Bioethics, cyber ethics, and euthanasia; civil rights, human rights, and women's rights; health care, social welfare, and separation of church and state; third world debt relief and immigration. What do these issues have in common? Each raises issues of public policy that stand astride the boundaries of law, religion, and ethics.
The Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law was created in 1985 with funds from the Henry R. Luce Foundation. Our mission is to explore the relationship of law to religion, and of religion to public policy, through interdisciplinary research, conferences, and publications, and to train law students and lawyers by developing course and continuing professional education materials, and by arranging clinical placements for students and pro bono volunteer opportunities for practicing lawyers.
The range of national and international issues where policy touches on law, religion, and ethics is very broad. It includes complex legal problems affecting religious freedom and belief, like maintaining the independence and distinctive character of churches, synagogues, mosques, and religious associations whose religious identity is threatened by increasingly pervasive, and sometimes hostile, government regulation. It also include eminently practical problems involving comparative law and legal systems, such as the organizational structure of Islamic banks and charities, or the ability of civil courts to hear evidence concerning the ways in which Jewish, Islamic, or Canon Law might affect a civil contract or property case. Freedom of speech, press, peaceable assembly, and petition for redress of grievances are key concerns in the United States and around the world because citizen action and advocacy is often rooted in religious ethics. International human rights norms forbidding all forms of discrimination based on religion, national or ethnic origin, and culture round out what is, for lawyers and clients alike, a fascinating field of law.
In keeping with the view that law is inherently interdisciplinary, the faculty members and clinical placement supervisors working with the Program seek, first, to understand the specific interests and goals of each student. We then work with each student to develop a strategy that matches those interests. We do this by tailoring a schedule of upper-division courses, clinical placements, and directed research into a tightly integrated program of studies that will give students a realistic sense of practice in this challenging, and somewhat specialized, field of law. Students who have struggled with the question, "How can I use my skills as a lawyer to be of service to my community?" are placed in law firms, the legal and policy offices of nongovernmental organizations, and government agencies, including Congress, where they can get front-line, clinical experience and apply theory to practice. Law students interested in philosophy, theology, and comparative religion are welcomed, and given a wide range of opportunities to learn more about the practical utility of these subjects in law practice and policy making.
The Program also provides continuing-education programs, informational materials and practical resources for lawyers, public policy specialists, health and social service professionals, educators, clergy, church administrators, and others with an interest in law, religion, and ethics. Scholars associated with the Program also collect, catalogue and disseminate research data to scholars, educators, practitioners, legislators, and courts. Our Marriage Law Project, Middle East Dialogue Series, and USAID-sponsored Interfaith Cooperation Initiative in Israel and Palestine provide good examples of the opportunities we offer for involvement in litigation, public policy research, interfaith dialogue, and domestic and international public policy development.