By Lisa Anderson
Chicago Tribune national correspondent
May 21, 2007
LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Some may have found it curious when Rev. Jerry Falwell's new
Liberty University School of Law recently unveiled a $1 million teaching
courtroom featuring exact-to-the-inch replicas of the U.S. Supreme Court bench
and the lectern and counsel tables facing it. But Liberty faculty and students
understood perfectly: Falwell intended his students to be well prepared to argue
before and, ultimately, to serve on the highest court in the land.
Falwell, the prominent televangelist and father of the Moral Majority who
founded Liberty University in 1971, died less than a week before the school
granted its first law degrees to 50 graduates on Saturday. But his dream of
"training a new generation of lawyers, judges, educators, policymakers and
world leaders in law from the perspective of an explicitly Christian
worldview" remains very much alive.
And that's true not just at Liberty, with its evangelical Baptist heritage, but
at a growing number of conservative Christian law schools, such as the Ave Maria
School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., which graduated its first class in 2003; the
University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, which graduated its first class in
2004; and Barry University School of Law in Orlando, founded in 1999 -- all
Catholic schools. Televangelist Pat Robertson's 21-year-old evangelical Regent
University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va., was one of the first of this
new wave of schools, while Liberty is the youngest. All of them are either fully
or provisionally accredited by the American Bar Association.
"It's a really good and healthy development in legal education," said
John Garvey, dean of the Boston College Law School, a Jesuit school, and
president-elect of the Association of American Law Schools.
"Since the election of Ronald Reagan, people have been talking about the
influence of evangelicals or orthodox Catholics on election results," he
said. "Should there be any surprise that there should be a demand for
educating young people in this way? The very people who are voting this way and
urging legal reforms of this kind are people whose children are going to college
and law school."
Out to change the world
Bright and enthusiastic ranks of conservative Christians of all denominations
are enrolling in these new law schools. Their unabashed goal: to "confront
the culture," as Falwell put it, and "change the world," as
Regent's motto proclaims.
Matthew Krause, among Liberty's first law graduates, is one of them.
"I think we've complained too long about the destruction of our culture
without taking any affirmative steps to remedy it," said the lanky,
26-year-old Texan. "We don't want abortion, but what are we doing about it?
Let's get into the courts and find a way to combat that. Same-sex marriage we
don't feel is right or a good thing for the culture. How are we going to stop
that? You have to do that through the legal processes. Then, at the same time,
vote in politicians who share those ideas and beliefs."
In a dark brown suit, blue-striped shirt and blue and brown striped tie, Krause
already dresses like an attorney. But he also has the big smile, firm handshake
and outgoing personality of the kind of politician he ultimately hopes to be.
"I've got this crazy goal to be the governor by 2022," he said, with
the confidence of one who doesn't consider the idea the least bit crazy.
But first, Krause will return to Texas with his wife, Jennie, and newborn son,
Jeremiah, to open a Dallas office for Liberty Counsel, a plum job for a Liberty
Partnering with Liberty University, Liberty Counsel is a non-profit organization
offering free legal assistance in the areas of "religious liberty, the
sanctity of human life and the traditional family." The organization was
founded in Florida in 1989 by Mathew Staver, who became dean of the university's
law school last year. Top Liberty law students have the opportunity to work on
pro bono cases, many of them dealing with constitutional issues.
The number of cases involving religious rights or the traditional family are on
the rise, a trend consonant with the increased participation of Christian
lawyers in the last decade, Staver said. And, he said, he discovered that
"when we showed up, we could win."
In one of the last interviews given before his death last Tuesday, Falwell spoke
to the Tribune on May 1 at Liberty University. He described his longtime desire
to open an evangelical law school to counter "a colossal effort to
secularize America" in the last 40 years.
"The 10 Commandments cannot be posted in public places. Children cannot say
grace over their meals in public schools. No prayers at football games and on
the list goes, virtually driving God from the public square. And then, of
course, Roe vs. Wade in the middle of all that, legalizing abortion on demand.
Now, the redefining of the family or the attempt to. So all of this reinforced
our belief that we needed to produce a generation of Christian attorneys who
could, in fact, infiltrate the legal profession with a strong commitment to the
Judeo-Christian ethic," Falwell said.
That is what draws many students to Liberty University.
"Most students here are anchored in their Christian beliefs," said
first-year law student Tashell Thompson, 21, a graduate of Johns Hopkins
"I was at a point in my life when I needed more of a conviction," she
said. "When I was at Hopkins, I didn't necessarily put God first."
"I didn't want to just be a Christian attorney, but an attorney who
dedicates my gifts and talents to Christ," said Chicago-born Daniel White,
25, an African-American. One of Liberty's first graduates, he is joining the
Gibbs Law Firm in Florida, which argued for continued life support for Terri
Preparing its students
Liberty, like Ave Maria, which was started by Domino's Pizza founder Thomas
Monaghan, provides generous financial aid to its law students. It is a way to
attract those who otherwise might consider it a "risk to come to an untried
institution," said Abigail Tuomala, Liberty Law's director of admissions.
Minority students make up about 15 percent of the school, which also has a small
percentage of non-Christians, she said. Tuition at the law school is $24,160 a
Liberty integrates the moral and religious roots of the rule of law into every
class discussion, an approach Staver calls "law plus." That came
through during a recent "Lawyering Skills" class when professor Rodney
Chrisman presented a case and then asked his students whether they would
compromise their integrity on behalf of a good client. "The Bible says a
good name is a greater treasure than silver and gold." Chrisman told them.
Lawyering Skills teaches students practical aspects of law, such as interviewing
clients and drawing up contracts, from the day they arrive. Installed in a
refurbished Ericsson cell-phone plant, the law school is very high-tech, from
universal Wi-Fi to power jacks at every seat and a video camera in every
Liberty prepares its students to handle the lingering stigma that faith and
intellect are contradictory, said Rena Lindevaldsen, assistant professor of law.
Placement for Liberty's first graduates has gone well, said Jory Fisher,
associate dean for the Center for Career and Professional Development. Just
before graduation, 52 percent of students had accepted offers in the legal
field, she said; 12 percent more had received offers but had not yet accepted
As for Regent, it recently made the news in the uproar over the firings of U.S.
attorneys because Monica Goodling, a former aide to Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales,
was among about 150 Regent law graduates hired by the Bush administration.
Fisher said four Liberty graduates will clerk for judges, one at the appellate
level. Such jobs pave the way to a clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court and
beyond, said Staver, a fact of which Falwell was well aware.
"We'd be pleased if we trained up a John Roberts and a Samuel Alito and
Clarence Thomas and an Antonin Scalia," Falwell told the Tribune, with a
wide smile. "We'd feel like we hit a home run."