The Stanford Law School Religious Liberty Clinic is the newest addition to the school’s distinguished program of clinical legal education organized under the Mills Legal Clinic. It is the only law school clinic in the country dedicated exclusively to religious liberty issues, offering students the opportunity to represent clients in disputes arising from a wide range of beliefs, practices, and customs.
The Religious Liberty Clinic will be housed within Stanford’s Mills Legal Clinic, and is the latest addition to the law school’s distinguished program of clinical legal education. The clinic was made possible, in part, by a generous $1.6M gift from the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The clinic’s founding director is James A. Sonne, an experienced teacher and practitioner with particular expertise in law and religion.
Stanford Law School officially launched the Religious Liberty Clinic on January 14, 2013. The inauguration event included an expert panel discussion on the future of religious liberty featuring Jim Sonne; Judge Carlos T. Bea, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; Michael W. McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law and director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center; Amardeep Singh, co-founder and director of programs at the Sikh Coalition; Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; and Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik, director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University. Douglas Laycock, Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law, gave the keynote speech.
Watch a video of the panel discussion below:
James A. Sonne, Director of the Religious Liberty Clinic and Lecturer in Law, Stanford Law School
Jim Sonne joined Stanford Law School in 2012 to direct the new Religious Liberty Clinic of the Mills Legal Clinic, the only one of its kind in the country.
Mr. Sonne is an experienced teacher and practitioner, with expertise in law and religion issues, particularly related to the workplace. Prior to coming to Stanford, he was an associate professor of law at Ave Maria School of Law.
He also worked as a labor and employment lawyer for McGuireWoods LLP and an appellate lawyer for Horvitz & Levy LLP. Mr. Sonne received his B.A. with honors from Duke University and his J.D. with honors from Harvard Law School. He is a former law clerk to Judge Edith Brown Clement of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
During the term, students can expect to handle a discrete accommodation project—e.g., represent a prisoner, student, or employee facing obstacles in the exercise of his or her faith—and likely also participate in a longer-term project involving religion in the public square—e.g., represent a small church, synagogue, or mosque with zoning issues, or a faith-based group seeking access to public facilities.
Opportunities to draft amicus briefs may also arise. The clinic will involve administrative, trial, and appellate practice—though time constraints may not permit each student to work in all areas—united under the theme of “religious liberty for all.”
Because the clinic is a new and unique venture, students may also help in marketing and outreach efforts to the religious and wider communities.
Since the clinic’s launch in January 2013, students have taken on the following projects:
- Legislative advocacy for Buddhist and Native American inmates regarding a proposed limitation on religious items in California prisons.
- Legislative advocacy for Jewish inmates regarding Kosher meal accommodations in Michigan prisons.
- A comprehensive evaluation for a faith-based family camp facing religious discrimination in the use of its property.
- Negotiation for a Jewish family seeking religious instruction alternatives for their child under a California public school “release time” program.
- Agency work in California for a Sikh temple organization facing land-use challenges.
- Agency work in California for a Christian monastery regarding compliance with local zoning ordinances.
- Agency work in Florida for an inmate who returned to his parents’ Jewish faith in prison but whose request to be circumcised was denied.
- Agency work in California for a non-denominational church facing zoning challenges to continuing its ministry to the homeless.
- Agency (and possible trial-level) work in California for Sikh employees whose employer refused to accommodate their requests for workplace accommodation.
- Agency and trial-level work in California for a Muslim inmate facing restrictions in his right to wear a kufi, even though Jewish inmates wear yarmulkes without similar limitations.
- Trial-level work in Illinois for a client seeking a driver’s license without a photograph for religious reasons.
- Trial-level work in California for a Hare Krishna organization challenging certain taxation of its temple property.
- Trial-level work in California state court for a mosque association with land-use challenges.
- Trial-level work in California federal court for Seventh-day Adventist employees whose employer took adverse action against them based on their need to observe the Sabbath on Saturday.
- An amicus brief in the New Jersey appellate division for Quaker organizations in support of a Jewish synagogue facing zoning challenges.
- An amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for a Christian advocacy group in support of a Texas inmate’s challenge to a ban on his Native American religious practices.
- An amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for Jewish advocacy groups in support of a family Bible camp project facing obstacles to construction.
- An amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court for a national Muslim organization in support of a petition for certiorari arising from a Montana ruling forcing a small religious community to participate in the state’s workers compensation program.
