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David Krause, 32, left his engineering job and his home in Biloxi, Miss., last year for an unaccredited Ann Arbor, Mich., private law school that had yet to schedule a class. “There was a school interested in justice rather than just winning cases,” Krause said, recalling the news story that he had read about the Ave Maria School of Law. “I had never intended to be a lawyer, and that struck me.” Surrounded by a roomful of first-year law school classmates, Krause said that he hasn’t regretted his decision. Several other students discussing their decision to join Ave Maria’s 77-member pioneering class agreed. The school is the newest of U.S. law schools associated with universities with strong religious affiliations — and in some ways one of the more religious. Its administration and faculty say that Ave Maria views U.S. law through the prism of natural law: the belief that a fundamental law of right and wrong transcends man-made law. Several students interviewed at Ave Maria said that they feel they are getting a good education. Teachers said that their purpose is to produce good lawyers who may be Catholic, rather than good Catholics who may be lawyers. “There were some fears coming in here that this was going to be some kind of glorified seminary,” but that is not the case, said Jason Negri of Long Island, N.Y. There is a peaceful air about the wood-trimmed brick building on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, which features an intimate chapel and sports crucifixes in all its rooms. The school has a spacious, sunlit library, computer labs and classrooms with Internet hookups at every work station. The library’s 250,000 volumes is three times what the American Bar Association requires for accreditation, although it is less than one-third of the size of nearby University of Michigan’s 862,197-volume law library. CATHOLIC LEGAL EDUCATION Ave Maria’s distinction of being the newest U.S. Catholic law school will vanish this fall, when the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., opens a law school. There are more than two dozen Catholic law schools in the United States, but before Ave Maria, only four had opened in 70 years, its officials said. Mark Sargent, dean of the Villanova University School of Law, said Catholic law schools have for years turned out well-trained lawyers well-versed in both written and natural law. “At Villanova, as well as most other Catholic law schools, we try very hard to draw on Catholic traditions to infuse a sense of moral values in our students,” he said. “A new Catholic law school is welcome,” Sargent said. “But no one should underestimate the richness and depth of the Catholic identity of the existing law schools.” Bernard Dobranski, Ave Maria’s founding dean, said, “Do we really need another law school to produce more lawyers? No.” But Dobranski, a former law dean at Catholic University and the University of Detroit, said that law needs to be taught differently. “Our focus is really on the interaction between law and morality,” he said. “At the core, at the foundation level, they are inextricably combined.” Behind Ave Maria is Thomas Monaghan, who pledged to donate to Catholic causes the reportedly $1 billion fortune he amassed by selling his Domino’s Pizza chain. He has committed $50 million of that to produce more ethical lawyers, as he calls them. “His experience with lawyers over the years, I think, had been mixed,” Dobranski said. “He saw a need for doing something a little different with legal education.” Monaghan declined a request to be interviewed. He has been quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying of Ave Maria that “the idea is to bring ethics into the practice of law,” and “I think it will be the West Point for Catholic laity in the years to come.” Dobranski said that Monaghan has left all the details to the law school’s staff. “He is our financial benefactor,” the dean said. “He’s a very generous one. And he’s the chairman of our board.” Dobranski said that although the board can set general policies, it hasn’t done so. Michael Kenney, the dean of admissions, likened Monaghan’s approach to his stewardship of the Detroit Tigers baseball team, which he owned in the 1980s and early 1990s. “When he owned the Tigers, he didn’t fill out the lineup sheet for [manager] Sparky Anderson,” Kenney said. WHAT LAW SHOULD BE At Ave Maria, the emphasis is on natural law. “There’s little attention given to natural law theory in law schools today,” Dobranski said. “What we’re trying to do is bring it in everywhere it’s appropriate.” First-year students take Moral Foundations of the Law. Required for graduation are 10 credits on law, ethics and the relationship between law and morality. Electives include Catholic Social Teaching and the Law, Ecclesiastical History, Papal Encyclicals and Canon Law. Professors are supposed to discuss not just what the law permits but also whether it should be changed. “This instruction is characterized by reference to the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church,” Dobranski writes to potential students. The school is affiliated with the Thomas More Center for Law & Justice, a pro bono law firm that says liberal counterparts like the ACLU use “the courts to advance an agenda hostile to God’s law and our national heritage.” Robert Bork is teaching the Moral Foundations course this year, and an Ave Maria board member is U.S. Representative Henry Hyde, R-Ill. The late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York was a founding board member. Speakers at the school have included Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Like Dobranski, Professors Mollie Murphy and Richard Myers say that the school’s goal is to develop skilled lawyers with a renewed sense of themselves as high-minded and moral professionals, rather than hired guns. But the emphasis is on teaching law, not scripture, they add. ‘NOT A SEMINARY’ “What we offer here is a legal education, not a seminary,” said Murphy, a Notre Dame law graduate who has taught law at the University of Detroit and Case Western Reserve University. Teachers “bring out the Catholic perspective or the natural law perspective” — though not necessarily daily, she said. She recalled a discussion on limited duties and wrongful conception — birth and life questions. In addition to court decisions, the pope’s writings on the value of life and the disabled became part of the discussion, Murphy said. Legal principles that conflict with Catholic teaching, such as the right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade, will be taught straightforwardly, Dobranski said. “We haven’t taught it yet because constitutional law isn’t until the second year,” he said of the 1973 case. When that happens, he said, “the professor will teach it like they teach any other decision. Here’s the decision, here’s the issue that was presented. Here’s what the majority said. Here’s what the minority said.” Dobranski said that the decision is “so controversial it’s probably handled the same way in secular schools” and that even those who agree with the outcome don’t agree there’s a constitutional basis for it. “We’re training lawyers,” he said. “People have to be exposed to what the court said and what their justification was.”

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