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Friends at the Bar

A Quaker View of Law, Conflict Resolution, and Legal Reform

Nancy Black Sagafi-nejad

Publication Year: 2011

A Quaker lawyer looks at Friends’ relationship with the American legal system and at Friends’ legal ethics. George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends, admonished his followers against “going to law.” In this fascinating, wide-ranging book, a Quaker lawyer explores the relationship between Quakers and the American legal system and discusses Friends’ legal ethics. A highly influential group in the US both for their spiritual ideals of harmony, equality and truth-telling and for their activism on many causes including abolition and opposition to war, Quakers have had many noteworthy interactions with the law. Nancy Black Sagafi-nejad sketches the history and beliefs of the early Quakers in England and America, then goes on to look at important twentieth century constitutional law cases involving Quakers, many involving civil rights issues. Sagafi-nejad’s survey of 100 Quaker lawyers shows them to be at odds with the adversarial system and highlights a legal practice which must balance truth-telling and zealous advocacy. The Quaker development of extra-legal dispute resolution to solve debates amongst Friends is discussed along with a look at the possible future of mediation.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Friends at the Bar

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

When I was becoming a Quaker, some of my most influential mentors were conscientious objectors to World War II, to the peacetime draft, and to the then-current Korean Police Action. Most had served in Civilian Public Service camps. Others had served one or two prison terms for their opposition to war. They were lawbreakers for conscience’s sake, asserting obedience to a “higher ...

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pp. xv

This book had its genesis in this Quaker lawyer’s recognition that truth-telling and other important Quaker beliefs seem to conflict with the “successful” practice of law. This realization came as I began, in my early forties, to practice law. As I learned more and became engaged in actual practice, I wondered how long I could be truly comfortable with it. Most Friends (and I) take truth-telling ...

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pp. xvii

To the Friends Historical Collection at Swarthmore College and to others who deserve my appreciation for suggestions on the manuscript or Quaker lawyer survey or for help in other ways: Hugh Barbour, Kathleen Brandes, Pam Burrell, Nancy Frommelt, J. William Frost, Tom Hamm, Heleodoro Lozano, Deborah Patton, Karl Peter Sauvant, Joanna C. Scott, Barbie Selby, Donald Smith, and the late Richard Franke, Helen Hollingsworth...

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pp. 1-5

It seems presumptuous for authors to stress the significance of their work because they owe so much to those who wrote and researched in the field before. The most that many, including this author, can do is to explore new connections among already well-researched areas and make educated guesses, not definitive conclusions, about their meaning and significance. These are...

Part One

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pp. 7

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1. About Friends

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pp. 9-28

George Fox (1624–1691), the English founder of the Religious Society of Friends, began to “profess the Truth” in the mid-seventeenth century during a period of political and religious turmoil in England. Fox wanted to recapture the original purity and spirit of early Christianity that he believed had been clouded by later accretions and try to recreate a New Testament way of life in his place and time. Although he did not intend to establish a new religious sect, by midcentury one had...

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2. Friends’ Beginnings in England

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pp. 29-46

From their earliest beginnings in mid-seventeenth-century England, Quakers were mavericks, often in conflict with established law, and moreover, for religious and sociocultural reasons, had a marked irreverence toward the legal system.2 Friends such as George Fox, Edward Burrough, and others believed that law should be based solely on commands of the Spirit. Because Quakers...

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3. Penn’s Holy Experiment in Pennsylvania and His Changes to Its Laws

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pp. 47-65

Later that year, Penn sold more than 300,000 acres of land to about 300 investors, primarily Quaker merchants, craftsmen, shopkeepers, and farmers, many from Wales and the south and west of England.4 In one of the pamphlets Penn wrote in 1681 to recruit settlers to his planned utopian community, “Some Account of the Province of Pennsilvania [sic] in America,”5 he described the land and climate. He intended to attract...

Part Two

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pp. 67

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4. Quakers as Plaintiffs and Defendants in Court and as “Divine Lobbyists”

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pp. 69-120

Ever since Fox and Penn challenged seventeenth-century English laws and the English legal system, Friends have persistently stood for their principles by “speaking truth to power.” At its best, this uniquely Quaker practice consists of inward and prayerful listening followed by courageous speech—oral, written, or silent and symbolic—directed to those in positions of authority with the ...

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5. Quaker Lawyers and Lawyer Ethics

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pp. 121-175

Several queries from Faith and Practice of Baltimore Yearly Meeting go directly to the heart of the issue explored in this chapter—whether there is a tension between being a Quaker and being a lawyer: “Do you seek employment consistent with your beliefs and in service to society? Do you strive to be truthful at all times, avoiding judicial oaths? Do you live in accordance with your spiritual...

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6. Mediation and Arbitration: Past and Future

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pp. 177-198

The great Indian civil rights leader Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi practiced law in South Africa around the start of the twentieth century. Once, while preparing a case, he realized that the facts strongly favored his client. However, Gandhi knew that if litigation were carried through, it would ruin both the client and his opponent. As the case progressed, legal fees and...

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pp. 199-201

Over the centuries, Quakers have made numerous contributions to the “human institution” of law as they have engaged it from their seventeenth-century beginnings. For several decades, they disobeyed English laws requiring oaths out of an allegiance to scripture and to a deep and abiding commitment to truth-telling. George Fox and other Quaker contemporaries authored numerous...


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pp. 203-206


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pp. 207-229


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pp. 231-233

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 235-240


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pp. 241-254

E-ISBN-13: 9781438434155
E-ISBN-10: 1438434154
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438434131
Print-ISBN-10: 1438434138

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 9 figures
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Quakers -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States.
  • Religion and law -- United States.
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