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In a provocative address recently to some 200 undergraduate counselors from northeastern universities, the dean of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law warned of a “collision course with democratic order and social unity” as politically outspoken religious leaders wield increasing influence over the nation’s public policy. Dean David Rudenstine, himself a political activist in the 1960s as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and like-minded groups, further suggested that U.S. jurisprudence and legal education were “very much on the defensive,” in part because strict secularism as a legal paradigm is seen by the faithful — including some at Christian law schools — as an insufficient context for policy issues such as abortion rights, homosexual marriage, stem-cell research and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Rudenstine said that America’s law schools have a social responsibility, especially at a time of religious fundamentalism, to foster reasoned debate over the facts and science of such controversial matters. To shirk this role, he suggested, would be to leave the way clear for faith-based organizations to impose “divisive” views. “Faith challenges the underpinnings of legal education,” Rudenstine declared. “Faith is a willingness to accept belief in things for which we have no evidence, or which runs counter to evidence we have.” He added, “Faith does not tolerate opposing views, does not acknowledge inconvenient facts. Law schools stand in fundamental opposition to this.” Rudenstine’s remarks — made from notes for a law review article he is writing, titled “The Role of Law Schools in American Life in the Age of Faith” — drew swift and not entirely pleased reaction from his immediate audience, a luncheon for pre-law counselors from across the nation, most of them lawyers, who had toured the Cardozo Law campus. One audience member sharply challenged Rudenstine. “Isn’t extreme secularism a faith itself?” a counselor asked. Rudenstine did not respond. Another counselor from the audience was heard to complain of the dean, “He says he doesn’t trust something that’s faith-based. Well, I don’t trust something that isn’t faith-based.” ‘SECULAR JUSTIFICATIONS’ Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was quick to associate himself with Rudenstine’s thesis. “Policy decisions need to be made within the constraints of the Constitution, and not through anyone’s interpretation of scripture,” he said in a phone interview. Lynn, an attorney and a minister of the United Church of Christ, added, “No one expects politicians and policy-makers to divorce themselves entirely from the roots of their belief system, but in the United States, our laws have to be based on secular justifications.” In his address, Rudenstine took care to express his respect for sincere religious views, and to acknowledge Cardozo Law’s own place as a secular professional school within Yeshiva University, an institution of the modern Orthodox tradition of Judaism. Many other secular law schools in New York state and elsewhere in the country are similarly affiliated with religious universities or universities first established in accordance with religious precepts. Among these are Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, Touro Law Center and Fordham University School of Law. NEW RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS In recent years, two conservative Roman Catholic law schools have been established — Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minn. — and have gained provisional accreditation by the American Bar Association. Eighteen years ago, TV evangelist Pat Robertson, an evangelical Christian and Republican Party activist, founded Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va. His campus is fully accredited by the ABA. Last fall, TV evangelist Jerry Falwell, a fundamentalist Baptist and supporter of conservative Republican causes, opened Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va. He has said he would seek the ABA’s blessing at his school’s two-year mark, the first opportunity for the status of provisional accreditation. In an e-mail sent to his supporters in 2002, Falwell said the purpose of Liberty Law is to “recruit students who have a desire to impact our nation and the world for our Savior” by winning battles against “the anti-religious zealots of the American Civil Liberties Union.” Liberty Law Dean Bruce W. Green declined to comment for this article. But in a message posted on his school’s Web site, he wrote, “The soul-deep yearning of lawyers for meaning in their professional lives has spawned a growing religious lawyering movement. All of this points to the need for legal education’s unapologetic return to the transcendent principles upon which the Western legal tradition and the rule of law were founded, and to the law of nature and divine revelation found in the Holy Scriptures.” Lynn disagrees. He said the U.S. legal system “is not based on the Bible.” To believe otherwise, he added, is to subscribe to “historical nonsense that doesn’t belong in any academic institution, although you certainly hear a lot of it at Liberty and Regent.” In an interview, Regent Law Dean Jeffrey A. Brauch countered, “I don’t think you can understand the historic development of law in this country if you don’t understand the role that religion has played, the role that faith and the church has played.” Much of the U.S. legal system, he said, comes from British common law, which “has a theological basis.” “Why is it we believe a king or a government ruler is obliged to some higher authority? It’s because there was a belief that there was a God and a higher law,” he said. ‘REASONABLE FAITH’ Brauch said he believes in a “reasonable faith” as opposed to a “blind faith,” and that Regent and other religious law schools simply add spiritual dimension to academic pursuit. “Let’s say we’re talking about family law,” said Brauch. “Somebody in the class has a strong belief that a family with both a mother and father in a heterosexual marriage is better for children. I would hope that our students wouldn’t merely say, ‘That’s what I believe because it’s what I’ve always been taught,’ but that they’d look at a tremendous amount of empirical research that would show that, and then ask what that could mean for public policy.” Dean Lawrence Raful of Long Island’s Touro Law Center, affiliated with an Orthodox Jewish undergraduate program, doubted that strong religious belief promotes valid debate. “What fundamentalist people don’t understand is that if they take a stance based on religion, they’re promoting a religious view,” said Raful. “God created you to have an open mind. God gave us free will to understand science and belief at the same time, and He gave us some idea of how to live with the Ten Commandments, and then I think He said something to us like, ‘Good luck.’”

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