Sarah Posner reports at Religion Dispatches about how professors in class 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.
[Crossposted from Talk to Action]
Frederick Clarkson is an independent journalist, author and editor who has written about politics and religion for thirty years. He is the co-founder of the group blog Talk to Action, Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates, and lives in Massachusetts.
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