Harvard Law School Receives Backlash Against Religious Freedom Clinic

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Source: Harvard Crimson

Harvard Law School students allege administrators have been insufficiently transparent regarding the development of its new Religious Freedom Clinic, expressing concerns about its potential to enable BGLTQ discrimination.

The Law School announced plans to open the clinic on Feb. 26. At the time, administrators said they plan to model it after the Religious Liberty Clinic at Stanford Law School, offering students the opportunity to represent clients who face limits on the free exercise of their religion.

Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 first discussed the idea of the clinic with students at a Law School Curriculum Committee open house in Oct. 2019. Law School students and Lambda Co-Presidents Youzhihang Deng and Matthew P. Shields and Campus Advocacy Co-Chair Mia Gettenberg said the school did not consult students before that open house.

“As it turned out, HLS had decided to form this clinic primarily in the dark, with no formal process to solicit input from the broader student body or a coalition of student groups,” Deng, Shields, and Gettenberg wrote in a letter to the editor of the Harvard Law Record on Monday.

Students from Lambda — an organization dedicated to serving BGLTQ students on campus — asked Manning at the October open house whether the clinic would avoid cases that abridge the rights of BGTLQ individuals. The Monday letter to the Harvard Law Record claimed that, at the time, Manning did not provide a clear answer to that question.

“Citing the principle of academic freedom, Dean Manning refused to directly respond to the question,” they wrote in the letter to the editor.

The Law School’s student government passed a resolution unanimously on Nov. 20 calling for increased transparency from Manning regarding the clinic’s scope and whether it would commit to nondiscrimination. The resolution noted the clinic may conduct “important and meaningful work” in support of religious minorities, adding that the Law School should take care to prevent violations of its nondiscrimination policy.

“We believe that if, on the other hand, this clinic takes on cases that impinge on the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, it would significantly alienate such identifying students of our student body, deter talented individuals from considering Harvard Law, and be a smear on the Harvard Law name nationwide,” the resolution reads.

Also on Nov. 21, Lambda submitted a letter to Manning and the Curriculum Committee in November expressing concerns about the proposed clinic. The letter, co-signed by 25 other Law School student organizations, asked whether the clinic would work in support of conversion therapy or against abortion clinics. Students also asked for additional information about the funding and leadership of the clinic.

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