Is the JRCLS mobilizing to become a more political force?
For the uninitiated reader, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society (“JRCLS”) is a voluntary, unincorporated association of legal professionals, academics and students affiliated with the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU. Through regular meetings with speakers and other activities on a local, national and international level, the JRCLS seeks to “affirm the strength brought to the law by a lawyer’s personal religious conviction” and “strive[s] through public service and professional excellence to promote fairness and virtue founded upon the rule of law.”
One of the central tenets of JRCLS events is supposed to be political neutrality. The JRCLS bylaws emphasize the need for JRCLS “and its chapters . . . to comply with BYU’s Political Neutrality Policy [and other policies relating to BYU's non-profit, tax-exempt status], . . . which require strict neutrality regarding partisan political activities and which also place certain restrictions on lobbying and other political activities.”
When I served on the Executive Committee for the Dallas-Ft. Worth Chapter of the JRCLS, for example, we absolutely refused (to the chagrin of several) an opportunity to have Mitt Romney (who actually has a law degree) come and address the Chapter in Dallas during his 2008 presidential campaign. We thought it would be too partisan in nature, so we did not allow it.
For that reason, I was somewhat surprised by the general gist of, and several specific speeches and “calls to action” emanating from, the 2010 JRCLS National Conference held at the University of Utah in SLC, Utah during February 2010.
Although the theme of the conference was “Service for Good through the Law,” the emphasis seemed to be on the “challenge to religious liberty that is growing worldwide” (quote from Elder Wickman’s introductory speech on Thursday night). The gist of Elder Wickman’s speech, which seemed to set the tone for the rest of the conference, was that there is a growing threat to religious liberty in the United States, posed by people who are seeking to expand “civil social rights at the expense of civil religious rights.” Along those lines, the main “service for good” discussed at the conference that we as JRCLSers could render is to work to protect religious liberty around the world.
Bill Atkin, Associate General Counsel for the LDS Church, announced during the final event of the conference his vision for JRCLSers to rise up and preach religious freedom: “I have a vision of ten thousand lawyers around the United States and Canada who volunteer and use their talents, skills, and knowledge to educate others on the principles of religious liberty,” Atkin said.
Although these are not calls, per se, for the kind of partisan political action that might run contrary to 501(c)(3) status, they do seem to be approaching a border with it. Will the local chapters of the JRCLS now be mobilized to aide in the fight against gay marriage in other states where it becomes an issue? Does anyone know if they were mobilized in the push to get out the vote for Proposition 8 in California?
Perhaps the many calls at the 2010 JRCLS National Conference for JRCLSers to stand and educate their communities about the importance and role of robust religious freedom in our society was not a mobilization for a political action force. But does it indicate that the JRCLS might be slowly headed that way, and is that good or bad? Personally, I kind of like it on politically neutral ground, and I see this as a slight move away from that neutrality, but wonder what others think.
Note, by the way, that I am a full supporter of and active participant in JRCLS activities, and I am helping plan and organize the 2011 conference which will be held at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. I hope to see some of ya’ll out in Texas next year!