A Few Comments on Evangelicals and the Legal Elite

I wanted to respond to some of the comments to my post on why evangelicals are underrepresented in the legal elite and thought it might be easier to do it in a separate post.

Several people have attributed evangelical underrepresentation to admissions bias.  That may be part of it, but I doubt that’s a huge factor at least in the last decade or so.  The reason is that law school admissions officers are under HUGE, HUGE pressure to maximize two things:  GPA and LSAT score, which feed into the all-important U.S. News and World Report Rankings.  Yes, other factors are also taken into account, but it’s hard for me to see admissions offices routinely turning down applicants with 3.98 GPAs and 179 LSAT scores just because the undergraduate school happened to be Wheaton, Calvin, Houghton, Taylor, or Westmont.

The suggestion of trying to study this empirically is a great one.  If anyone out there with an interest in these questions is (1) hugely wealthy and/or (2) a skilled social science researcher, there are number of very interesting empirical projects that one could undertake to put some meat on these intuitions.  Drop me a line!

Finally, to the comments that anti-Christian hostility drives evangelicals away, a few observations/questions.  My very preliminary survey data on one elite law school suggested that Catholics were largely holding their national market share (around 20%) whereas evangelicals were not.  Is the elite law school hostility anti-evangelical but not anti-Catholic?  Are the Catholics who go to elite law schools disproportionately from the liberal wing of Catholicism and therefore don’t care about the hostility to traditional Christianity?  In short, why are Catholics but not evangelicals going to these hostile law schools?

Does It Matter that Evangelicals Are Underrepresented Among the Legal Elite?

This is the third and last post in my mini-series on evangelical underrepresentation among the legal elite.  My first post presented the claim that evangelicals are underrepresented and the second asked why this might be.  To conclude, I want to ask whether it even matters and, if so, in what ways.  I’ll limit myself to three somewhat random observations.

First, evangelicals don’t seem to care too much about their underrepresentation in the legal elite.  Although there have been a few murmurings about the lack of an evangelical on the Supreme Court, evangelicals seem to be much more interested in judicial appointments that will vote for outcomes favored by evangelicals than on the religious identity of the appointees. Thus, for example, after the Supreme Court nomination of evangelical Harriet Miers fell apart (and to repeat a point from yesterday’s post, observe that Miers, an SMU Law grad, lacked “elite” credentials), there seemed to be no great reaction from evangelicals when John Roberts, a Catholic (who undoubtedly had elite credentials), was picked instead.  The choice of Sam Alito, a Catholic, over one of the (very few) plausible evangelicals (like Mike McConnell) barely registered.

That evangelicals by and large feel “represented” by conservative Catholics in the upper echelons of the legal system is interesting in many ways.  One interpretation is that evangelicals accept that viewpoint rather than identity is what matters to representation—a claim that has all sorts of implications for other kinds of “diversity” questions (i.e, do liberal whites adequately represent the interests of liberal African-Americans?).

Another implication—and I’ll go ahead and say it although I know I’ll get pushback (perhaps even assassination)—is that evangelicals care about identity, but increasingly understand evangelical and conservative Catholic identity as converging.  Is it possible that, in the post-Vatican II world, evangelicals and Catholics are beginning to see themselves less as mere political allies and more as sharing a common identity in the loyal and traditionalist wing of Christendom?  This is clearly happening at least at the margins (witness the growth of evangelical Catholicism and liturgical revivals within Protestant evangelicalism, for example).

A second point:  Does evangelical underrepresentation in elite legal jobs matter to the way law is performed?  In his wonderful book Constitutional Faith, Sandy Levinson draws parallels between the competing Catholic and Protestant traditions on textualism, Read more

Center for Law and Religion’s Year-End Report

This academic year has been an exciting one for the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s. We hosted a conference in Rome and several events in New York, named a board of advisers, and continued to enhance this  website. Our faculty have published books, articles, and book chapters, and participated in conferences around the world. Our year-end report is available here. Thanks to our friends for their continuing support, and please let us know if you have any suggestions for future activities.

National Day of Prayer

You might not have noticed it, but today is the National Day of Prayer. I should say, a National Day of Prayer, as that’s what the US Code calls it. Every year, by law, the President issues a proclamation “designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, or as individuals.” President Obama’s proclamation this year is rather moving. It stresses the comfort that Americans draw, in times of suffering, from the simple fact that other Americans are praying for them:

Prayer brings communities together and can be a wellspring of strength and support. In the aftermath of senseless acts of violence, the prayers of countless Americans signal to grieving families and a suffering community that they are not alone. Their pain is a shared pain, and their hope a shared hope. Regardless of religion or creed, Americans reflect on the sacredness of life and express their sympathy for the wounded, offering comfort and holding up a light in an hour of darkness.

The proclamation itself ends with a prayer: “I join the citizens of our Nation in giving thanks, in accordance with our own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and in asking for God’s continued guidance, mercy, and protection.”

The day is not without its critics. The Freedom from Religion Foundation once filed a lawsuit, dismissed on standing grounds, arguing that a National Day of Prayer violates the Constitution, and the American Humanist Association hosts a competing National Day of Reason every year. (You might not have noticed that, either.) Orthodox theists of various sorts might find the day objectionable as well. To whom or what are Americans being invited to pray? Doesn’t officially-encouraged prayer to a nondescript deity lead to confusion and least-common-denominator religion? Not everyone finds generic prayers so harmless.

I’m not sure what the answer is, except to say that designating a National Day of Prayer seems entirely American. Public religious references of a nonsectarian character have long been a part of the American tradition, for better or worse, and there’s no stopping them now. The wisdom of our ancestors is in such things, as Dickens once observed in another context, and if we disturb them, the Country’s done for. Purists, of the secular and orthodox variety, have to adjust.

Fordham Panel on Faith-Based Humanitarian Aid (May 15)

On May 15, Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture will host a panel, “Saving the World: Does Faith-Based Humanitarian Aid Deliver Relief or Redemption?”–

Faith-based humanitarianism has become a growth industry in recent years, channeling the influence of privately-held religious commitments into the public sphere around the globe. Yet surprisingly little is known about these initiatives—and to what extent their religious inspiration might help or hinder their success, particularly in troubled regions marked by religious division and conflict.

Does the added dimension of faith contribute something unique to humanitarian work? Or is faith-based aid really just another form of religious proselytizing?

This forum will compare faith-based organizations to their secular counterparts and look at how they are transforming the landscape of humanitarian intervention today.

Details are here.