law school dogmas
by Robert A. Crisell
Today's universities are among the most inhospitable places in the United States for people of faith. Nowhere is this more evident than in the typical American law school. Far from being shrines to diverse, open-minded intellectual discussion, America's law schools are typically echo chambers for a liberal, elitist worldview. They are places where left-wing dreams can--and sometimes do--come true.
The stuff of such dreams has traditionally involved the remaking of society to suit the needs of an assortment of like-minded individuals and groups, including the most left-leaning wing of the Democratic Party. The legal academy's political agenda includes a strident advocacy of abortion and homosexual rights, racial preferences, radical environmentalism, and a shrill critique of "American supremacy" in foreign affairs. Ironically, "diversity" has been the rhetorical engine powering this agenda of late. For all the ink spilled over the benefits of diversity, however, there has been little demand by academics and administrators for students and professors who might challenge political and legal orthodoxy. In fact, the academic establishment's definition of intolerance is opposition to their point of view on these and a host of other issues.
In our view, however, the fundamental dogma in legal academia today is not any one of those listed above. Rather, thesine qua non of American law schools in 2004 is the doctrine that encompasses all of them: a doctrine that might be called selective morality. The uses law professors have for moral absolutes, and for the very idea of Natural Law, range from polite dismissal to fiery opposition. Transcendent conceptions of right and wrong may have been appropriate for the worlds of Atticus Finch and Martin Luther King Jr., but they seem to penetrate the current positivist fog of law school only when one of the elements of its political agenda is being disputed.
As the late professor Allan Bloom eloquently wrote in The Closing of the American Mind (1987):
There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students' reaction: They will be uncomprehending. That anyone would regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2 + 2 = 4. [Emphasis added.]
To challenge the orthodoxy of selective morality--even on the grounds of freedom of speech--is often to risk humiliation for students and career suicide for professors. The selectivist dogma is by no means true moral relativism, of course, as it places an absolute value on its own radical moral positions, and opposes those who hold to traditional moral absolutes, who are redefined as "intolerant," as noted earlier.
For legal academics, religious people--in parti