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On The Square

To Be The Best
Q&A with Professor Helen Alvaré

One of the nation’s premier experts on family law, Helen Alvaré is a professor at George Mason University School of Law. She publishes regularly in both academic journals and popular media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today, on matters concerning marriage, parenting, non-marital households, and the First Amendment religion clause.

She is a consultor for the Pontifical Council of the Laity at the Vatican, an advisor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and cooperates with the Holy See as a delegate to various United Nations conferences concerning women and the family. She is also founder of Women Speak For Themselves, a consultant for ABC News, and speaks regularly to Christian law students at the Alliance Defending Freedom Blackstone Legal Fellowship.

Why is the intensive training of the Blackstone Legal Fellowship so important? 

There’s a great article that has been my favorite for my whole legal career. It’s by a French philosopher, Étienne Gilson, and it’s called “The Intelligence in the Service of Christ the King.” He says something like this: “You have to be the best, and you have to know your discipline.” In fact, he even goes on to say (paraphrasing),“The more you know your discipline, the more you’ll know God. The more you know God, the more light will be shed on your discipline.” 

The thing about Blackstone is, it attracts the best. It brings in so many people that I know are at the top of their field, and it is not hiding at all from these students that this is a really tough row to hoe, and that they have to be their very best. You have to be better than everybody else. You just do. You have to be the smartest person in the room in your field, because that’s how hard it is out there. And Blackstone, everything about it—the surroundings, the students who choose this, the material they have to read—does not hesitate to send home the message that “we’re giving you the best, but we expect you to rise to that.” Otherwise, we’re not going to win. 

From your professional vantage point, what impact has Blackstone had in its 15 years? 

It’s working at a couple of levels. It’s bringing some serious intellectual lawyers into the work that we need. That inspires people who are afraid to speak up on controversial issues to come forward. But it’s also providing courage to the students who get in [to Blackstone], who then go back to their schools and say, “Hey, there are hundreds of people like me … and they’re as smart as everyone around me at school who disagrees with me.” And so, we can’t even measure what it’s bringing back to their law schools in terms of confidence, etc. 

What we’re up against is absolutely huge … and some of it’s just evil.

I also know it’s working at the level of students who work on law reviews and are willing to publish articles that, previously, professors like me could not persuade the elite journals to publish. So, it’s working at many different journals to publish. So, it’s working at many different levels. Not just providing legal talent, but confidence, a leeway for scholarship, and leadership when they go out into the world, wherever they practice. 

You’ve studied this at length: why is it important for children to have a mother and a father? 

We know the importance of a mother and father from what we see when either of them is missing. We know the importance from what we see when they’re present and they’re making different contributions to their children—[contributions] which have been measured to be not only overlapping, but unique. We also know that children model themselves on the person of the same sex, and they model their relation with the opposite sex beginning with the parent of the opposite sex. 

We know both parents’ importance because we know the testimony of children—children who grew up with a mother and a father, and children who did not grow up with a mother and a father. We’re beginning to know at the input level, too—from neurobiology, psychology, sociology—not only what parents offer on an overlapping basis, but what they do differently because their brains are different in many ways. 

On the marriage issue, you say you still have hope? 

The silver lining is this: I was part of the pro-life movement for decades. I can’t even tell you how I love those people, and how good they are, and how much they know about how to run a grassroots campaign that keeps what everybody says is a “dead issue” alive. We’ve learned from 40 years of that, and if we have to have a grassroots movement on marriage, we’re not starting clueless. We’re starting brilliant. And we’ll be very, very good. 

The thing about Blackstone is, it attracts the best … so many people that ... are at the top of their field.

It’s going to be a while. But we start brilliant. And I have a great confidence that this movement will be even more amazing than the pro-life movement. 

What do you see Alliance Defending Freedom doing right? 

ADF has committed itself to a level of excellence in legal scholarship, in legal advocacy, and in training. What we’re up against is absolutely huge … and some of it’s just evil. And so, intellectually, you have to be your best. The practicing attorneys— they’re brave; they’re bold; they’re not on the defensive; they’re ambitious for the right things. They have all the shine of excellent lawyers at a top secular firm, but they’re putting that to use on a good cause. They’re not the least bit naïve … and [they’ve] picked the right side of the issues, right? By virtue of all this, they inspire people around them.

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