By: Jared Dobbs
There is a certain objection often offered against the kind of work we at ADF do to protect religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. It goes like this: “Yes, it’s too bad that there are threats to religious freedom, but Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek – not file lawsuits. Why be so aggressive?” Such sentiments offer us a challenge: How do we explain and defend our litigation work in light of the teachings of Scripture? Here are several responses:
God has ordained the judicial system for our protection and our good
Both the Old and New Testaments affirm that government is primarily tasked with enforcing justice. For the ancient people of Israel, justice involved the judicial process of deciding cases and controversies between parties. In Exodus, Moses and those he appointed arbitrated disputes among the Hebrew people when they had a complaint with their neighbor.
Similarly, the Apostle Paul acts within the conventional legal framework throughout his journeys in the book of Acts. When the Roman official Festus asks Paul to stand trial in Jerusalem for his supposed crimes against Jewish custom, he responds, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know … I appeal to Caesar.” In so appealing, Paul shields himself from the anti-Christian sentiment in Jerusalem, and throughout his litigation, he navigates the proper legal channels to plead his innocence before the authorities.
God mediates his justice through the civil authorities
Although there are several passages in Scripture that forbid God’s people from exacting vengeance and filing lawsuits against other Christians, there is no blanket prohibition on litigation. John Calvin, in his Institutes, explains that the prohibitions on revenge forbid Christians from initiating lawsuits out of mere personal hostility. Nonetheless, he notes that God uses the government, including the judicial process, to punish injustice. Echoing Romans 13, Calvin writes that “the vengeance of the magistrate is the vengeance not of man, but of God, which, as Paul says, he exercises by the ministry of man for our good.”
Litigation on behalf of others involves love of neighbor
ADF’s work to pursue justice for our clients, far from being restricted to a private dispute or an individual desire for vengeance, actually defends justice for all Americans. When a public university denies official recognition to a student club solely because of its pro-life stance, we are not just defending the club’s leader, Norvilia Etienne; we are defending the principle that viewpoint discrimination is unconstitutional. That principle benefits all citizens, no matter their political or religious views. Thus, we work to love our neighbor by fighting against unjust, unconstitutional laws and policies.
The pro bono litigation of ADF also exemplifies a tangible approach to love of neighbor. We are free to sit down with clients and tell them: “Because of the kind generosity of the body of Christ, we can serve you by litigating your case without charging you legal fees.” Through the gracious support of the many people who believe in what we do, we are able to serve the public good by coming alongside our clients in their time of need.
It is prudent for Christians to establish good legal precedents
Our law is based (at least in part) on prior court decisions known as legal precedents. A good precedent is a previous court ruling with an outcome and legal analysis favorable to religious freedom, the sanctity of life, or marriage and family. When arguing a case, attorneys appeal to good precedent to convince the court that their clients should win.
Over the last 23 years, ADF has played a role in 49 U.S. Supreme Court victories. Imagine what our nation’s law would be like without those decisions. Those important precedents, and many others, have served the common good by protecting not only our freedom but also the freedom of future generations.
For all these reasons, we at ADF are committed to litigating cases in defense of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and the family. Any insinuation that either Scripture or prudence bars Christians from this important work is simply mistaken.
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