Christian lawyers organize as never before to protect religious freedom.

In 1950, only two students at a prominent Christian college were considering careers in law. Of the two, just one went on to become an attorney. Evangelicals of the time were not overly concerned with social issues: it was more important to be preachers, missionaries, teachers. The cultural changes of the last three decades, however, many of them in the legal arena, left conservative Christians out in the cold.

Philosopher Francis Schaeffer has had strong words on the lack of Christian influence on the legal system. “The law is in shambles and the Christian lawyers have not made any significant impact towards its development. I wonder, where are all the Christian lawyers? I feel let down by them and think I have, and the church has, a right to feel let down,” he said at a conference last spring.

But slowly and quietly, evangelicals have penetrated the legal profession, and rumbles from several quarters indicate the Christian voice will grow even more forceful.

At Wheaton College, for instance, more than 70 undergraduates participate in a prelaw society. Oral Roberts University recently won accreditation for its law school from the American Bar Association. Bob Jones University has an adviser for a contingent of prelaw students.

But perhaps more important than young Christians looking forward to being lawyers is the increased activity of Christians already in the ranks. Groups whose intentions range from devotional fellowship to serious legal intervention have sprouted across the landscape, mostly since the 1960s. They include:

• The Christian Legal Society (CLS), initiated in 1961 and now grown to 2,000 members, has moved from the humble purpose of Christian fellowship for attorneys and judges to ambitious plans to alter the course of church-and-state separation.

• Christian Legal Defense and Education Fund (CLD), begun in 1969, has concentrated on recruiting Christian attorneys to aid Christian schools in legal battles.

• The Moral Majority Legal Defense Foundation, which is so new a baby that its delivery has been prematurely announced. Moral Majority officials are still laying the groundwork for an organization they promise will be an “aggressive, no-fooling-around group” plunging into litigation on such issues as abortion.

• Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, a small group initiated in 1964, has offered free legal services for the poor but is now largely occupied with stimulating its growth.

• The Christian Law Association, based in Cleveland, Ohio, is headed by fundamentalist lawyer David Gibbs, and it tries to defend fundamentalist schools from government control. Its strategy and its view of the law have been criticized by other Christian constitutional lawyers. Some of them feel the CLA has actually set back the cause of religious freedom (CT, April 10, p.48).

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One Lawyer Stands Alone

Christian law fellowships are proliferating, but one attorney who has not started any group has become the patron saint of private religious schools. William Ball of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, heads a small law firm that works six days a week meticulously preparing cases (on occasion, Ball has dipped into his own pocket to get the cases into court). A Roman Catholic, Ball won five landmark court decisions of the seventies relating to schools and education. Here are the three most significant:

Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1973, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court agreed with Ball’s argument that constitutional freedom of religion allows Amish parents the right to take their children out of formal schooling after the eighth grade.

State of Ohio v. Whisper, 1976, was decided by the Supreme Court of Ohio. Ball showed that the “minimum standards” the state expected schools to comply with (listed in a 125-page booklet of 600 regulations) “unduly burdened the free exercise of religion.” Ball also demonstrated that state certification of teachers was no guarantee of teacher quality.

Kentucky State Board of Education v. Rudasill, 1979, was similar to Whisner. In Rudasill, the Kentucky Supreme Court found teacher certification, textbook approval, and school accreditation requirements violated the free exercise of religion clause.

Ball’s intent has not been to abolish all government supervision of education, but to reinforce the constitutional prerogratives of private religious schools to educate children according to the tenets of their faith. The Pennsylvania attorney has written that some government supervision, although sharply limited, is desirable in that it recognizes “the principle that we (as in ‘We the people …’) have [a] common concern for one another in the area of education.”

Moral Majority’s foundation is being arranged by Virginia attorney John Whitehead, and its goals are ambitious. Whitehead said key issues will be abortion, church autonomy, protection of the rights of private religious schools, family autonomy free from government interference, pornography, and “public arena” law (such things as public prayer and Bible reading). It will also try to guard laws that allow religious organizations to operate as tax exempt. Whitehead added that Moral Majority will battle for non-Christian religious groups when the case has potential to set a precedent favorable to all religious bodies.

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The Legal Foundation will open a national office in Washington, D.C., this spring, employing three or four attorneys (as yet unnamed).

