Religious Law Schools and Democratic Society

76 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2012 Last revised: 17 Jan 2014

Date Written: October 25, 2013


Many believe that, in a democratic society, the law must be approached as a purely secular, neutral system to which all members of society can assent. Discussion of religious foundations of law is condemned as inherently divisive and destructive of democratic process. Many in the legal academy believe that law school education should not involve teaching students to examine the moral foundations of the law and the legal system, and certainly should not invite and challenge law students to examine their professional role in the justice system in light of their own moral commitments and religious faiths. Law students both reflect these attitudes rooted in modern skeptical culture and respond to the tacit lessons of the law school classroom about the inappropriateness of normative discussion in legal education.

Stable democratic societies require law schools to uphold the value of normative discussion based on religious and other moral values. These societies, in order to flourish, require a widespread basic trust in the predictability, efficacy, and integrity of the legal system which regulates their basic functions. In order for such trust to continue, a large majority of the professionals constituting the legal system must behave according to durable moral values.

This article examines the importance of legal education in helping to sustain core values essential to a functioning legal system and a stable democratic society. It examines the challenges posed by cultural beliefs about the implausibility of non-relative moral values. It examines some possible secular bases for grounding absolute values. It then describes the advantages of basing non-relative values in a religious faith tradition. It discusses how religious law schools can effectively use religious truths in a reasoned manner consistent with academic values to foster their students’ effective moral professional formation. Finally, it examines the case of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, a relatively new law school founded with a mission to “integrate faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice”.

Keywords: law and society, legal education, law school, religious law schools, law and religion, law and morality, morality and law

Suggested Citation

Wright, Jennifer L., Religious Law Schools and Democratic Society (October 25, 2013). 57 Howard Law Journal 401 (2013), U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-36, Available at SSRN:

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