Religion Belongs at Law Schools

June 30, 2020 | Mark Movsesian
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In the Jewish tradition, law and religion are nearly inseparable, but in American law schools, this isn’t the case. Mark Movsesian writes:

The Northwestern University law professor James Lindgren has published a survey revealing that religious commitments are comparatively rare on American law faculties. “Even compared to other professors,” he writes, “law professors are much less religious.” . . . Law professors are also “less likely to attend religious services than their non-professorial counterparts,” Lindgren writes.

Of course, Jews are undoubtedly overrepresented among the faculty and students at law schools, and there are a fair number of Orthodox Jewish law professors. But Movsesian’s argument, that religious perspectives on law would be a welcome addition to legal academia, should be relevant to people of any faith:

[R]eligious perspectives would enrich our discussion of law and offer our students perspectives they currently lack. For example, centuries of Christian reflection exist on many legal questions, in areas as diverse as contracts, criminal law, torts, property, legal ethics, and, of course, church and state. Few American law professors think to ask, though, what Christian learning has to say about these questions, and doing so would not be a good career move. With a few notable exceptions, elite law reviews have little interest in articles exploring Christian ideas about law.

This is a pity, because religious perspectives on law would offer much to our students. It is not simply a matter of knowing the historical foundations of our laws or appreciating the critiques of the past. Religious perspectives would offer students insights into current legal controversies. For example, in America today, we are debating whether the state may constitutionally order churches to close during an epidemic. . . . To understand the cases, students need to hear not only the secular perspectives of most law professors, but the perspectives of people inside faith communities, who can explain why believers find orders to close such an imposition. The comparative absence of religious law professors makes it less likely students will hear both sides.

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