The Relevance of Faith Integration in Legal Education: An Essay
Nottingham Law Journal, Vol. 18, 2009
8 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2009
Date Written: March 3, 2009
The purpose of this essay is to consider the question of whether faith integration in a legal education is worthwhile. A lawyer's work is essentially problem solving with a moral compass in a legal context. For many people in the United States and in Britain, a substantial part of a person's moral sense and thinking comes from religious teachings and traditions. At the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Catholic Social Teaching and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition offer an essential backdrop that provides a springboard for discussions about justice, fairness, tax law, and the state through the lens of a faith tradition. Other faith traditions and secular humanism are welcome perspectives. Discussing moral foundations as part of the legal system and as important in each field of law provides law students with the opportunity to improve and enhance their own moral reasoning.
These discussions, if done well, should model civil discourse. The civility of the discourse promotes further discussion and, I maintain, enhances the growth of each student's moral compass. The evidence suggests that we are succeeding in encouraging moral reasoning through civil discourse. Data from the national Law School Survey of Student Engagement (2008) show that our law students at the University of St. Thomas, when compared to students from other law schools, reported remarkably higher ethical, moral, and spiritual development and a greater desire to contribute to the welfare of their communities. This self-assessment, especially when compared to thousands of law students from other American law schools, paints a pretty positive picture of our institutional success (333 St. Thomas respondents in a total survey pool of 28,889 from numerous institutions).
Navigating through the cultural norm of keeping faith identity in the closet is probably the greatest impediment to the goal of helping law students to integrate their religious identities into their professional identities of being lawyers. Learning how to deal with religious differences, however, may actually be beneficial. Talking about religious differences enables us to practice tolerance. Tolerance enables us to have difficult conversations. These conversations may actually enable us to explore common ground. Listening replaces shouting. Discord is avoided. Problems may actually be addressed with possible solutions. Moral reasoning through civil discourse is a legitimate approach for many problem solving contexts. This style of reasoning takes us back to "problem solving with a moral compass in a legal context."
Keywords: legal education, law and religion, Catholic social teaching, Catholic intellectual tradition, diversity, professional ethics
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