J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Elder Bruce C. Hafen: A Project Worthy of the Best that We Can Do

On 4 October 2018, Elder Bruce C. Hafen, Emeritus General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints reminisced about the founding of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society while addressing attendees of the Law Society’s Leadership Conference about the importance of a lawyer’s personal religious conviction.

Elder Hafen, who served as Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School from 1985 to 1989, recalled a meeting he had in the mid-1980s with Ralph Hardy, a prominent Latter‑day Saint lawyer practicing in Washington, D.C.  Bro. Hardy told Elder Hafen that, even though he was not a graduate of the Law School, his “professional reputation and the reputation of [the Law School] were going to be intertwined whether [he] could help it or not.”  

Bro. Hardy also told Elder Hafen of his concern when, as a new lawyer years before, he wondered if he could meet the demands of the profession and remain active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He said he found a great mentor in Robert Barker, who was a lawyer and local leader of the Church.  Bro. Hardy suggested an organization where Latter‑day Saint lawyers could help mentor and bolster the faith of other Latter‑day Saint lawyers, as Bro. Barker did for him.  That discussion Elder Hafen had with Bro. Hardy was the genesis of the Law Society. 

Referencing the mission statement of the Law Society to “strength[en] . . . the law by a lawyer’s personal religious conviction,” Elder Hafen asked whether it were “possible to be highly educated as a lawyer . . . , [to]possess[] the skills of skeptical analysis, [to be] street smart, [to] feel passion for social justice and other causes, [to] care about people [and] love life, and [yet] still be a fully consecrated disciple of Christ.”  He answered that not only is this possible but being competent and remaining faithful is important to our democratic society. 

Elder Hafen cited President Russell M. Nelson and President Dallin H. Oaks as men who exemplify the statement of Elder Richard L. Evans that “[i]t is good to be faithful, but it is so much better to be faithful and competent.”  He was also reminded of a comment made by a member of the charter class of the Law School, who said that “[i]f I had not gone to law school [at BYU], I would not be active in the Church.”  While religious teaching is not the focus of the Law School or the Law Society, Elder Hafen believes that being among those who share a similar religious conviction helps all in the group. 

Elder Hafen quoted Democracy in America where de Tocqueville said religion is the most important mediating institution in America that “singularly facilitates the use of liberty.”  Elder Hafen taught that, consistent with this, religious liberty was important to the Founding Fathers, and that without the Founding Fathers we would not have the Restored Church of Jesus Christ or even the ability to have the Law Society. 

Elder Hafen also drew upon Steven Waldman’s Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America.  Waldman concluded that

“The founding faith was not Christianity and it was not secularism.  It was religious liberty.  A revolutionary formula for promoting faith by leaving it alone.  Despite the founders’ individual differences on many related questions, [they] believed deeply that God intervenes in the affairs of humankind.  They all felt that religion was extremely important to encourage moral behavior and make their new nation safe for republican government.”  

Citing the belief held by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints that the Founding Fathers were raised up to create a democracy where the Gospel of Jesus Christ could be restored, Elder Hafen reminded attendees that in 1877 the Founding Fathers appeared to Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple and “demanded” to have their temple work done.  That work was done, and Elder Hafen said George Washington was ordained a high priest, rather than an elder, when his work was done because of his important role in the founding of the Republic. 

Elder Hafen tied things together by asking what the founders of the Law Society meant when they committed to bringing “strength . . . to the [practice] of law by a lawyer’s personal religious conviction.”  He answered his question emphatically, saying, “They’re talking about the dream on which the entire democratic republic is based; that’s all!” 

In conclusion, Elder Hafen quoted from 1 Peter 4, asking attendees to “think it not strange . . . as though some strange thing happened unto you . . . for the spirit of God rested upon you” and, in Elder Hafen’s words, “you are fulfilling the highest aims of those who founded our constitution and our democratic society.  It’s a project worthy of the best that we can do.” 

By Larry Jenkins

Posted: 2019-03-19