Last month, we posted the welcome news that Stanford Law School has founded the nation’s first law school clinic focused on religious liberty. This week, the new clinic’s director, Jim Sonne (left), kindly agrees to answer some questions for us. He discusses, among other things, the clinic’s background, the sort of cases and clients it hopes to attract, the reception the clinic has received at Stanford, and the difference between a “religious liberty” and a “religion” clinic.
CLR Forum: Jim, congratulations on starting the country’s only law school clinic devoted to religious liberty. How did you come up with the idea? And why Stanford?
Thanks Mark! The original idea for the clinic was not mine, but Eric Rassbach’s at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Eric and the Becket Fund work closely with Professor Michael McConnell at Stanford. Eric, Professor McConnell, and the folks at Becket thought it would be a great project to bring here.
Coincidentally, while the Becket group was busy preparing a proposal to Stanford in concert with the Templeton Foundation, then-dean Larry Kramer and dean of clinics Larry Marshall were exploring with the faculty ways to expand and diversify the law Continue reading
This is welcome news. Next semester, Stanford Law School will start the nation’s first law school clinic focused on religious liberty. Here’s the announcement from the Stanford website:
The Religious Liberty Clinic is the newest addition to the Mills Legal Clinic, and is presently the only clinic of its kind in the country. The clinic will offer participating students a dynamic, real-world experience representing a diverse group of clients in disputes arising from a wide range of religious beliefs, practices, and customs in a variety of circumstances. Students will learn in class and apply in practice the laws affecting religious liberty, whether statutory or constitutional, and will be expected to counsel individual or institutional clients and litigate on their behalf with technical excellence, professionalism, and maturity.
During the term, students can expect to handle a discrete accommodation project—e.g., represent a prisoner, student, or employee facing obstacles in the exercise of his or her faith—and likely also participate in a longer-term project involving religion in the public square—e.g., represent a small church, synagogue, or mosque with zoning issues, or a faith-based group seeking access to public facilities. Opportunities to draft amicus briefs may also arise. The clinic will involve administrative, trial, and appellate practice—though time constraints may not permit each student to work in all areas—united under the theme of “religious liberty for all.” Because the clinic is a new and unique venture, students may also help in marketing and outreach efforts to the religious and wider communities.
The clinic will be directed by James Sonne, formerly of Ave Maria Law School.
The fact that a law school of Stanford’s prominence is starting a clinic focusing on religious liberty suggests how important this field is becoming. A few years ago, Stanford hired Michael McConnell, one of America’s foremost law and religion scholars, to direct its Constitutional Law Center. It looks like Stanford is making a serious play to become a leader in law and religion studies in the United States.
Starting this afternoon, Touro Law Center will be hosting the 2012 Religiously Affiliated Law Schools Conference, which will explore “The Place of Religion in the Law School, the University, and the Practice of Law.” The conference was organized by Samuel Levine who put together a fantastic program. Highlights of the program include keynote speaker Nathan Lewin, plus presentations by some of the very best in the law & religion field (including CLR Forum’s own Mark Movsesian and Pepperdine University School of Law’s Dean Deanell Tacha).
If you’re able to go (which I regretfully am not), I’d strongly recommend attending this impressive event.