A Crack in the Theocratic Infrastructure?
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:32:39 PM EST
Sarah Posner reports at Religion Dispatches about how professors at the law school founded by the late Jerry Falwell pressured students to choose "God's Law" over "Man's" in an exam question about a notorious kidnapping case.  The two professors who taught the class at Liberty University are personally involved in the case.  One of them is Dean of the law school, Mat Staver.  Students say that their professors were advocates for law breaking.
The professors do their legal work through the Christian Right group, Liberty Counsel, which represents Miller.  Liberty Counsel denies that it was involved in the kidnapping.

According to Liberty law students,

"...in the required Foundations of Law class in the fall of 2008, taught by [alleged kidnapper] Miller's attorneys Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, they were repeatedly instructed that when faced with a conflict between "God's law" and "man's law," they should resolve that conflict through "civil disobedience."  One student said, "the idea was when you are confronted with a particular situation, for instance, if you have a court order against you that is in violation of what you see as God's law, essentially... civil disobedience was the answer."

"Students who wrote that Miller should comply with court orders received bad grades," Posner reports, "while those who wrote she should engage in civil disobedience received an A" according to three students in the class. They felt they were being taught to "disobey the law."

A Tennessee pastor, Posner reports, has been charged

"with helping Lisa Miller, an "ex"-lesbian, abscond to Nicaragua with her young daughter Isabella after she flouted a series of court orders requiring Isabella's visitation with Miller's former partner, Janet Jenkins. According to the criminal complaint and FBI affidavit, Miller has been in hiding with Isabella since September 2009, living in the beach house of Christian Right activist and businessman Philip Zodhiates, whose daughter Victoria Hyden works as an administrative assistant at Liberty Law School."

The law school, founded in 2004, "upon the premise that there is an integral relationship between faith and reason, and that both have their origin in the Triune God," claims a vision "to see again all meaningful dialogue over law include the role of faith and the perspective of a Christian worldview as the framework most conducive to the pursuit of truth and justice." The law school received accreditation from the America Bar Association last year.

The Foundations class is unlike anything offered at secular law schools, its purpose being to guide students toward a "Christian worldview" of the law. In the 2008-09 academic year, the required texts included David Barton's Original Intent, which Barton's website describes as "essential resource for anyone interested in our nation's religious heritage and the Founders' intended role for the American judicial system," and Francis Schaeffer's Christian Manifesto.  

The distinct combination of Schaeffer's notions of Christian resistance to the secular state, with Barton's Christian nationalist view of history, certainly places the class in an unambiguous theocratic framework.  And while it is unclear at this writing how successful Liberty Law will be in molding a generation of revolutionary theocratic attorneys, it is worth considering that the school was accredited by the American Bar Association last year.  It is also worth considering that current Virginia Governor (and former state Attorney General) Bob McDowell is a graduate of Regent University Law School, founded by theocratic televangelist and political operative, Pat Robertson.  Regent Law faced some similar controversy about the content of its early courses, when founding Dean Herb Titus taught R.J. Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law alongside conventional law school texts.

This history not withstanding, there is an ongoing tendency among some who ought to know better to pooh-pooh the influence and capacities of active theocratic elements operating in modern America.  And the case at hand suggests that the institutional legacies of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson may have a profound impact on society long after the time when people even remember their names.  It also suggests that that future may not be pre-ordained, when we consider that the FBI is investigating the possible role of part of Falwell's legacy in a federal kidnapping case.

The religious right advocating ignoring US common, statutory, and Constitutional law is not far different from the Sovereign Citizens who do the same. That a law school would tell students - GRADE them - on adhering to some peculiar interpretation of "God's laws" (which they don't even understand anyway) rather than US laws is horrifying. I've watched Dominionist legal eagles at work, and they have lost every case based on that form of argument. I suppose we ought to let them be. We will move our own cases far ahead of their if they continue this form of legal argument. But we do need to make clear that if you live in the US, you follow the US law, period. If you need an attorney, I'd make damned sure their legal creds are what you want and need, not what they want to impose on you!

by Churchlady on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:51:51 PM EST

What has happened at Liberty U. is just a foreshadow of what is to come from Dominionist law schools. Remember Rushdooney and Schaffer were influncing Falwell in the mid-80s with articles in Liberty Journal.

It foreshadows what can happen in the US military as Campus Crusade and other groups have been enlisting the military into the "Christian" ranks and Mikey Weinstein has been warning us about.

What happens when the Chief Executive issues a lawful order and just 5% of the US officers refuse  to obey the order on the basis that it conflicts with God's Law?

by JerrySloan on Wed May 18, 2011 at 03:50:09 PM EST

This seems to be another area where the dominionists have co-opted legitimate faith-based terminology and action. Having spent years supporting friends who made the difficult ethical decision, on the basis of their deeply held beliefs, to engage in civil disobedience to resist and protest against our government's involvement in nuclear armaments, support of death squads in El Salvador, training of Central American military in techniques of assassination, etc., I understand and honor the impulse to put God's law above human law under certain conditions. And I understand why protesters like my dear friend Sister Willie, who with eleven other priests and women religious trespassed on a nuclear installation in Massachusetts in order to witness to the evil that was happening there, would want to be represented by an attorney who was sympathetic to their goals and tactics.

Inevitably, those of us who applaud people like Sister Willie but are appalled by the tactics described in this article will be challenged with the question ~ what is the difference? We will be called inconsistent hypocrites. And we had better plan ahead, preparing a logical, nuanced reply beforehand, so that we are not caught off guard.

by MLouise on Wed May 18, 2011 at 04:37:20 PM EST
since he was the most influential evangelical writer calling for resistance.  Randall Terry credits him with inspiring Operation Rescue. In the book Wrath of Angels (by Risen and Thomas) James O'Keefe who led some of the original non-violent sit-ins against clinics, says he modeled his thinking after that of non-violent anti-war protests.  (As it turned out, clinic bombers and arsonists used non-violent demonstrations as cover for scouting targets.)

Anyone who is serious about the philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience owes it to themselves to understand and come to grips with this stuff.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu May 19, 2011 at 01:56:33 PM EST

Dean Staver and Prof. Lindevaldsen might want their students to put God's law first, but they don't tell their students that they are flirting with disciplinary action if they advise clients to disobey court orders. I suspect the profs didn't ask too many questions about where Lisa and Isabella were headed in order to avoid any disciplinary action themselves.

by khughes1963 on Wed May 18, 2011 at 07:00:42 PM EST

I can easily see where "God's Law" would come to require the murder or harming of non-Christians and anyone the church leadership doesn't like (including those who try to expose their evil), and absolve (or try to absolve) pedophile and rapist ministers because they are "Men of God".

It's already happening de facto and the frequency seems to be increasing.  How long before it's all de jure?

by ArchaeoBob on Wed May 18, 2011 at 08:25:12 PM EST

Revocation of accreditation for Liberty U & Regent and disbarment of these "professors" and their grads.

by Da Rat Bastid on Fri May 20, 2011 at 10:51:10 PM EST

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