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Pepperdine Professors Analyze Christian Law and Ethics
When the law and religion collide, divided opinion is sure to follow, especially on controversial topics such as the current economic crisis and genetic discrimination. Pepperdine University professors Edward J. Larson and Stewart Davenport joined the dialogue about these topics as panel members at the Christian Legal Thought Fifth Annual Conference on Saturday, Jan. 10, in San Diego, California.
Larson, the Hugh & Hazel Darling Chair in Law, appeared in a panel titled, "Law, Disability, and the Human Person." He contributed his legal knowledge to a discussion of developments in the rights of the disabled.
"I paid particular attention to handicapped newborns, and the rights of people with genetic disabilities, including those yet to be born," explains Larson. "I made a point of stressing the value of a law passed this year by Congress, barring genetic discrimination in health insurance."
He cites the shocking practice of increasing health insurance rates, or denying any coverage at all, for parents who discover a genetic disability in their child prior to birth.
"A genetic disability shown in pre-natal testing can be excluded by insurers as a pre-existing condition," says Larson. "If that person goes ahead with the pregnancy they won't be covered by their insurance, or they will be fired by their employer who pays the coverage. Therefore there is enormous pressure on parents not to have a child they know or suspect will have a problem."
The bill passed last year by Congress has made such practices illegal, and Larson conveyed this to the conference as a triumph of ethics over financial rationale.
"There is a continuing need for education and an effort to enlighten people to recognize the value of all life, not just the genetically chosen," he continues. "Given that America as a society in the past actively discouraged people having children with genetic defects, the fact that this law passed almost unanimously reflects a remarkable sense of increased sensitivity, so I thought it was worth stressing."
While Larson's panel touched upon a very specialized topic, Davenport, associate professor of history, participated in a discussion of a topic affecting most Americans at this time: "The Mortgage and Credit Crisis from a Christian Perspective."
Drawing on historical examples from his recently published book exploring Christianity and capitalism, Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon: Northern Christians and Market Capitalism 1815-1860 (Chicago University Press 2008), Davenport offered an optimistic diagnosis. "I wanted to put in a historical context that we have been here before and these are very natural expansions and contractions of the market," he says.
However, from a Christian, ethical standpoint, he is critical of duplicitous mortgage lenders. "There is definitely a lot of room for fraud in the ways lenders wrongly instilled confidence in potential investors. Lending to sub-prime borrowers and then bungling these mortgages-I actually find this potentially fraudulent."
Davenport's question to the legal minds in the audience was: can someone be held accountable for unethical actions that have lead to the financial unraveling of many hard working citizens?
"I'm not a Marxist, believing wealth should be completely spread out among the people, but I don't believe in the 'golden parachute'," he says. "As the plane's going down, the captain escapes with a golden parachute. CEOs escaping with a multi-million dollar paycheck seems immoral, and from my Christian perspective I believe there should be laws put in place to criminalize that."
The conference was held at the Hilton Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego and drew panelists from Notre Dame Law School, the University of St. Thomas School of Law, and the Villanova University School of Law, as well as prominent members of the Pepperdine School of Law community, including Kenneth W. Starr, Robert F. Cochran, and Shelley Ross Saxer. The conference was cosponsored by The Lumen Christi Institute and The Law Professors' Christian Fellowship.