Sidney Storozum admits that when he was first accepted at Reverend Jerry Falwell’s new law school, he wondered whether it would be Bible school peppered with law.
But just a week into classes, Storozum-the only Jewish student in law school at Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.-said last week that he has no reservations about the quality of the legal education, nor does he have qualms about being exposed to Christian principles.
“I’m not being compelled to change my faith or anything like that,” Storozum said. “Their goal is to really prepare us to hit the ground running. And they want us to be really good lawyers.”
But many in the legal profession aren’t so convinced.
When word got out that Falwell had started a law school earlier this month-the latest of several self-described Christian law school in the country-some scholars and lawyers viewed it with skepticism. They are asking themselves whether he’s trying to educate good lawyers or merely seeking to advance his fundamentalist agenda.
Falwell is making no bones about the school’s mission, saying that graduates of the school “would be on the Judeo-Christian side of every issue.” He denied pursuing an agenda, but said the school seeks to “train champions for Christ.”
“We are not starting the school of law to focus on any one set of laws, but rather to train a generation of Christian attorneys who will be excellent as professionals and consistent as Christians,” he said.
“We will not be specializing in and teaching young people how to change any law,” Falwell said. “Obviously we are aggressively pro-life. Our faculty unanimously would feel that Roe v. Wade is bad law. But it will not be their mission to focus on any one law or one legal goal but rather to train Godly men and women who can permeate the legal profession in any level.”
But Barry W. Lynn, a lawyer and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, believes Falwell has his own agenda in mind. A former seminary student with a master’s degree in theology from Boston University, Lynn compared Falwell’s mix of religion and law to that of Muslim fundamentalists.
“I think that the Taliban-like character of this is present because Jerry Falwell seems to believe that religion must trump any other considerations in making law, and that is a theocracy,” Lynn said. “He wants to be sure to be the ayatollah and he wants to run the show.”
Lynn also cautions law firms about Liberty School of Law’s future graduates.
“I think the people who consider hiring a graduate of this school better know that the goal of the school is to prepare people for a religious takeover of the government. That’s what [Falwell] wants and that’s what this is about.”
Broad religious discussion
Bruce W. Green, the law school dean at Liberty University, adamantly denies any allegation that Liberty is out to brainwash students.
“We have no particular agenda with respect to the field of law,” Green said. “It would be totally inappropriate for us to try for a moment to force or compel our views on anyone. People who come here may feel free to express their views without compulsions.”
According to Green, Liberty, which has 60 students and six full-time faculty members, offers the same courses as most other law schools do, including criminal law and criminal procedure, torts and civil procedure, property law and lawyering skills. There are no religious courses, he said. But the breadth of religious discussions will be broader at Liberty than at secular schools, he added, strongly emphasizing the connection between law and morality and faith and reason.
According to the American Bar Association, there are 54 ABA-approved, religiously affiliated law schools in America, roughly a third of the total 187 ABA-accredited law schools. While schools such as University of Notre Dame Law School are affiliated with the Catholic Church, for instance, students there receive a traditional legal education like that offered at secular law schools.
Schools with philosophies similar to Liberty’s include Pat Robertson’s 18-year-old Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va., which describes itself on its Web site as integrating “Christian principles into the curriculum,” and the four-year-old Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., a self-described “Catholic law school” with an emphasis on morality and “natural law,” which last year received provisional ABA accreditation.
A dozen deans at the nation’s top law schools declined to comment on Falwell’s latest endeavor. Several scholars and practitioners opted to keep their opinions private. Recruiters at law firms also declined comment.
Nonetheless, Falwell’s school is up and running and bent on proving that it will gain the one crucial seal of approval in the legal profession: ABA accreditation.
“The key for us is essentially whether they meet the specific arguments in the standards, and are they effective in preparing their students in passing the bar and in practicing in the profession,” said John Sebert, consultant on legal education to the ABA who oversees the accreditation process.
Sebert would not comment on Liberty’s qualifications for ABA accreditation, or whether the school’s strong religious advocacy would hurt its chances.
He said the core requirement for accreditation is that a “law school shall maintain an educational program that prepares its graduates for admission to the bar, and to participate effectively and responsibly in the legal profession.”
Still, Sebert cautioned law schools about the danger of teaching views that are “so slanted” that they produce lawyers ill-equipped to tackle various legal issues.
“You can get to a point where in any type of legal education that focuses solely in one area that’s so unidimensional that it has the risk of not being able to adequately prepare its graduates for passing the bar or for effective participation in the profession,” Sebert said.
Several legal scholars echoed that concern. A.E. Dick Howard, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Virginia School of Law, said his concern is whether Liberty will be tightly controlled by a church or religious affiliation, or whether it will have the institutional independence that promotes academic freedom.
“They don’t just plan to talk about the relationship between law and religion. They plan to show how law flows from Christian principles,” Howard said. “That’s kind of blending law and theology and I don’t know of any law school that’s quite that explicit.”
Attorney Pamela Harris, a constitutional law expert at O’Melveny & Myers’ Washington office who taught a church and state course at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, cited another concern. “Are they teaching tolerance, or are they teaching that there is only one true and correct viewpoint? That would be troubling and that’s my question,” Harris said.
Meanwhile, the dean of Regent University welcomes Liberty with open arms. “There’s just an increasing desire to have Christian legal education. I just see this as a continuing trend and I expect to see more in the next few years,” said Jeffrey Brauch, Regent’s dean.
“The legal profession is not very well respected today. We’re just trying to send out men and women who apply Christian principles to the way they practice law and live their lives,” Brauch said.