Christian Legal Society

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The Christian Legal Society (CLS), founded in 1961, is a nonprofit organization of lawyers, judges, law professors, and law students. The group's missions are to promote high ethical standards within the legal profession, to support its members' commitment to Christian professional lives, and to advance religious freedom for all U.S. citizens regardless of affiliation. CLS provides resources for research into law and theology; maintains a data bank of commentaries on legal issues; and provides a speakers' bureau, a lawyer-referral service, and mediation and arbitration services. It also publishes Christian Legal Society—Briefly, a quarterly newsletter for its members, and Christian Legal Society—Quarterly, a magazine that covers issues that are in line with the society's goals. CLS's legal-advocacy arm, the Center for Law and Religious Freedom, promotes freedom of religion and challenges government interference with the free exercise of religion.

In 1993, CLS backed passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000bb, et seq., a response to the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 110 S. Ct. 1595, 108 L. Ed. 2d 876. Smith upheld a denial of unemployment benefits to Native Americans who had been fired from their jobs for using peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, as part of a religious ceremony. CLS and numerous other groups representing a wide range of religious and political persuasions lobbied for RFRA, which requires the government to show a "compelling state interest," such as public health or safety, before interfering with religious practices.

CLS members successfully argued two important religious-freedom cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. In Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District, 509 U.S. 1, 113 S. Ct. 2462, 125 L. Ed. 2d 1, the Court held that the Establishment Clause did not prohibit a public school district from paying for a sign language interpreter for a deaf student who attended a Catholic high school. In Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, 508 U.S. 384, 113 S. Ct. 2141, 124 L. Ed. 2d 352, the Court held that a school district's denial of a religious organization's application to use school facilities to show a film on Christian values in family relationships violated the church's first amendment right to freedom of speech.

In Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 115 S. Ct. 2510, 132 L. Ed. 2d 700 (1995), CLS supported the plaintiff, who sued the University of Virginia for denying his request for financial support for publication of a Christian magazine. Although the university subsidized a wide range of publications from its Student Activities Fund (SAF), it denied Ronald W. Rosenberger's request on the grounds that his magazine violated SAF guidelines. Rosenberger argued that the guidelines, which prohibited the university from subsidizing a publication that "primarily promotes or manifests a particular belie[f] in or about a deity or an ultimate reality," violated his free speech rights. A brief filed by CLS maintained that the guidelines discriminated on the basis of religious belief and that a decision against the plaintiff would be a step toward "a relentlessly secular society" that is intolerant of religious persons and their views. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of the plaintiff but rested its holding on free speech grounds, stating that the SAF guidelines discriminated on the basis of viewpoint and violated the plaintiff's First Amendment rights.

The position taken by CLS in its amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case of boy scouts of america v. dale, 530 U.S. 640, 120 S. Ct. 2446, 147 L. Ed. 2d 554 (2000) also raised arguments considered by the high court in its final ruling. The Court held that New Jersey's public-accommodations law violated the Boy Scouts' First Amendment right of association when the law required the Boy Scouts of America to admit James Dale, an avowed homosexual and gay-rights activist, as a member of its organization. The Boy Scouts, a private, not-for-profit organization, had asserted that homosexual conduct was inconsistent with the values it sought to instill in its members.

In the early part of the decade, CLS filed amicus briefs in numerous cases involving religious, ethical, or moral issues, including Newdow v. U.S. Congress, 292 F.2d 597 (9th Cir. 2002), judgement stayed (opposing a challenge to the "under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance) and Oregon v. Aschcroft, 192 F. Supp. 2d 1077 (D. Or. 2002) (supporting Attorney General Ashcroft's directive to revoke federal controlled-substances licenses from physicians who prescribed narcotics for suicides). In 2002, CLS also published a scholarly position paper opposing human cloning for any purpose. It argued that the scientific distinction between human reproductive cloning and therapeutic (stem cell) cloning was specious and not supported by scientific data, in that both forms of cloning required the killing of a living human embryo.

CLS members are committed to the biblical injunction to "not leave justice and the love of God undone" (Luke 11:42, Matt. 23:23). They are dedicated to ending injustice, limiting or eliminating legal abortion, outlawing pornography, and bringing religious thought and precepts into public education. They also are committed to the evangelization of the legal profession, and plan to increase the society's membership by ten to 12 percent each year.

further readings

Christian Legal Society Website. Available online at <> (cited March 17, 2003).

Christian Legal Society Quarterly. Published beginning in 1981.

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Christian Legal Society

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