Friday, January 8, 2010

The 2010 Annual Conference on Christian Legal Thought

1/8/2010—While in New Orleans for the Association of American Law Schools convention, I attended the 2010 Annual Conference on Christian Legal Thought that was going on across the street. I’ve attended these meetings before. As always, I was amazed.

Secularists would imagine that this is a right-wing organization. In some senses, this is true. Everyone in the room opposes abortion and, from what I could tell, gay marriage as well. Some of the people there are global warming skeptics, although not all. And there is a pervasive distrust of government power and President Barack Obama’s cult of personality.

On the other hand, I saw no cheerleading for capitalism. I also saw a pervasive, concern for social justice in general and the poor in particular. One example: Kevin Outterson of B.U. Law School spoke on Christian Fellowship at school. In his bio, it turns out his work is about disparity in health care. Everyone there is concerned for the rights of the oppressed. That is actually kind of rare among law professors.

Another striking point among a number of speakers was a concern for democratic citizenship and a law school education model that goes beyond skills to teaching a concern for justice. This was refreshing after hearing the panicked reaction to the recession among deans and law professors at the AALS. There are a lot of people here ready to abandon justice in order to turn out law-firm-ready lawyers. But that is not true of the Christian professors.

The final speaker was, Lynne Marie Kohm of Regent Law School, who, noting recent stories about the decline in happiness among American women, argued that Christianity needs to recommit itself to gender equality but also that secular feminism has shown itself unable to provide the wherewithal for lives of genuine fulfillment among women.

I have to add a personal reaction. The group is thoughtful, friendly and open. A secularist is welcome. They really are a good advertisement for Jesus.


  1. I'd be interested to know the Catholic vs. Protestant breakdown. And if the Protestant law schools represented were considered academically respectable. Maybe age has a part to play here as well. I suspect that Catholic social justice would be considered "old school" now, with Robert George and the Conference of Catholic Bishops pointing to the trend.

  2. I was wondering the same thing and I tried to figure out who was Catholic and who Protestant. I could not tell. Most of the law schools represented were not Catholic, but that says little about the speakers. Going out on a limb, it seemed to me that the more philosophical the talk, the more likely the speaker was to be Catholic. The more applied, the more Protestant. Yes, the Protestant schools were academically respectable: Boston University, George Mason etc. Not as much talk about poverty this year as in the past, but I don't think the group is essentially economically conservative. The Federalist Society was meeting at the same time and there did not seem to be much overlap. I don't get the feeling it is a Robert George group, but I could obviously be wrong.

  3. Thanks, when you said Regent Law School I assumed they were representative of the Protestants. I was also thinking of BC (not BU), your school, and other Catholic law schools I know, so the divide seemed huge.

    Are BU and George Mason Law Schools explicitly Protestant? Were there many attendees from secular law schools?

  4. Well, few American law schools are actually religious in a meaningful sense. Duquesne, for example, is indistinguishable from a secular school except for the crosses on the walls and the prayers at school events. I would consider a law school religious only if religion somehow played a role in the curriculum generally. If a school took seriously Paul's injunction to stay out of court for instance. BU identifies itself as Lutheran (I don't know about the law school). George Mason I believe is entirely secular as an institution. They are identified with the law and economics movement.