Seattle University School of Law’s Social Justice Mission at Odds with Catholic Church


I know there are a few of you looking at the time this was posted and thinking: doesn’t The Prof have a job? Doesn’t it involve billable hours? Why is he posting this now instead of an unreasonable hour. Two reasons: I love sleep and this requires fairly immediate attention. This post is specifically addressed to graduates of Seattle University School of Law.

In looking through my Facebook feeds last night, I came across an interesting post from a current law student at SU, which was reposting a letter sent to the Public Interest Law Foundation. I will preface this by saying I was never active in PILF during law school, but appreciated its subsidization of public interest law internships, and was very active in Seattle Journal for Social Justice, which embraced the same lofty goals, albeit from the ivory tower that is a law school publication. Anyhow, the letter follows the break:


Dear Fellow Students,

The Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) would like to inform the student body about a concerning new trend at Seattle University that affects all students and the law school’s commitment to social justice. Over the last year, and since the appointment of the new Archbishop of Seattle, there have been numerous examples of the Catholic Church (via the administration of the University) stifling the social justice activities of student organizations. The church has decided that certain “issues” are not to be promoted or advocated for on campus. Important social justice issues like gay marriage, pro-choice advocacy, end of life care, and others are being slowly removed from the school’s definition of “social justice”.

PILF was made aware of the problem when a public interest summer grant recipient was denied a grant because of choosing to work at Planned Parenthood. Sadly, this is only one example of the school’s refusal to support real social justice issues. We were subsequently made aware that there was at least one instance in which the school pulled an invitation to speak from a person who had worked on one of the social justice issues noted above.

One of the major problems with this new “policy” of denying certain individuals, organizations, and issues representation on campus is that it is not written down anywhere. We, as students, are not given notice of these new rules that apparently bind our activities at our school. The response from the administration has been reactionary instead of proactive. Student organizations have been told they cannot do something only after events have already been planned and speakers invited. How can we, as students, plan meaningful events on campus that promote the school’s social justice commitment if we don’t know what we are REALLY allowed to do?

Because the new policy is not explicitly posted anywhere, PILF decided to reach out to all students to inform them of the issue. As the school continues to stifle these issues on campus, we students should think about how we can confront the issue head-on to make sure OUR definition of social justice is continually represented at OUR school. Please feel free to email us with any ideas or feedback about this problem.

Thank you,

Samuel Leonard &

Chanele Brothers

PILF Presidents

Now, if you’re anything like me, you have a real hard time with a Jesuit institution that takes such a stand against gay rights or equal rights to all. I’m not even Catholic, but this doesn’t pass the smell test. What has happened as of late is Seattle’s Archbishop, Peter Sartain, asked priests to help collect signatures for No on R74, the bill that would repeal gay marriage as put into law by the governor. Okay, repeal is a strong word considering the law is in the referendum stage, and thus wasn’t enacted, but its still a stripping of what most consider a step forward in human rights (and basic dignities) in Washington.


(Governor signs gay marriage into law.)

Some of the Brethren have spoken out on the issue, most notably Father John Whitney of St. Joseph’s Parish in Seattle. You can find those stories here and here. A number of parishes downright refused to comply with the Archbishop’s request.

I think its time to ask ourselves whether the law school, as an institution of higher learning, has the ability to separate itself from the formal affiliation with Seattle University and its Jesuit tradition. This would avoid the conflict that can and does occur when an inherently religious institution is put at odds with its inherently logic-driven counterpart.

Seattle University helped the law school grow. It purchased the school from University of Puget Sound, built a wonderful building to house the school. It brought SU into the city, where it could attract not only bright students, but also focus its resources into helping the community around it.

While it is true there are not a whole lot of independent institutions (17 that matter by my count), there are several that are ranked, including Brooklyn (#65) and Vermont Law School (#119, #1 in Environmental Law).

At the very least, I think its time to have a discussion with the University about where we are placing our social justice values, and why it is important to embrace justice for all, and not just justice for some. The whims of the Archdiocese will often conflict with forward progress, as churches are designed to do, and they will often conflict internally with the Jesuit tradition. When these conflicts infringe upon the Social Justice foundation upon which the law school was founded, its time to talk.

One Response to “Seattle University School of Law’s Social Justice Mission at Odds with Catholic Church”

  1. vonlet24 Says:

    This just makes my heart sink. I am so proud of my education and all I learned from the amazing faculty at SU (eternal gratitude especially to Prof. Oates), and this new twist seems to turn everything the law school stands for on its head – giving back to people in need…any and all people, including those unpopular with the Catholic religion.

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