Today’s NYT features a story on law schools that promote a religious perspective on law. Not surprisingly, BYU isn’t mentioned.
Jerry Falwell is training “ministers of justice” at Liberty University. At Pat Robertson’s Regent Law School, the website proclaims, “Law is more than a profession. It’s a calling.” According to the NYT article, these schools are part of a “movement” towards integrating legal and religious studies. Other schools that are part of the so-called movement include two Catholic schools — Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis.
What is to be gained by taking a religious perspective on law? The article offers several examples, from wacky (one professor suggesting that the U.S. Supreme Court was misguided in Erie v. Thompkins because it denied the possibility of “a law that’s fixed, that’s uniform, that applies to everybody, everyplace, for all time”) to clever (Jerry Falwell’s suggestion that “We will not be committed, for instance, to being good divorce lawyers; we’ll be reconciliation lawyers”) to, well, interesting (a professor arguing that “Christian lawyers should counsel clients not to walk away from oral contracts even where the law allows it”).
My first encounter with an attempt to integrate law and religion on a school-wide basis was an interview with Notre Dame. I was a young professor, and they needed someone to teach corporations. When they called, I laughed openly, “You know that I’m Mormon, right?” “That’s one reason we are calling,” they claimed. “We are looking for ‘Professors of Faith.'” Hmm. “Professors of Faith.” Interesting enough that I accepted the invitation to interview, and I was quite taken with the university. Adam could say a lot more about it than I, because I eventually decided that South Bend, Indiana was no place for someone who studies venture capital, but the image of having a faculty filled with “Professors of Faith” stayed with me.
Indeed, it was the impetus for a conference on LDS Perspectives on Law, which I helped to organize several years ago. When I originally pitched the idea to a professor at BYU, he responded flatly, “there is no such thing as an LDS perspective on law.” Although he was certainly not alone in that view, neither was this view unanimous. Eventually, the conference was held, and several of the papers were published by the BYU Law Review, but with a few exceptions, LDS perspectives on law remain almost wholly undeveloped.
So I am still wondering whether taking an LDS perspective on law would add anything significant to our understanding of law or the Gospel. What would be the foundational ideas of a such a perspective? What would the research agenda look like?