UT Law Evades the First Amendment

David Acevedo

CounterCurrent: Week of 3/28

The First Amendment is under assault in academia. Now before you say, “Thanks, Captain Obvious” and close this email, hear me out. By now, to be sure, we all know that the infringement of freedom of speech, expression, religion, and the like abound within higher education. This has been the norm for some time. But we also need to remember that, just as First Amendment rights are under assault, so is the study and teaching of the First Amendment itself threatened by a woke academy.

We see time and time again how court rulings have tangible effects on higher education, including in First Amendment matters, such as the recent SCOTUS ruling against Georgia Gwinnett College for its violation of religious freedom and free speech. Judges of all levels hold immense sway in the direction of the academy, which means that, in many ways, the future of higher ed is determined in the law school classroom. If we educate America’s future lawyers, judges, and legislators well, we can be hopeful for a just future. If not, we ought to fear the injustice that will be allowed and perpetrated by these very same people.

One such institution currently headed down this road to injustice is the University of Texas Law School. Last fall, UT Law announced its newly-endowed First Amendment Center, along with a new clinic that specializes in free exercise cases, the Law and Religion Clinic. So far so good, right? The problem is, the Clinic’s own website betrays a dubious interpretation of the First Amendment, one that would deliberately exclude some of the most important litigation of our time. The website originally read,

Texas Law is a diverse and inclusive institution. The Law and Religion Clinic will contribute to that inclusivity, both by representing parties with a wide range of beliefs and nonbeliefs and by respecting the interests of those who study and work here. The Clinic therefore will not engage in litigation that can succeed only at the expense of the rights of groups represented in our community [emphasis added].

What exactly does this mean? Who was responsible for adding this language to the Law and Religion Clinic’s mission statement? How will this affect the operations of the Clinic going forward? In this week’s featured article, UT Austin alumnus Louis K. Bonham, who received both his BA and JD from the institution, conducted an in-depth investigation via open records requests and discovered that this language is indeed meant to curb the study and teaching of the First Amendment at UT Law, and therefore the First Amendment rights of American citizens in the future. He writes,

[W]hat is the lesson being taught at UT Law by this episode? If the purpose of law school is to train lawyers to practice law, one thing young lawyers must learn is that they will have to deal with clients, colleagues, judges, juries, and adversaries who are going to have positions with which they disagree (or may well find abhorrent). That’s a reality that lawyers not only have to deal with, but also one in which they must be willing to embrace and operate effectively. Teaching law students that it is an appropriate strategy to simply dismiss, vilify, or attempt to deplatform positions with which they disagree—even when such positions are, like the religious liberty arguments made in Masterpiece Cakeshop, predicated on substantial and serious legal arguments—is hardly useful for training effective lawyers.

I encourage you to read Bonham’s investigation of this issue, which includes email records from UT Law Dean Ward Farnsworth, donors to the Law and Religion Clinic, Clinic Director Steve Collis, and more. These are important issues that need public scrutiny, and we commend Bonham for his thorough investigative work at the local level, thus exposing how universities avoid controversial constitutional issues to appease administrators, students, and donors.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: wynpnt, Public Domain

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