Christian Legal Defense and Education Fund, operating out of Leesburg, Florida, has attempted to establish a network of Christian attorneys, said spokesman Wally Metts. CLD does not keep a membership roster but has about 2,500 regular supporters, Metts said. It often raises funds to cover legal costs in cases involving Christian schools. It will do research for attorneys, and provide theological advice.

Metts, an ordained minister, said CLD is aware of Falwell’s plan for another legal group and they plan to cooperate. “We will not duplicate services,” he said.

The oldest of the groups is the Christian Legal Society, based in Oak Park, Illinois. After steadily establishing itself over the past two decades, the CLS is suddenly coming of age. It has undertaken a three-phase program of expansion and already has “lead projects” in five cities. Those are model offices of one or two full-time workers who seek to marshal resources of the Christian legal community in their cities. The offices work with Christian lawyers who volunteer to grant free legal aid to the poor. The CLS has also sharpened the cutting edge of Christian legal involvement with its Conciliation Service.

It has full-time conciliation services in four cities, and others at “one stage or another” in 40 other cities, said CLS executive director Lynn Buzzard. The conciliation services offer alternatives for Christians who are aggrieved but feel the Bible forbids them to take another Christian to court.

CLS lawyers mediate disagreements but also seek to heal the anger behind arguments. Recognizing that litigation often embitters the person involved, the Conciliation Service counsels the disputants and even prays with them. It has been so successful that secular imitations are appearing. Cases are handled more to the satisfaction of the disputants, do not take as long as they might in the courts, and save that already clogged system from further overcrowding.

The CLS is also constructing a comprehensive plan for Christian legal involvement, which, according to Buzzard, will include education (where the church-and-state separation issue crops up most often), government regulation of Christian ministries, human life (genetic engineering as well as abortion and euthanasia), and justice in community (aid to the poor).

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A coherent strategy is needed for Christian action, said Buzzard. “One of our concerns has been that Christian reaction [to legal developments] has been emotional and episodic. It has tended not to be strategic but just to go where the hot action is,” he said.

What is developing is a Christian assault on the secular understanding of church-and-state separation, which the attorneys believe now discriminates against religion. Most Christian attorneys favor pluralism, but they believe the present brand is distorted to favor secular philosophies. The pluralism Buzzard opposes is that which “systematically excludes religion from public life.”

Such a “pluralism” is in evidence in a case now before the Supreme Court, Vincent v. Widmar. That case pits a Christian student group against the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC), whose officials told the group it could not meet for “religious worship or religious teaching” in campus facilities. So-called secular groups, such as Marxists or feminists, are allowed to meet there, but an explicitly religious faith is held to have a special, almost pernicious, quality. In a time when the idea of the university as in loco parentis (parent away from home) has been dropped in favor of students’ mature independence. UMKC attorneys ironically argued that incoming freshmen might be susceptible to the religious influence of groups meeting on the secular campus. The secular becomes sacred and inviolable.

“Allow the pornographer and radical secularist to get a shot at values. Fine, I can live with that. But I want my shot too [as a promoter of Christian values],” Buzzard said.

Whether the CLS and other groups can nudge the law in a new direction remains to be seen, but the challenge is attracting notable legal talent.

Stephen Galebach, young graduate of Yale and of Harvard Law School, was the author of “A Human Life Statute” in last winter’s Human Life Review. His article was the first to propose that Congress pass a bill (not a constitutional amendment) defining “life” in such a way as to protect unborn children from abortion. Columnist William F. Buckley, Jr., called this “dazzling insight.” The bill was written and introduced.

Galebach left a prestigious Washington law firm earlier this month to join CLS because “it has the clearest vision of any group I’ve seen for applying a Christian vision” to legal issues. “The state,” said Galebach, “inevitably makes moral judgments.” He wants to make certain Christians have a word in the moral process.

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A New Lease On Campus Life

Campus Life magazine, published by the evangelical organization Youth for Christ (YFC/USA), has been a bright star among Christian periodicals journalistically. It has a monthly paid circulation of over 200,000, and an estimated readerhip of one million, mostly high school students. Earlier this year it carried off five first-place awards from the Evangelical Press Association.

Financially, however, the picture is entirely different. In 1979 the magazine had severe losses, and the burden threatened not only the magazine but the parent organization as well (there are 180 local chapters). Last month YFC put the magazine on an entirely new footing.

