Are Religiously Affiliated Law Schools Obsolete in America? the View of an Outsider Looking In

Article excerpt

Throughout their history, religiously affiliated law schools have justified their existence in America in a number of ways. Specifically, such schools have operated to give poor religious-- immigrant populations access to a legal education,1 encouraged the availability of legal services to the poor,2 provided forums for religious voices in debates of public policy,3 and guaranteed that religious perspectives will play a part in the formation of future lawyers.4

Since 1997, four new Catholic law schools have sought to justify themselves as well. The commitment of individuals and institutions to build law schools at Seattle University, Barry University, Ave Maria, and Saint Thomas University-- Minneapolis has ironically both endorsed the need for religiously affiliated law schools and called such schools into question. With the law school applicant pool radically diminished, bar passage rates being tightened, and existing lawyers complaining of a glut of lawyers, many have asked why we need more law schools of any kinds The answer that these are to be "Catholic law schools" leaves even some Catholics unpersuaded.6 Yet, the debate cannot be limited to these four schools. In the diversity-- conscious and accommodating America of the twenty-first century, it is not enough to ask whether we need more religiously affiliated law schools in America; today, we must address whether we need any such schools.

For the last seventeen years, I believe that I have had a calling to be a person of faith teaching in two secular law schools. As I reflect back over that time, I must ask myself how my calling differs from those who teach in non-secular schools. As I do so, the work done by religiously affiliated law schools and the traditional justifications for them, do not seem different than my own work.

Do we need religiously affiliated law schools today because only they will guarantee access to a legal education to the poor and to minorities? My current employer, Widener-Harrisburg, recruits minorities, provides them with financial aid, and offers an evening division, as did many of the original Catholic law schools,? because it recognizes that, even with financial aid, some students still must work while in law school. My former employer, the University of Pittsburgh, a state-supported school, could offer all of its in-state students a lower tuition than its religiously affiliated counterparts. Thus, the secular law schools of a diversity-conscious America now seem as committed to, and at least as capable of, guaranteeing access to a legal education to the poor and to minorities as are their religiously affiliated counterparts.

Do we need religiously affiliated law schools to encourage the availability of legal services to the poor? The law clinic of my secular law school, a clinic in which close to one-third of our students work, not only provides services exclusively to the poor, but also maintains a presence at a soup kitchen operated by an inner-city Catholic church.8 Upon graduation, a greater percentage of my students work as public defenders, as legal services attorneys, and in lower-paying government service jobs9 than do the graduates of most leading religiously affiliated law schools. Thus, it would appear that attending this secular law school would encourage lawyers to make their services available to the poor.

Do we need, then, religiously affiliated law schools to provide forums for religious voices in debates of public policy? Certainly, religiously affiliated institutions do provide the forums from which the religious voices of Frederick Gedicks,10 David Gregory,11 Marci Hamilton,12 Samuel Levine,13 Jefferson Powell,14 Charles Rice,15 and Robert Rodes16 speak. It is at secular institutions, however, where the religious voices of Teresa Collette,17 Anthony Fejfar,18 Timothy Floyd,19 Robert George,20 Mary Ann Glendon,21 and Andrew McThenia22 all speak. In fact, I was asked by the Dean at secular Widener to review Joseph Allegretti's book Faith in Lawyering: Christian Faith and Legal Practice. …