On Monday, April 7 a historic summit will take place on the campus of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. Never before has a state Supreme Court initiated a discussion with communities of faith and sought their involvement in making access to justice possible. Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder is convening the Tennessee Faith & Justice Alliance Summit. She is joined by Paul Monteiro, President Obama’s Faith Based Initiatives leader, and myself. The summit will explore the best ways for faith-based communities to engage the legal community and get involved in the work of justice. The summit will review a pilot model being run by the Nashville District of the United Methodist Church as well as other pro bono clinic models. The goal is to recruit one new church/faith organization in each region in Tennessee to start and launch by April 2015. What a goal! To see the people of God actually put faith into practice and make justice a reality for hundreds, perhaps thousands, in need. To register for this free event which runs from 10-4, e-mail Christina.Magrans@tncourts.gov
Historically faith has played a significant role in the establishment of our government. The idea of equality under the law because we are endowed by a Creator with certain unalienable rights lies at the very heart of our democracy. Yet the involvement of faith in providing access to justice has been mostly absent – until now. From the beginning of legal-aid in the 1880’s through the present most legal aid has taken place through faith-neutral organizations. The faith community whether Jewish, Christian or Islam has largely not been involved. In 1998 the first discussion between these faiths took place at the ABA Pro Bono Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. The conversation titled, “Faith in Action: Pro Bono Work as a Practice of Faith”, can be found here.
This summit is the first of its kind as it builds on prior conversations to involve people of faith and communities of faith in the critical work of access to justice. Many innovative approaches are being initiated by Access to Justice Commissions across the country, but Tennessee is the only state exploring the involvement of faith communities. The discussion will continue at the ABA Pro Bono Conference in May where a panel of individuals from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities will discuss the topic: “Restoring Faith in Justice: How Faith-Based Initiatives are Innovatively Expanding Access to Justice.” I will be moderating that panel which will explore the unity, diversity and methodology of faith based legal aid; diverse and innovative delivery models; and diverse and innovative use of volunteers. Where other issues divide us, justice for the poor and vulnerable unites all faiths. All faiths agree in the importance of civil legal aid which assures fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of how much money you have.
Monday is a rare opportunity for people of faith to come together to help achieve our pledge of “justice for all.” Since the 1990’s many faith communities have become involved in providing access to justice. We can learn from the models that have succeeded and those that have failed. Come and join the conversation live or add your thoughts to these questions:
- Should communities of faith be involved in the court system? What about church and state concerns?
- Can lawyers integrate faith and practice? Don’t they have to remain separated?
- What might a partnership between the faith-based community and the legal community look like?
- How might such a partnership operate? Who is involved? What resources exist to help?
- How do we involve others in this historic opportunity?