Twenty home-schooled students from across the nation converged in Scottsdale last week to learn about legal issues from a conservative, Christian perspective.
Training in the judicial system was offered by lawyers from the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale-based legal organization that aims to defend religious liberty. Subjects included the foundations of law, same-sex marriage, legal writing and public displays of the Ten Commandments.
The class, called TeenPact, aims to leave students with a "realization of their spiritual capacity as young people and a desire to change America for Christ," according to the group’s Web site.
"These are all real conservative Christian kids," said Jeremy Tedesco of the fund’s litigation staff council. "They have an interest in (discussing) abortion, the right to speak religiously in the public square — those cutting edge issues in the cultural wars."
The program helps kids gain a background in the justice system and helps them determine if a career in law is something they want to pursue, Tedesco said.
On Wednesday, a room at the organization’s office at 15333 N. Pima Road was full of well-dressed, attentive teens typing on laptops or making notes in thick binders. At the front of the class sat two girls with a well-worn Bible between them on the table.
Tedesco lectured about the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
"This is often used by homosexuals who are fighting for their rights — or what they think are their rights," Tedesco told the class.
Many past students have pursued legal professions, completing internships with lawyers, legislators — even the White House, said TeenPact’s director, Jenna Ellis.
The teens prepared for their final mock trial at the end of the week and occasionally asked Tedesco questions.
After a discussion on free religious speech at a gay pride parade, Tedesco said people could protest the parade, as long as they were not disruptive or violent.
"If you are telling people on the street that they are going to hell, wouldn’t that be disruptive?" one of the students asked.
Tedesco said no and listed, in his opinion, what actions would be OK under free speech laws. Any physical violence or blocking the streets would not be protected.
Joseph Grider, 17, of New Mexico said he has received a baseball scholarship at the University of New Mexico. But he hoped to someday become a criminal prosecutor or business defense attorney, and he felt the class would help him decide his future.
"I came to make sure it was what God had called for me to do," Grider said.
Wherever his career goals, Grider said he hoped his Teen-Pact experience would help him reach a short-term goal — improving his SAT scores.
"I learned how to write a brief. We did lots of writing, which is good because on my SATs I didn’t do so great with the writing part," he said.
"For kids that have this calling, at such an early age, it’s a great opportunity for them to be introduced to what it will be like," Tedesco said. "To get training from people who actually do it, they gain priceless insights."