By William Fisher
Those of us who believe in the American Bill of Rights are about to have our commitment challenged yet again – big time. No, not by the Taliban, but by something very close.
The challenger is Reverend Jerry Falwell, arguably America’s most hysterical televangelist. It was the Falwell who blamed 9/11 on “traitors within the Chosen People…federal court decisions, abortionists, pagans, feminists, many gays and lesbians, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and other liberal organizations”. These groups, he said, “made God mad at us.” He added: “"I think Muhammad was a terrorist."
Now Falwell has founded his very own law school. Its objective is to train attorneys to “infiltrate” the legal field and “fight causes of marriage equality and women’s rights.” He hopes to train a generation of attorneys to take up conservative causes -- to outlaw abortion, gay marriage and other issues that he believes the legal establishment has forced on the public. . “We’ll be as far to the right as Harvard is to the left.”
The law school -- part of Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia – began classes last week. Its dean, Bruce Green, says it will “fuse the teachings of the Bible with the US Constitution, stressing the connections between faith, law and morality.”
Others see a far more sinister outcome. For example, Americans United for Separation of Church and State warned, “when Falwell talks about using the legal system to advance his personal religious beliefs, I get a whiff of the Taliban.”
And Howard Dean weighs in with: “In the days after September 11th Falwell said that America deserved to be attacked for, "throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools…the purpose of Falwell's law school is to roll back the progress of the last hundred years. The people of this country have spent a century unraveling hate and prejudice from our legal system. Falwell wants to bring all that back. I am committed to stopping him.”
Falwell, an ardent supporter of President Bush, believes that “homosexuality is Satan's diabolical attack upon the family” and that the AIDS crisis is "God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."
In his weblog journal, the dean of the new Law School, Bruce W. Green, wrote, “…we are a Christian law school with… an emphatically historic vision of the triune God, creation, fall, redemption, renewal, and their relation. This vision derives from Scripture and centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ… This is the historic foundation that led to the founding of our country and the American legal system.” In another posting, he said: “Unfortunately, having been trained according to rationalist tradition, many modern legal thinkers make themselves at home in a landscape in which the absence of God is taken for granted and then declare they cannot find any trace of God anywhere — including in the study of law.”
The only Jewish law student at Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, told the National Law Journal he has no reservations about the quality of the legal education, nor does he have qualms about being exposed to Christian principles. "I'm not being compelled to change my faith or anything like that," he said. "Their goal is to really prepare us to hit the ground running. And they want us to be really good lawyers."
Nonetheless, applications for faculty positions at the new school contain its “Doctrinal Statement”. The statement includes affirmations of “God the father, God the son, and God the holy spirit”, the concept of original sin, and a decidedly ‘creationist’ approach to the origins of life.
Many legal scholars and practitioners are skeptical of the blending of law and theology.
Barry W. Lynn, a lawyer and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told Tresa Baldas of The National Law Journal he compares Falwell's mix of religion and law to that of Muslim fundamentalists. "I think that the Taliban-like character of this is present because Jerry Falwell seems to believe that religion must trump any other considerations.”
John Sebert, a consultant on legal education to the American Bar Association, who oversees the law school accreditation process, has cautioned law schools about the danger of teaching views that are "so slanted" that they produce lawyers ill-equipped to tackle various legal issues. "You can get to a point where in any type of legal education that focuses solely in one area that's so unidimensional that it has the risk of not being able to adequately prepare its graduates for passing the bar or for effective participation in the profession," he said.
Other legal scholars echo that concern. A.E. Dick Howard, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Virginia School of Law, said his concern is whether Liberty will be tightly controlled by a church or religious affiliation, or whether it will have the institutional independence that promotes academic freedom.
"They don't just plan to talk about the relationship between law and religion. They plan to show how law flows from Christian principles," Howard said. "That's kind of blending law and theology and I don't know of any law school that's quite that explicit."
Emily Whitfield, national spokeswoman of the ACLU, believes Falwell is wrong in "demonizing" judges. Unlike the pastor, she added, "We ultimately have faith in our system of justice."
What is disturbing about Falwell’s latest adventure is not simply that he is going to train right-wing lawyers. The American justice system has survived this kind of movement before. What is truly scary is his vision of where he wants it all to lead –his vision of America.
Here his affinity with the Taliban is inescapable. He would create a country based on a "Christian order" that equates democracy with "mob rule"; a country without freedom of speech; a country that will not tolerate diversity and pluralism, a country that will not permit anybody the right to sin; a country that asks no questions; where church and state are one, and where Christians rule by "Divine mandate". In short, a theocratic police state.
But, as one observer points out, “a police state is great -- if you happen to be the police.”