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Does A Prisoner Have A Right To A Mohel?

Publication Date: 
May 01, 2013
ABA Journal
Leslie A. Gordon

Jim Sonne, director of Stanford's Religious Liberty Clinic, spoke with the ABA Journal's Leslie A. Gordon about the law school's newest clinic and the types of skills students will gain by taking part in it. 

A recently converted Jewish inmate denied permission to be circumcised is now being represented in his action against the prison by students working at the nation’s first and only clinic specializing in religious liberty cases.

Launched in January, the Religious Liberty Clinic at Stanford Law School represents clients in disputes related to religious beliefs, practices and customs. In addition to helping the Jewish prisoner, students are representing Seventh-day Adventists terminated from their baggage handler jobs for refusing to work on Saturdays; drafting an amicus brief on behalf of a Native American prisoner forbidden from practicing a sacred pipe ritual; handling land-use issues related to the building of a mosque; litigating a dietary accommodation case for Jewish and Muslim prisoners; negotiating school release times for religious instruction; and handling zoning issues for a church that offers shelter and meals to the homeless.

Four students in the winter and six in the spring will work at the clinic full time, maintaining an “authentic schedule designed to replicate the real practice of law,” Sonne says. During the first week of the quarter, students will get a crash course in the substantive laws as well as the basics of lawyering. In subsequent weeks, students will attend a seminar, lead case team meetings, work on case rounds with students at Stanford’s other clinics and write a reflection paper. The goal is “to teach professional skills in a different way,” Sonne says.