I have visited more than 40 countries in the world, and I love America. We have many freedoms to celebrate this 4th of July. If you live in America, you are one of the fortunate 4% of the world’s population.
But every generation must advocate to maintain and expand our freedom. You are not free when you must have tens of thousands of dollars to enforce basic freedoms. Freedom, liberty, and justice should be rights, not commodities. But for too many, they are a dream and not a reality.
One in Three Americans Cannot Afford the High Cost of Lawyers to Defend Basic Freedoms
This is not merely a problem for the poorest among us. Middle-class America cannot afford the high cost of lawyers either. A new report released earlier this year as part of the Making Justice Accessible initiative found that Americans face 150 million new civil legal issues every year. Only 1 in 5 are ever reported and only 14% of those receive help. For the 146 million unaddressed issues, the cascade of consequences can be catastrophic.
This is why the World Justice Project ranks the United States 110th out of 128 nations for affordable access to justice. In the developed world, we are dead last. We are failing in our pledge of liberty and justice for all.
Freedom that cannot be accessed is oppression.
Last month a major report was released by the National Center for Access to Justice. The report’s goal was to “use research, data, and analysis to expose how the justice system fails to live up to that ideal and, all too often, functions as a source of oppression.” The problem identified in the report is the monopoly held by lawyers. In a nation that values freedom and free enterprise, we have been slow to allow any competition in legal services. Any non-lawyer who seeks to give guidance, even on basic questions, is guilty of the unauthorized practice of law.
The report highlights the challenge of proposed solutions to this problem: lawyers are the only ones proposing solutions. Talk about justice being blind! The report interviewed non-lawyer leaders in other industries that frequently encounter individuals who experience legal problems. The report demonstrated the widespread need for limited legal advice. It highlighted the need to empower people instead of treating them like children incapable of helping themselves. Interviewees spoke of the need for simple answers and helping someone understand whether their issue is legal or not. The report recommends expanding access to more modest and discrete kinds of help.
“In particular, many (interviewed) emphasized a vast, unmet need for basic legal advice among the populations they serve. The legal advice people need is often straightforward, routine and relatively simple – but also entirely out of reach.”
The report advocated expanding the practice of law to include “good Samaritan” protections for those who freely give direction, like librarians answering simple questions. The report advocated allowing others in fields with expertise in housing, government benefits, and other areas to be able to give limited advice. These ideas are being tested in a few states and the growing crisis will likely necessitate some expansion. But you don’t have to wait years for the system to change. Hope is available now.
Freedom is only fully found in Faith.
One of the studies cited in last month’s report was the Accessing Justice in the Contemporary USA report. This report also found most Americans do not bother going to a lawyer to get guidance. And worse 56% of those interviewed did not bother telling a pastor, friend, or another person because they felt judged and believed they were suffering “as part of God’s plan”. That’s awful!
This is why gospel justice centers are so important. Any church can open its doors and invite the community to understand God’s true plan for their lives.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11.
Every Saturday people walk into a gospel justice center located in a neighborhood church. They might not have stepped foot in that church on a Sunday, but they enter on Saturday to get trusted guidance on confusing legal questions. And they encounter a loving team that listens without judgment. They are invited to be part of the solution and empowered to move forward with specific next steps.
Many come to faith in Christ, others have their faith restored. And in this way, they experience true freedom. This why we say to our neighbors – “seek justice, find freedom”. In Christ there really is liberty and justice for all.
To learn more about our innovative, best practice approach attend an Explore Gospel Justice event.