Press Release

Stanford Law School Launches One-of-a-Kind Religious Liberty Clinic Made Possible by $1.6M Gift from the Becket Fund

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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STANFORD, Calif., January 14, 2013—Stanford Law School today announced the establishment of the nation’s only religious liberty clinic. The clinic will offer participating law students the opportunity to represent clients in disputes arising from a wide range of religious beliefs, practices, and customs.

The Religious Liberty Clinic will be housed within Stanford’s Mills Legal Clinic and is the latest addition to the law school’s distinguished program of clinical legal education. The clinic was made possible, in part, by a generous $1.6M gift from the Washington, D.C.-based Becket law firm. The clinic’s founding director is James A. Sonne, an experienced teacher and practitioner with particular expertise in law and religion.

“Clinical education is a cornerstone of our curriculum,” said Dean M. Elizabeth Magill. “Our students learn to be first-rate lawyers by representing clients under the close supervision of the extraordinary lawyers who direct our clinics. This clinic will expose students to legal disputes involving religious practice and belief, disputes that date back to the founding of the nation. Our students will now have a unique opportunity to learn to be lawyers and professionals by taking on the responsibility of representing clients in this ‘old, but new’ field.”

“The launch of this new clinic is a significant moment in the development of Stanford’s clinical program,” said Lawrence Marshall, professor of law, associate dean for clinical education and David & Stephanie Mills Director of the Mills Legal Clinic. “The Religious Liberty Clinic is unique in the country, and will expose our students to issues that will expand their horizons while developing their expertise as lawyers. And it is difficult to imagine anyone more fitting than Jim Sonne—with his vast experience and teaching skills—to run this program.”

Students will learn the laws affecting religious liberty, whether statutory or constitutional, and will be expected to counsel individual or institutional clients and litigate on their behalf. Each term, students will handle an accommodation project—for example, representing a prisoner, student, or employee facing obstacles in the exercise of his or her faith—and participate in a longer-term project involving religion in the public square—for example, representing a small church, synagogue, or mosque with zoning issues, or a faith-based group seeking access to public facilities. The clinic’s opening docket includes two cases for prisoners: a trial-level effort to help an inmate who recently converted to Judaism obtain permission for a circumcision in prison, and an amicus brief on appeal in support of Native American religious practices. This winter, the clinic also plans to handle a public school free-exercise case, an employment accommodation dispute, and a zoning matter for a house of worship.

“I am thrilled to launch this one-of-a-kind clinic that will offer students an opportunity to learn about the ‘real practice of law’ in a unique and fascinating way,” said Sonne. “It is an honor and a privilege to join the first-rate clinical program here at Stanford, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to equip our students with the technical skills and professional values critical to their future success in law and life.” Sonne added, “I am also particularly grateful to Dean Elizabeth Magill, Larry Marshall, former Dean Larry Kramer, and Becket for their steadfast support of the clinic project and its launch.”

Becket Law is a non-profit, public-interest institute dedicated to religious freedom for all faiths. “Becket is proud to fund this extraordinary clinical legal program to teach future lawyers how to defend human dignity and a natural right—the freedom of religion for people of all faiths, when that freedom has been unjustly curtailed,” said Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, the Becket’s executive director.

The clinic’s official launch will be celebrated today with a public reception and panel discussion on the future of religious liberty featuring Jim Sonne; Judge Carlos T. Bea, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; Michael W. McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law, director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution; Amardeep Singh, co-founder and director of programs at the Sikh Coalition; Hannah Smith, senior counsel at Becket; and Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik, director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York, New York. A private dinner will follow, with a keynote speech given by Douglas Laycock, Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law, Horace W. Goldsmith Research Professor of Law, and professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.

This event will be webcast live at:

More on James A. Sonne

Before teaching at Stanford Law School, Sonne served as an associate professor of law at Ave Maria School of Law, as a labor and employment lawyer for McGuireWoods LLP, and as an appellate lawyer for Horvitz & Levy LLP. Sonne received his BA with honors from Duke University and his JD with honors from Harvard Law School. He is a former law clerk to Judge Edith Brown Clement of ­­the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School ( is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a new model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.


Judith Romero
Public Information Officer
Stanford Law School
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