Adventist attorneys convene in New Mexico
Adventists used to discourage their kids from going to law school. Conventional wisdom held that you can’t be both a Christian and a lawyer. This past November, more than 60 Adventist lawyers convened in Bernalillo, N.M., a living demonstration that faith and law really can mix. They came at the invitation of the General Conference Office of General Counsel, in conjunction with the regular meeting of the Pacific Union Adventist Attorneys Association. While a few of these lawyers are employed by the church, many others provide legal services to the church or are in private practice.
“Our association has been meeting for nearly 20 years,” reports Alan J. Reinach, Pacific Union director of public affairs and religious liberty. “We balance the spiritual, social and recreational with legal programs that are second to none.”
This year’s program had a separate religious freedom track, in addition to more general programs that included topics such as legal ethics, how to avoid legal malpractice, understanding jury selection, family law issues, estate planning, and risk management.
The Thursday evening plenary featured a panel discussion entitled: “A Clash of Rights: Same Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty, A Risk Assessment.” Speakers included Kent Hansen, General Counsel for Loma Linda University and Medical Center; Jeff Berman, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw; Nate Schilt, a partner at Schilt and Heinrich in Loma Linda; and James Sweeney, counsel to the California Catholic Conference. This panel was diverse — it consisted of Protestants, a Roman Catholic and a Jew, all of whom agreed that many courts adjudicating civil rights claims brought against religious entities forget about the constitutionally-guaranteed right of religious autonomy, a problem recently identified by Justice Samuel Alito Jr. in his concurring opinion in Hossana-Tabor. The failure of courts to appropriately consider the autonomy of religious institutions and the religious beliefs of individuals has created significant problems in a wide variety of cases. By way of example, Sweeney discussed how the Catholic church has had to close down adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco and Illinois due to new regulations requiring them to provide services to same sex couples.
“I’ve been attending since law school,” said Jon Daggett, a past president of the association. “The meetings are a highlight of my year, and I haven’t missed one yet.”
“I invited two colleagues who are not church members, and they enjoyed the fellowship so much, they will be returning,” said Carol Adams, an association vice president.
Next year, the association will be meeting in Rancho Mirage at the Rancho Las Palmas Hotel. The meetings are always on Veterans Day weekend in November, and are open to lawyers and others serving in the legal profession. For more information, contact Reinach: email@example.com.