A key role in the GOP effort to politicize the Department of Justice has been played by five “Christian” law schools – each with a long tradition of highly partisan political engagement and close ties to the Religious Right. The five are Regent University in Virginia Beach (Pat Robertson’s law school, and the spawning grounds of Monica Goodling and some 150 other Bush administration lawyers), Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia (Jerry Falwell’s law school), and three right-wing Catholic law schools, University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Ave Maria University in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Barry University in Orlando. The Chicago Tribune takes a good look at Falwell’s law school, and its overtly partisan political agenda, in a piece by Lisa Anderson run today.
In one of the last interviews given before his death last Tuesday, Falwell spoke to the Tribune on May 1 at Liberty University. He described his longtime desire to open an evangelical law school to counter “a colossal effort to secularize America” in the last 40 years. “The 10 Commandments cannot be posted in public places. Children cannot say grace over their meals in public schools. No prayers at football games and on the list goes, virtually driving God from the public square. And then, of course, Roe vs. Wade in the middle of all that, legalizing abortion on demand. Now, the redefining of the family or the attempt to. So all of this reinforced our belief that we needed to produce a generation of Christian attorneys who could, in fact, infiltrate the legal profession with a strong commitment to the Judeo-Christian ethic,” Falwell said.
America has of course long had law schools affiliated with specific faiths, many of which have established rigorous academic standards and produced fine lawyers. That’s not the issue. The issue is identifying lawyer’s political beliefs based on their attendance at a certain law school and then engaging in preferential hiring from those schools. This practice is unfair to students from other schools, particularly those with superior academic and professional performance records. The five schools cited here do not make the cut of the top fifty law schools in the United States, and their reputation for scholarship and academic excellence is – at best – unestablished. I had dinner some time back with a former dean of Regent who made a concerted effort to convince me that his program was about serious academics. He succeeded in getting the ABA to recognize his school, but what I heard from him about its academic program left me thinking that the ABA qualification had resulted from a relaxation of the standards. In the end that will not serve the interests of the students or of clients looking for legal representation.