Campus Life will continue to be published, but a new, completely separate nonprofit corporation has been set up to ran it. On the board are Philip Yancey, YFC vice-president for publishing; Jay Kesler, YFC president; William Slemp, YFC’s national director of advertising sales; Harold Myra, president of Christianity Today, Inc.; and Paul Robbins, executive vice-president of Christianity Today, Inc. Four more board members will be named later. Myra is chairman of the new organization, called Campus Life Publications, Inc.

The Christianity Today executives have close ties to YFC. Myra was editor and publisher of Campus Life until joining Christianity Today in 1975, and Robbins was YFC national field director, later joining Myra at CT. Yancey followed Myra as editor and publisher of Campus Life, but resigned in 1978 to pursue a full-time writing career. He returned last year to try to lift the magazine’s sagging financial figures. He was able to stabilize circulation, advertising, and the staff, but it soon became evident a new structure was needed. Under the new organization, Yancey will administer Campus Life as president and publisher.

New Direction Charted For Costa Rican Seminary

An evaluation study group has prescribed a dose of “radical evangelicalism” as the antidote to ailments that have weakened the Latin American Biblical Seminary (SBL—for Seminario Biblico Latinamericano) in San José, Costa Rica. The report is non-binding.

Founded in 1923 by Latin America Mission (LAM) founders Harry and Susan Strachan, SBL for years held the leading role in training pastors for Latin America’s evangelical churches. But after the seminary became autonomous in 1971, a preoccupation with the concerns of liberation theology brought about a decline in support by conservative churches, the recent departure of five faculty members, plans by the LAM-launched Costa Rican Bible Churches to start an alternative Bible school, and withdrawal of endorsement of the seminary by LAM-USA (CT, May 8, 1981, p. 40).

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The seven-member study commission said the controversial seminary faced four options:

• It could close. Doing so, however, would deprive Latin America’s churches of a “formidable instrument” for training leaders.

• It could return to the theological past. That is considered an “impossibility” and a denial of present realities.

• It could embrace unconditionally an extreme expression of the theology of liberation. That would be “an obvious form of theological reductionism.”

• It could pursue “radical evangelicalism.” That would mean promoting an uncompromised commitment to the poor and to social issues, founded upon an equally uncompromised foundation in basic evangelical doctrines and “the best Protestant tradition.” This option, the 23-page report concluded, was the only valid one, blending emphases of both right and left to achieve “total integral liberation.”

World Scene

Evangelicals have the most popular radio network in Haiti. It is Radio Lumiere, associated with Worldteam, whose format of news, gospel, and contemporary Haitian gospel music have put it ahead of the number-two official government station and the third-ranked station of the Roman Catholic church. These are results of a survey, released October 31, conducted by the Haitian Center of Family Hygiene. Radio Lumiere airs health education features and speaks out on social issues.

One of the “Siberian Seven” is probably suffering from cancer, according to a daughter. Lida Vaschenko, one of the Soviet Pentecostals who have spent more than three years inside the U.S. embassy in Moscow, has written that her mother, Augustina, “needs surgery” and that it “is impossible here.” In a recent letter to the Stockholm-based Slavic Mission, she asks, “Can this possibly expedite a solution to the question of our emigration?”

Evangelical publications were on display at Yugoslavia’s international book fair in Belgrade this year for the first time. Free Gospels of John were distributed from the booth rented jointly by the Baptist and Pentecostal publishers. CHRISTIANITY TODAY’s correspondent in Yugoslavia notes that this is an early benefit of formation of the Council of Evangelical Christians last year.

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The principal of a Protestant school in Turkey is on trial in military court for teaching Armenian children their own language and Protestant religious knowledge. So says IDEA, the news service of the German Evangelical Alliance, which reports that Hrant Güzelian disappeared last March after teaching for more than 20 years, and that his trial is probably the result of protests and publicity by the Armenian Protestant Church in France. Güzelian is accused of having “collected Turkish children in East Anatolia and infected them with Armenian nationalism.” The prosecution demanded a sentence of from one to three years imprisonment. The verdict is not yet known.

A Canadian missionary to Thailand was shot and killed while speaking to a group near the Central Thailand Buddhist stronghold city of Thatago. Overseas Missionary Fellowship missionary Koos Fietje, 38, was killed on October 24. He is survived by his wife and three children. The Fietjes helped establish a vital, growing Christian congregation in Thatago.

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