- An amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a petition for certiorari arising from a state prison’s decision to require Native American inmates to cut their hair in violation of their religious faith.
- U.S. Supreme Court – Ricky Knight, et al. v. Leslie Thompson, et al. (amicus brief on behalf of The Sikh Coalition)
- U.S. Supreme Court – Big Sky Colony, Inc. v. Mont. Dep’t of Labor & Indus. (amicus brief on behalf of American Islamic Congress)
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit – Chance v. Tex. Dep’t of Crim. Justice (amicus brief on behalf of Christian Legal Society)
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit – Eagle Cove Camp & Conference Center, Inc. v. Town of Woodboro (amicus brief on behalf of Foundation for Jewish Camp and Union for Reform Judaism)
- Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division – 554 Queen Anne Road, Inc. v. Teaneck Board of Adjustment (amicus brief on behalf of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends and New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends)
- Ventura City Council – Harbor Community Church (conditional use permit matter)
- Brief of Christian Legal Society as Amicus Curiae in Support of Plaintiff- Appellant William E. Chance, Jr., and Reversal of the District Court
- Brief as Amicus Curiae in support of the Quakers: The Philadelphia and New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
- Brief as Amicus Curiae in support of the Sikh Coalition
Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic Inaugural Event
Stanford Law School officially launched the Religious Liberty Clinic on January 14, 2013. Access information about the inaugural event below, including a video of the event’s expert panel discussion on the future of religious liberty.
- Media Advisory: Stanford Law School Launches One-of-a-Kind Religious Liberty Clinic
- Douglas Laycock: Remarks on Opening of Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic
- Bios for Panel Event
- Inaugural Event Schedule
Statements of Support
The establishment of the Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic could not have come at a more timely moment. With religious freedom facing a host of novel challenges, it is heartening to know that the resources of a great law school are now available to defend it and to heighten awareness of its centrality to our democratic experiment.
–Mary Ann Glendon Learned Hand Professor of Law Harvard University
What a blessing that there finally will be a religious liberty clinic!
–Philip Hamburger Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law Columbia Law School
My sincere congratulations to Stanford Law School on the establishment of a new clinic devoted to safeguarding “religious liberty for all.”
–Akhil Reed Amar Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science Yale University
The new Religious Liberty Clinic will provide a unique opportunity for law students to work on pressing issues at the often uneasy intersections of church and state, freedom and equality, and faith and reason. It is further evidence of Stanford’s leading role in clinical legal education.
–Jeffrey Selbin Clinical Professor of Law Faculty Director, East Bay Community Law Center Executive Committee Member, Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice Berkeley Law School
Religious liberties are often forgotten in the array of just causes around which law students mobilize and legal education is centered. The Stanford Clinic is pioneering and welcome.
–Prof. JHH Weiler University Professor Director, Tikvah Center for Law and Jewish Civilization NYU School of Law
Anyone who respects religious liberty, and appreciates the value of clinical legal education, should be thrilled at the opening of Stanford Law School’s new, first-of-its-kind Religious Liberty Clinic. Good luck to its instructors and first group of students, and kudos to the Becket Fund — as always, on the vanguard of this field — for its generous and visionary support.
–Ira C. Lupu F. Elwood and Eleanor Davis Professor Emeritus of Law George Washington University Law School
The Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic will play a unique and important role, not just in legal education, but also in the protection of the first freedom included in the Bill of Rights. So long as faith matters, we should cherish the work of the Clinic.
–John Garvey President Catholic University of America
The Religious Liberty Clinic is a tremendously impressive initiative which will fill a much needed gap. No other law school in the country has a clinic focused on legal assistance to religious individuals and organizations. By involving students in the defense of religious rights, the Religious Liberty Clinic provides helpful resources on these important issues and also trains students who can continue the pro bono defense of religious rights after graduation. The Religious Liberty Clinic should make a significant contribution to increasing religious liberty in the United States.
–Professor Elizabeth A. Clark Associate Director International Center for Law and Religion Studies J. Reuben Clark Law School Brigham Young University
The Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic is an exciting and promising development. It will give students a valuable opportunity to “learn by doing,” in a cutting-edge context and on problems that really matter. The Clinic’s focus is both timely and timeless.
