Stanford Law School has established the nation's only Religious Liberty Clinic, enabling students under the professor's supervision to represent clients who are fighting to win legal battles on the grounds of religious freedom in America.
The clinic will offer participating law students the opportunity to engage in disputes arising from a wide range of religious beliefs, practices, and customs, the school announced this week.
"Part of what we are trying to do is show our students and our community how religious liberty is a natural right that is for all of us and that all too often religious liberty disputes are really debates about the merits of the particular religious practice involved rather than the liberty," the clinic's founding director, James A. Sonne, told The Christian Post on Wednesday. "We want to show that this is something for everybody regardless of your religious background and practice."
Sonne, who is an expert in the area of religious liberty through his professional and academic experience, said Stanford Law School is a pioneer in political and legal education. The school was looking to expand its existing clinic programs that give law students the opportunity to handle real cases under his and his staff's supervision.
The clinic was made possible, in part, by a $1.6 million gift from the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The program will be housed within Stanford's Mills Legal Clinic.
Sonne said that getting involved in religious liberty cases is a way for students to enter dynamic environments and "learn these skills in an interesting way."
"It involves principles in law that span the centuries, but also involve cutting-edge challenges," he said. "It gives students the opportunity to work with a diverse group of clients – clients of all faiths.
"Religious liberty disputes offer one of the greatest opportunities for truly dealing with real human problems that go to the deep depths of who we are as people and that offers a particular challenge to lawyers help clients through that."
The debates and challenges surrounding religious liberty in America have existed since the country's founding, said Sonne.
"As our society becomes more diverse those challenges become more and there's a need to resolve them in unique and different ways because of the diversity of our culture," he said. "To have a system of religious liberty that respects religious liberty for all is easier said than done, so I think you need people who know the law and can find creative solutions."
Sonne said the clinic program teaches students how to grapple with today's challenges in this area of law. He said that he hopes the program changes the focus in these cases.
"We can help students lower the temperature on some of these things and focus people's attention on the universal nature of religious liberty as opposed to a particular religious practice," he said.
The official launch of the clinic is Monday and includes a panel discussion event on the future of religious liberty featuring Sonne; Judge Carlos T. Bea, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; Michael W. McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law, director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution; Amardeep Singh, co-founder and director of programs at the Sikh Coalition; Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; and Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik, director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York. A private dinner will follow, with a keynote speech given by Douglas Laycock, Robert E. Scott distinguished professor of Law, Horace W. Goldsmith research professor of Law, and professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.
More information about the clinic can be found on the Web page: http://www.law.stanford.edu/organizations/clinics/religious-liberty-clinic.