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UT News

New First Amendment Center to House Law and Religion Clinic

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AUSTIN, Texas — The School of Law at The University of Texas at Austin is opening the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center, which will be dedicated to advancing the discussion, education and scholarship of the First Amendment.

Among the center’s main projects will be a new experiential education opportunity, the Law and Religion Clinic. It is the first clinic at a university in the state dedicated to representing clients in cases that involve challenges to their religious liberty and will allow students to learn about the parallels between the First Amendment and religion.

“We live in times when measured conversation between people with different viewpoints has often become difficult — sometimes even scarce,” said Ward Farnsworth, dean of the School of Law. “As the flagship public law school in a diverse state, I believe it’s important for us to show commitment and leadership on this issue.”

Students will serve as advocates for clients who would otherwise be unlikely to find representation. These include individuals denied benefits or opportunities because of their religious exercise or beliefs, religious institutions discriminated against in municipal land-use decisions, and individuals seeking to practice the tenets of their religion in restrictive environments, such as prison and educational settings.

“At a moment where our nation is divided on so many issues, our constitutional right to free speech is one of the most important tools we have to facilitate needed discussions, find common ground and continue making progress, together,” said UT Austin interim President Jay Hartzell. “The First Amendment Center will provide incredible experiential learning opportunities for UT law students while helping serve Texans in need of legal counsel and representation.”

The center opens immediately, and the clinic will be offered to students during the spring 2021 semester. The center is named for Doug Bech, J.D. ’70, and Samuel Loughlin, J.D. ’98, who have partnered to pledge an $8 million gift to endow the center’s activities and staff.

“Our First Freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly are central to human flourishing, liberty and a healthy society in America and across the earth,” said Bech and Loughlin. “It is best secured through a civil public square where all discussion is respected equally in accordance with our rule of law. We believe that this Center and Clinic will provide UT’s law students with the educational foundation to protect and embrace these vital constitutional rights for all persons.”