–Richard W. Garnett Professor of Law and Associate Dean Notre Dame Law School
The faculty of the Pepperdine University School of Law applauds and congratulates Stanford Law School for establishing the Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic. Challenges to religious liberty abound in society and the public policy issues of our day. It is incumbent upon legal education to place emphasis on the importance of these issues and to provide opportunities for law students to hone their analytical and litigation skills confronting the challenges of religious liberty cases. This new clinic models the intersection of practice and doctrine that is central to good legal education and will serve as a leader in pursuing the noble cause of religious liberty in this nation.
–Deanell Reece Tacha Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean Pepperdine University School of Law
I wish we had such a clinic at George Mason! Congratulations to Stanford Law for the Religious Liberty Clinic.
–Michael I. Krauss Professor of Law George Mason University School of Law
At a time when the volume and significance of religious freedom issues are constantly increasing, the opening of Stanford’s Religious Liberty Clinic is a particularly welcome development. The talent of Stanford’s students, Stanford’s eminence in clinical legal education, and the ability of those in the program to access the expertise of Professor Michael McConnell (among other luminaries on Stanford’s faculty) all combine to give this program remarkable promise. Not only will the Clinic give students extraordinary experience; it will allow them to play a significant role in litigation and in the broader dialogue concerning our nation’s first freedom.
–W. Cole Durham, Jr. Susa Young Gates University Professor of Law and Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies, J. Reuben Clark Law School Brigham Young University
The Religious Liberty Clinic is a powerful recognition that religious freedom is necessary to the common good of society. It will give students a magnificent opportunity to serve individuals and institutions facing unique challenges: in essence, the challenge of living out faith commitments in an intensely pluralistic environment.
–Angela C. Carmella Professor of Law Seton Hall University School of Law
If there is a God, finding and obeying him (or her) is probably the most important thing that people do on this earth. Stanford’s work in protecting people’s efforts to do these things may be the most important work going on in legal education anywhere. It may be of, well, eternal significance. Congratulations to Stanford and the Becket Fund for this new venture.
–Robert F. Cochran, Jr. Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law Director, Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics Pepperdine University School of Law
Religious liberty is a precious civil right: constitutionally and philosophically, it is our First Freedom. The Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic will preserve the ability of many individuals and groups to practice their faith and will train generations of talented law students in this endeavor. Congratulations and best wishes to the clinic staff, Stanford Law School, and the Becket Fund.
–Thomas C. Berg James L. Oberstar Professor of Law and Public Policy University of St. Thomas School of Law
The preservation of religious liberty requires not just knowledge and persuasive arguments but also equipped and savvy religious organizations–and thus lawyers with practical insight and skills. The Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic will be a great asset for faith-based services that face expanding restrictions.
–Stanley Carlson-Thies President and Founder Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance
Hard as it is to believe, America’s law schools have run clinics on every subject under the sun … except America’s “first freedom.” Thanks to Stanford Law School and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty that is about to change. Kudos to all who have contributed to this moment — surely a corner turning in the history of American legal education.
–Thomas F. Farr Director, The Religious Freedom Project Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs
As a law and religion comparativist, for most of the past twenty years, it has seemed self-evident that the most urgent and perplexing issues in this area were international in character. But over roughly the same period it has become clear that all is not quiet on the home front. The past decade in particular has seen the rise in the U.S. of an aggressive, sometimes intolerant secularism, devoted not to creating constitutional space for the free exercise of religion and belief both for those who believe in God and those who don’t, but to creating an ever-expanding public space that is a religion free zone. Thus the advent of the Stanford Law and Religion Clinic is not only a timely development, it reflects a pressing need.
–Brett G. Scharffs Francis R Kirkham Professor of Law, J. Reuben Clark Law School Associate Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies, Brigham Young University
The Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic will doubtless quickly emerge as a major force in the defense of our First Freedom, at a time in our nation’s history when such work is sorely needed. Perhaps more importantly, it will become an engine of formation for new lawyers who will carry this fight into the future.
–O. Carter Snead William P. and Hazel B. White Director, Center for Ethics and Culture Professor of Law University of Notre Dame
Religious liberty is at the heart of the American experience. The Stanford Law School’s new Religious Liberty Clinic is an important step in assuring that our country’s future attorneys are equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to defend this most essential of American freedoms. I applaud this program and wish all success to its participants.
–Anuttama Dasa Governing Body Commissioner International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
Coming from the perspective of a religious rights advocate, I know the name of the Becket Fund is gold. Coming from the perspective of an attorney, I know the name of the Stanford University Law School is gold. The marriage of the two in the form of the Religious Liberty Clinic is ideal. I look forward to years of groundbreaking work in support of our country’s First Freedom.
