Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Yale Law School Establishes Religious-Liberty Clinic

I’m very pleased to learn that Yale law school has established a for-course-credit Free Exercise Clinic, under the direction of Professor Kate Stith. Michael Helfand, a visiting professor from Pepperdine law school, will also lead the course.

From Yale’s course catalog for the spring 2020 semester:

Free Exercise Clinic: Seminar (30143) and Fieldwork(30144). 2 units for seminar, 1 unit for fieldwork (3 units total). The seminar and the fieldwork must be taken simultaneously. The freedom to practice one’s religion has been a cherished and controverted right since the Founding. Indeed, religious beliefs matter enormously to their adherents, yet are often invisible or unintelligible to others. This duality is especially salient today, in our religiously diverse society. Although the federal constitution and many other laws offer protection for individuals and groups of faith, majoritarian policymakers and government actors sometimes fail to consider – and occasionally target – religious minorities and their interests. This clinic will provide an opportunity for students to defend the free exercise of politically vulnerable religious minorities. Students will learn about and advocate for the rights of inmates seeking religious accommodations, houses of worship challenging zoning decisions, and employees facing discrimination at work.

Together, the seminar and fieldwork will provide students with robust training and experience in appellate free exercise litigation. In the seminar, students will study the legal, political and social landscape of the free exercise claims available to religious plaintiffs. Professor Stith and Visiting Professor Michael Helfand will teach the theory and development of free exercise doctrine using Michael W. McConnell, Thomas C. Berg and Christopher C. Lund, Religion and the Constitution (Wolters Kluwer, 4th ed. 2016) and additional materials. In addition, the classes will discuss litigation strategies; practical applications of the law to student fieldwork will receive particular attention.

In the fieldwork portion of the course, students will work under the supervision of experienced litigators at a top law firm, Sidley Austin LLP. It is expected that much student work product will be amicus briefs. Alongside dedicated teams of law-firm associates, students will represent clients under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as analogous state constitutional provisions and laws.

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