J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Legal Legacy of the Birthplace of America: 2017 JRCLS Annual Conference


Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
It always seems a bit difficult to carve out time to attend the JRCLS annual conference, but each time I do, I come away feeling uplifted, inspired and grateful to be associated with an organization full of so many great people that have become such good friends. This year was no exception. Hundreds of lawyers, law students, and guests gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on February 16–18 for the 2017 JRCLS Annual Conference. The rich legal history of Philadelphia as “the birthplace of America” was an underlying theme of the conference.  


For me conference started, really started, Thursday evening at the National Constitution Center where a dynamic Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center and Law Professor at George Washington University (and the holder of the world’s best resume . . . Harvard, Oxford, Yale, etc…), spoke in front of floor to ceiling windows that perfectly cased a beautifully lit Independence Hall, and reminded attendees that the Law Society is a group of constitutionalists: The founders of the LDS Church and our founding fathers thought the Constitution was divinely inspired. He walked us through some of the rich history of the Constitution and positions and arguments taken that led to its current form. Mr. Rosen went on to explain the educational mission of the National Constitution Center and gave a tutorial of the Interactive Constitution app, which breaks down the Constitution with articles from both liberal and conservative viewpoints. He took attendees on a short history of the Establishment Clause and pointed out the inclusion of the history of the LDS Church. He then compared related provisions found in foreign constitutions, and the protection or lack thereof for religion. He closed by challenging all to be students of the Constitution (the great document that binds us), with open minds and an enlightened spirit like that of Madison and Jefferson. Following his remarks I wandered among the life-sized statues of the signers of the Constitution appreciating the great work they accomplished.

Friday morning I was captivated by Judge Kent A. Jordan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, as he reminisced of his daily walks through the “old city.” Judge Jordan reminded us of Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s famous words following the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when asked “what have we got?” Dr. Franklin replied “a republic, if you can keep it.” Judge Jordan challenged us to “keep it” by 1) learning to understand and explain our government, 2) examining each day with kindness and being civil, and 3) excelling in all that we do, no matter the task. He closed with a quote from the iconic movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, “Be excellent to each other.”

After Judge Jordan, I listened to a distinguished panel discuss the influence of state constitutions on the federal constitution, American’s dual constitutional system, and the thinkers of the constitutional period. It was stated that American’s governmental experiment is its contribution to the world’s Age of Enlightenment. I then attended “Lawyer in the Foyer: Ethical Considerations,” where I was reminded of the pitfalls of casual and often times unintended representation of well-intending church members.

I then went off script and broke away with a Texas friend for a quick Philly Cheesesteak lunch from a food cart by Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. You can’t go all the way to Philly and not take in a few of the sites. In this case, we got a bit more than we paid for, as we saw the local EMTs in action as someone in our tour group had a medical emergency. Turns out that we were not that sneaky anyway, as we ran into some conference goers who became fast friends.

My afternoon continued with a light hearted review of the “Financial Regulatory Reform in the Trump Administration” before a fantastic presentation by Matthew S. Holland, PhD, President of Utah Valley University on “The Pursuit of Happiness: Jefferson’s Presidential Amendment to the Declaration of Independence.” Among other things, President Holland spoke of the wandering from and back again to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the charitable doctrines of Jesus Christ that are the only source of true happiness.

A wonderful day then concluded at the Stake Center next to the Philadelphia Temple where we heard beautiful music and Dr. Ganoune Diop, the director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who was presented with the JRCLS Thomas L. Kane Religious Freedom Award. The presentation of the award was followed by a masterful speech by Elder Lance B. Wickman, General Counsel for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on “The Crucible: The Atonement, Moral Agency and the Law” wherein he explained that agency to choose Christ is crucial to the plan of happiness and that religious freedom protects both the right to choose Christ or not. Both must be protected for agency to work as intended.  

Saturday morning, before a panel discussion on “Human Rights:  From Declaration to Declaration,” Angel R. Zimmerman presented Virginia T. Isaacson with the 2017 JRCLS Women in Law Leadership Award. Her husband Tom Isaacson warmly recalled the love she has for the Law Society and its members. I then attended John W. Welch’s presentation on “Joseph Smith, the Preamble and the Constitution.” The conference then ended with what has become an institution and something I look forward to—William F. (Bill) Atkin, Associate General Counsel for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and various regional and area legal counsel shared stories of their experiences representing the Church and the very direct role the Lord plays in this work.

Another absolutely fantastic conference – my hat is off to Ryan Bornemen and the Conference Planning Committee. The conference was historical, intellectual, spiritual, and fun. I already miss my Law Society friends, but I look forward to seeing them at next year’s conference in Salt Lake City, Utah! Block off President’s Day weekend and I hope to see you there.

By Gordon T. Foote, Media Committee Chair

Posted: March 31, 2017