Stanford Law School has opened the nation's only clinical program based on religious liberty, with two conservative groups backing the hands-on course that teaches students to defend cases in which people have been denied their constitutional religious rights.
The John Templeton Foundation is funding the program started this month with a $1.6 million contribution, funneled through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, reports The New York Times.
Lawrence C. Marshall, the school's associate dean for clinical legal education, defends the course, saying “the 47 percent of the people who voted for Mitt Romney deserve a curriculum as well.”
Students in the course are focusing on cases primarily involving freedom of religious expression, according to the Times. For example, students began working this month on a case representing FedEx workers who were fired because, as Seventh-Day Adventists, they refused to work on Saturdays.
Other cases on the docket include defending a converted Jewish prisoner whose plea to be circumcised was denied, and working to defend a Muslim group that was stopped from building a mosque because its plan violated land-use laws.
James A. Sonne, the clinic's founding director, said the course's docket includes cases that represent believers, rather than governments, with a focus on personal religious liberty rather than freedom from religion.
Sonne said he doesn't want his program to be seen as conservative. The first four students in the program, a Mormon, a Methodist, a Catholic, and a person with a Seventh-Day Adventist background, said they took the course because of the religious questions it raises.
“This is not only about strong family values but about democracy,” said James Wigginton, 26, the Mormon member of the clinic. “Religious ideas need to be expressed openly in public. Hopefully that attracts liberals as well as conservatives.”
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