Allen Mendenhall, founder and executive director of Atlas Network partner the Blackstone & Burke Center, speaks at the Alabama Supreme Court Rotunda in September 2016, at a reception for a Magna Carta exhibit that the center co-hosted with the Library of Congress.
Although Alabama has been rocked by political scandal during the past year, the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law and Liberty, an Atlas Network partner based in Montgomery, is working to help the state heal through its focus on the foundational ideas of liberty and traditional common law. Named after two 18th century scholars, the English judge William Blackstone and the Irish statesman Edmund Burke, the organization aims to be a collaborative center for both law students and jurists in the state’s capital.
“We’re bringing together judges and other leaders to educate in the foundational principles of liberty that enabled our country to prosper,” said Allen Mendenhall, founder and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center. “Our activities have been oriented towards civics education for young people and philosophical education for judges and government leaders.”
In addition to its namesake scholars, the Blackstone & Burke Center is rooted in the ideas of economists and philosophers like the 18th century French economist Frédéric Bastiat and the 17th century English philosopher John Locke, who both argued that government exists to protect the natural rights that people inherently possess.
“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws,” Bastiat wrote in 1850. “On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”
This emphasis on foundational philosophical principles is essential to the work of the Blackstone & Burke Center, which is affiliated with the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law at Faulkner University in Montgomery. The center hosts events both within and outside the state to educate people about the ideas of fundamental individual rights.
The Blackstone & Burke Center co-hosted a Library of Congress exhibit featuring Magna Carta in October, held in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court. More than 800 years old, Magna Carta had a profound impact on the ideas enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Judge William Pryor, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, was a featured speaker at the reception. The exhibit attracted school groups, government officials, and other notable public from throughout the state during its three weeks at the rotunda.
Mendenhall also directed a conference in Philadelphia in September, titled “Academic Freedom: Principles, Practices, and Legal Issues.” Held with the Philadelphia Society, the conference brought together college administrators and graduate students to discuss academic freedom, court cases involving the First Amendment, and the writings of scientist Michael Polanyi.
Religious freedom is also a central part of the organization’s mission.
“Religious liberty is mischaracterized as license to harm, and on that basis is marginalized,” Mendenhall explained. “Ordered liberty in the United States has historically rested on a commitment to religious faith and pluralism, fidelity to the rule of law, and traditional liberties grounded in the conviction that all humans are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
It is essential to foster an understanding of the founding principles of the United States, Mendenhall explains, in order to restore the freedoms upon which the country was founded. As part of this project, the Blackstone & Burke Center educates lawyers and civil servants about these fundamental rights, equipping them with the intellectual tools to defend individual rights.
The Blackstone & Burke Center is expanding its operations by increasing student involvement. In conjunction with Faulkner University, the center will launch its Sir Edward Coke Fellowship in fall 2017, which will provide a structured program for Faulkner law students to study quintessential legal readings ranging from Aristotle to Nobel laureate economist Friedrich A. Hayek. The fellows will work closely with the Blackstone & Burke Center and state jurists, conducting research and establishing a foundations for virtuous careers in law.
“I am excited to see the impact the Blackstone and Burke Center will have on our student body, our university, and our community,“ said Caleb Rush, a third year Faulkner law student who serves as editor of the Faulkner Law Review and treasurer of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). “I am also excited to forge a new relationship between the center and the Faulkner Law Review. The purpose of our journal is to promote understanding of contemporary questions by drawing upon the resources of the Anglo-American legal tradition, and the center provides an even greater platform for research and education on timely issues rooted in common law.”