement on its Web site reads: The purpose of the College shall be as follows: 1. to recognize and encourage lawyers who maintain and enhance their professional skills and the quality of their service to the public by significant voluntary participation in legal education; 2. to promote among members of the State Bar and the general public the educational and public purposes of the College and its members; 3. to recognize and encourage outstanding service to the legal profession and the public; and 4. to sponsor or otherwise assist in educational activities of significant merit and widespread relevance and applicability to the legal profession. But Murry Cohen, a partner in the Houston office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, says he has a problem with the article � even with its title. “Fifty states can be wrong,” says Cohen, a former justice on Houston’s 1st Court of Appeals. “And the College of the State Bar of Texas is wrong to spend its time promoting God, who, when I last checked with my rabbi, needed no help from the college.” “Specifically, the message that, “We the Southern Baptist people’ have the “duty to practice Christian Forbearance toward each other’ is not and should not be the message of the State Bar, unless it has recently entered the church business,” Cohen says, quoting from a sample of the preambles. Cook seems to be enjoying the controversy, particularly the suggestion that the articles he prints should go through a screening process. “I love the [suggestion] that maybe we should have a group review it before it’s published, which they’ve never had before in 24 years,” Cook says, chuckling. “Isn’t that priceless? What would life be if you couldn’t have a little fun?”

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