Christian applicants for positions as law professors may have grounds to sue for “systematic discrimination,” given their “stark” underrepresentation in law schools, according to a study making waves in legal academia.
The St. Thomas Law Journal study floats the possibility of a “disparate-impact” case on behalf of religious candidates for law faculty positions, meaning that they face discrimination in practice under facially neutral policies. Lindgren cautions that further research is needed if “intentional discrimination” is to be discovered.
“The Religious Beliefs, Practices, and experiences [sic] of Law Professors” warranted attention from several academics.
Lindgren’s findings “are certainly accurate,” George Dent, who taught law for nearly three decades at Case Western Reserve, told The College Fix in an email. Dent led an effort in 2017 to increase the political diversity in law academia in order to combat the “echo chamber.”
UCLA’s Stephen Bainbridge also recently argued, citing Lindgren’s earlier research, that “religious and political diversity” are “roughly as important” as racial diversity for ensuring viewpoint diversity. The Christian Legal Society did not respond to a request for comment on the study.
Patricia Salkin, provost of the graduate and professional divisions of Touro College, wrote in the essay that 158 lawyers were appointed president just in the past five years. “If the trend continues, in the new decade lawyers may account for 300 to 400 presidents — more than 10 percent of all sitting campus presidents.”
For reference, lawyers “made up less than 1 percent of all presidents during any given decade” from 1900 through 1989, according to Salkin.
“About two decades ago, I surveyed law faculties at the top one hundred law schools, asking professors about their religious affiliations,” finding that “Christians were represented at only about half their percentages in the larger population,” Lindgren writes.
His new study updates the older one but “probes much deeper, presenting data on belief in God, church attendance, and religiously motivated discrimination.” One of the major changes: “the differences in actually believing in God are much larger than for mere religious affiliation.”
That means law professors are less likely to believe in God than not only the general population but also graduate and professional degree holders. They are more than four times as likely to be atheists and nearly twice as likely to be agnostic than the “highly educated.”
Since 1997, Catholics have held relatively steady in their proportion of the law professoriate at 13-14 percent, while Protestants (currently 25 percent) and Jews (20 percent) have each declined about seven percentage points.
This means Protestants are represented at less than half of their share of the general population, while Catholics are represented at less than 60 percent, and both Jews and nonreligious professors are overrepresented.
While every “large ethnic and gender group” in full-time English-speaking law teaching is around parity with each other, Christians and Republicans remain “grossly underrepresented” among large demographics, according to Lindgren.
Whether the underrepresentation results from “disparate impact or overt discrimination is a matter of definition,” Dent told The Fix: “Academics wouldn’t discriminate against a scholar simply because s/he is a Christian, but they despise the beliefs of traditional Christians.”