Justice Is a Family Value

Article excerpt

CONSERVATIVE ideologues have recently unleashed - in the name of family values - a misguided attack on the Legal Services Corporation, which helps provide access to the legal system for Americans who cannot afford a private attorney.

I believe strongly that America needs to return to traditional values of family, religion, and community that have fallen out of fashion in recent decades. As a conservative Christian, I agree with the Christian Coalition that the decline in family values reflects a decline in moral values. But nothing could be further from the truth than the coalition's claim that LSC uses tax dollars to promote divorce, break up families, and bring children into a cycle of poverty.

LSC, a federally-funded, nonprofit corporation established under the Nixon administration, makes grants to more than 900 legal-services offices across the US. These provide legal assistance in noncriminal matters to people living at or below poverty level, often including the "working poor."

As a practicing lawyer in Alabama, I have seen how the justice system can help citizens solve the difficult everyday problems that often throw families into crisis. By providing access to legal representation, LSC helps average families survive such troubles, from landlord disputes to cases of child abuse.

The Christian Coalition advocates elimination of LSC. Coalition executive director, Ralph Reed accused LSC of "subsidizing divorce and illegitimacy."

First, LSC is not a divorce mill for the average husband and wife who decide to give up on their vows. LSC handles divorce cases involving child or spousal abuse, neglect, or custody - where fundamental rights, or even the lives, of family members are endangered.

Second, eliminating LSC will not prevent the poor from getting divorces. Nor will it solve any of the tragic problems in our society that contribute to the breakdown of families. …