Is Liberty Law School Teaching Students to Break The Law?

For over a year now we have been covering the story of Lisa Miller, who kidnapped her daughter and fled the country rather than abide by court-ordered custody arrangements with her former partner, Janet Jenkins.

From the very beginning, when Miller began attending Jerry Falwell’s church and renounced homosexuality, she has been represented by Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen at Liberty Counsel while the were simultaneously serving as Dean and Associate Professor, respectively, of the Falwell-founded Liberty University School of Law.

Ever since Miller disappeared, Staver and Lindevaldsen have insisted that they have no idea where she went and had nothing to do with her disappearance – a position they continue to maintain even after an FBI affidavit claimed that Miller and her daughter were living in a house in Nicaragua owned by the father of an administrative assistant who works in the Liberty Law School office.

Now, Sarah Poser of Religion Dispatches sheds even more light on this story with a great piece revealing that Staver and Lindevaldsen have been using Miller’s case in the Foundations of Law course they teach at Liberty Law School … and been teaching students that the “right” thing for a lawyer in case such as this is to counsel their client that they have an obligation to ignore the law and engage in “civil disobedience” in order to uphold God’s law:

Students at Liberty Law School tell RD that in the required Foundations of Law class in the fall of 2008, taught by Miller’s attorneys Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, they were repeatedly instructed that when faced with a conflict between “God’s law” and “man’s law,” they should resolve that conflict through “civil disobedience.” One student said, “the idea was when you are confronted with a particular situation, for instance, if you have a court order against you that is in violation of what you see as God’s law, essentially… civil disobedience was the answer.

This student and two others, who all requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by Staver (who is also the law school’s dean), recounted the classroom discussion of civil disobedience, as well as efforts to draw comparisons between choosing “God’s law” over “man’s law” to the American revolution and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. According to one student, in the Foundations course both Staver and Lindevaldsen “espoused the opinion that in situations where God’s law is in direct contradiction to man’s law, we have an obligation to disobey it.”

That semester’s mid-term exam, obtained by RD [see excerpts of the actual exam here], included a question based on Miller’s case asking students to describe what advice they would give her “as a friend who is a Christian lawyer.” After laying out a slanted history of the protracted legal battle, the exam asked, “Lisa needs your counsel on how to think through her legal situation and how to respond as a Christian to this difficult problem. Relying only on what we have learned thus far in class, how would you counsel Lisa?”

Students who wrote that Miller should comply with court orders received bad grades while those who wrote she should engage in civil disobedience received an A, the three students said. “People were appalled,” said one of the students, adding, “especially as lawyers to be, who are trained and licensed to practice the law—to disobey that law, that seemed completely counterintuitive to all of us.”

Still, some knew what they needed to “regurgitate,” in order to get a good grade. “It was obvious by the substance of the class during the semester the answer that they wanted,” said one of the students. “The majority of people that I am acquainted with who did get As wrote that because that was expected of them.”

One of the students who got an A said, “I told them she needed to engage in civil disobedience and seriously consider leaving the country,” adding, “I knew what I needed to write.”

Given what was expected of them on the exam, and the tenor of the class, there is “not a lot of shock among the students about the current developments,” said one of the students, referring to the revelation that Miller is in hiding in Nicaragua. “Everybody semi-suspected that Liberty Counsel had something to do with her disappearance.”

So if Staver and Lindevaldsen were teaching students at LU that the proper course of action for a lawyer in a case like this was to counsel their client to ignore court orders, it seems logical to wonder just what sort of counsel Staver and Lindevaldsen were giving to Miller before she kidnapped her daughter and fled the country.