–Amardeep Singh Sikh Coalition
Congratulations upon the inauguration of the Religious Liberty Clinic at Stanford Law School….This is a momentous occasion and exiting event not only for the broader American religious community but for all who hold our Constitution dear.
–Rabbi David Niederman President United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg
Congratulations to Stanford Law School for hosting the only Religious Liberty Clinic in the country. All of those who care for religious liberty should rejoice that law students at Stanford will be dedicating themselves to this important cause.
–Dr. Osama Bahloul Imam of the Islamic Center in Murfreesboro
Religious liberty is a unique blessing in the history and culture of the United States and this liberty is also a universal human right for all people in all places. The eyes of the world are on the US in this unique season where the preservation & promotion of this spiritual treasure is in question. The Religious Liberty Clinic at Stanford Law School is the first and only of its kind, and will become a primary hinge that keeps the door to Religious Liberty open and welcoming to all.
–Dr. Jo Anne Lyon General Superintendent The Wesleyan Church
Religious liberty will be a defining issue for the course of American life over the next generation. The good news is that the Becket Fund’s record of defending religious freedom is distinguished not merely by its effectiveness but also by its foresight. The Religious Liberty Clinic at Stanford University — made possible in part by support from the Becket Fund, and the only such clinic in the United States — continues the Becket Fund’s tremendous service to the cause of protecting the ‘first freedom’ of our nation’s founding principles.”
–Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Archbishop of Philadelphia
Islawmix welcomes news of the founding of the nation’s first Religious Liberty Clinic to give students the opportunity to learn about and engage with laws affecting religious liberty. The Clinic is timely and will be of great benefit to many communities as well as the broader principles of law important for upholding the Constitution for all.
–Umbreen Bhatti Director IsLawMix Scholars
At a time when religious Liberty is becoming an ever more urgent issue both at home and abroad, I am deeply grateful that Stanford Law School is launching the nation’s first religious liberty clinic, and especially so given the quality of its personnel.
–Paul Marshall Senior Fellow Center for Religious Freedom Hudson Institute
Religious Liberty is such a key discipline in today’s world and yet sadly is so often ignored. I am thrilled that Stanford Law School in Partnership with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty are about to redress that situation by running a clinic on this vital subject. I hope that others might take note and adopt similar programs of their own.
–Mervyn Thomas CEO Christian Solidarity Worldwide
God bless your initiative on protecting the inalienable, God-given right of every human being to worship as his heart and soul dictate! It is surprising that in the USA, where this right is fundamental to our society, that it has taken so long for such an effort to be made. May your work prosper in showing to all the world that civilized society cannot possibly exist without religious liberty.
–Bishop Andrew Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America
Congratulations to Stanford Law School on its decision to inaugurate the only Religious Liberties Clinic in the United States. All of us must do whatever we can to ensure that our constitutionally-protected religious liberties are neither violated nor infringed upon, and this clinic will, I trust, be a blessing in this regard.
–Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan Archbishop of New York
None of us can avoid confronting questions about the value of life and the best way to live. Whether the answers we give to them are religious or not, having the freedom to answer them and to live our lives in accord with our answers is fundamental for a good society. I wish the Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic every success as it joins the effort to deepen understanding of the nature of religious freedom and its importance for every civilised society.
–George Cardinal Pell Archbishop of Sydney, Australia
Stanford Daily, Law school’s Religious Liberty Clinic fights for residential homeless ministry, January 31, 2014
New York Times, Tennessee Pastor Disputes Wildlife Possession Charge by State, November 15, 2013
California Lawyer, Defending the Faithful, September, 2013
NBC Bay Area, Stanford Law Students Help Seventh-day Adventist, March 30, 2013
New York Times, At Stanford, Clinical Training for Defense of Religious Liberty, January 22, 2013
World Magazine, To Litigate and Protect, January 18, 2013
National Catholic Register, Stanford Inaugurates Nation’s First Legal Clinic for Religious Freedom, January 17, 2013
Catholic News Agency, Stanford Law School launches religious liberty clinic, January 14, 2013
NPR’s ‘To the Point’ featuring Jim Sonne, Executive Director, Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic
National Law Journal, Stanford to Start New Religious Liberty Law Clinic, December 27, 2012
Center for Law and Religion Forum at St. John’s University School of Law, Conversations: Stanford’s Religious Liberty Clinic, December 13, 2012