Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stanford Law School's new, and somewhat curious, "Religious Liberty" Clinic

I'm a bit late to this, but I just came across the New York Times story here.  As Douglas Laycock (Virginia) notes, it's not really a religious liberty clinic, it's a "free exercise" clinic--indeed, more precisely, it's a clinic devoted to helping religious believers gain exemptions from laws that apply to the rest of us, both the non-religious and the religious who have no objections to a particular law.  And given its dubious funding--from right-wing, pro-religious groups--its academic objectivity is in doubt from the get-go.  Most surprising of all is how Lawrence Marshall, director of clinical legal education at Stanford, describes it:

"The 47 percent of the people who voted for Mitt Romney deserve a curriculum as well,” said Lawrence C. Marshall, the associate dean for clinical legal education at Stanford Law School. “My mission has been to make clinical education as central to legal education as it is to medical education. Just as we are concerned about diversity in gender, race and ethnicity, we ought to be committed to ideological diversity.”

So the academic rationale for this clinic is that Romney voters need a law school clinic, on the bizarre assumption, I guess, that the only people seeking religiously based exemptions from laws are Republicans.

As I've argued in my recent book, the law of religious liberty in the U.S. is not morally defensible:  there is no reason only religious claims of conscience deserve special legal standing.  So in that respect also, this new clinic defends a morally unjust status quo.  A curious new clinic indeed!

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