Well, Templeton has got its sticky fingers into Cambridge and Oxford Universities in the UK, and now it begins its insidious incursions into American universities. It’s long given big grants to individual professors or groups of professors in this country, but now it’s founding programs and clinics that, unlike grants, tend to go on for years. These programs will, of course, always meet Templeton’s aim of supporting religion.
As the January 21 issue of the New York Times reports (how did I miss this?):
Backed by two conservative groups, Stanford Law School has opened the nation’s only clinic devoted to religious liberty, an indication both of where the church-state debate has moved and of the growth in hands-on legal education.
Begun with $1.6 million from the John Templeton Foundation, funneled through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the school’s new Religious Liberty Clinic partly reflects a feeling that clinical education, historically dominated by the left’s concerns about poverty and housing, needs to expand.
“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.”
Curiously, Marshall is a liberal, well known for his work against the death penalty and for judicial reform. So is there already a Democratic law clinic at Stanford devoted to church-state separation? Not that I know of, but enlighten me if I’m wrong. As one would expect from a Templeton-funded enterprise, the new clinic will defend freedom of religion, but only for beleaguered faiths—they’re not looking to defend the entire wall of separation between religion and government.
The clinic’s students, who began this month, are taking cases focused on free expression of religion — representing Seventh-day Adventists who were fired by FedEx for refusing to work on Saturdays, a Jewish convert in prison whose request to be circumcised was rejected and a Muslim group that was told its plan to build a mosque violated land-use laws.
They will avoid the other side of the issue — challenging government endorsement of faith. This includes crèches in public squares, prayer sessions at public events, and cases tied to believers’ rejection of gay rights (a Christian photographer refusing to shoot a same-sex wedding) and elements of the new health care law (a business owner refusing to cover contraceptives for employees).
“In framing our docket, we decided we would represent the believers,” said James A. Sonne, the clinic’s founding director, explaining that the believers, rather than governments, were the ones in need of student lawyers to defend them. “Our job is religious liberty rather than freedom from religion.”
Defending beleaguered faiths is fine, but if the clinic refuses to defend atheists whose “religious freedoms” (i.e., the freedom to be free from religious coercion) are also abrogated, or, say, Jews who object to a public crèche, then it’s a blatantly pro-faith move. The Constitution protects everyone, not just religious people, from government-sponsored discrimination. As far as I know, other “liberal” organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, deals with both types of cases.
Leading conservative scholars across the country welcomed the opening of the clinic as a breakthrough in elite legal education. Stephen L. Carter of Yale Law School hailed it as a “milestone,” Philip Hamburger of Columbia Law called it a “blessing,” and Thomas F. Farr of Georgetown University called it “corner turning.”
But not everyone is so enthusiastic. Catherine Baylin, a third-year law student and doctoral candidate in history at Stanford, said the way the clinic’s work was being pitched echoed the way conservative Christians frame the debate — and liberal students, she said, are concerned.
The article lists other clinics at Stanford Law School, including those dealing with environmental law, immigrants’ rights, criminal rights, but the article doesn’t list any clinics that reinforce the Constitutional separation of church and state. Because of that, secularists have objected.
Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he was “shocked that a major law school would accept a gift from Becket,” which he described as “a group that wants to give religious institutions or individuals a kind of preferential treatment, even if that hurts a third party.”
And this statement gives away the store:
But Hannah C. Smith of Becket, who took part in a panel discussion here on Monday to observe the clinic’s opening, said what liberals like Mr. Lynn call the strict wall of separation is found nowhere in the Constitution. Her group, she said, is working to show that “there are certain God-given rights that existed before the state. God gave people the yearning to discover him. Religious freedom means we have to protect the right to search for religious truth free from government intrusion.”
Smith is wrong, and the courts have always interpreted her stance as wrong. Becket’s statement, concentrating as it does on fictitious “God-given rights,” truly reveals what this clinic is about: enabling religion in America.
I’m in favor, of course, of defending the rights of oppressed religious people to practice their faith. But I’m also in favor of defending those without faith against the public incursion of religion, or the faithful against incursions of different faiths. The mandate of the Templeton-funded clinic funds the first enterprise but not the other two. It’s a blatant attempt to buttress one side of the church-state wall but not the other.
Had I been the folks at Stanford, I would not have accepted this money unless it included a stipulation that the clinic would defend not only oppressed religious people, but the non-religious (or aggrieved religious people) against public expressions of religion. For that’s what the Constitution really says about how faith should be treated in the U.S.
Cui bono? Religion.