First Amendment Lawyer

photo of Eric JorstadEric Jorstad

I have degrees both from Yale Divinity School (M.Div. 1982) and Yale Law School (J.D. 1990). I also have a degree from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, in theology and social ethics (M.Th. 1983). After seminary, I was an ordained Lutheran (then ALC now ELCA) pastor and served a church in Detroit, while I was also Acting Director of Studies for the Office of Church in Society of the ALC (meaning I wrote social statements and social issue study guides). I have been practicing law since 1990, not serving the church as a pastor (although I've been on various committees and boards).

I am a partner at the law firm of Faegre & Benson LLP in Minneapolis. My legal practice has focused on First Amendment law, which is a nice fit with the theological background -- although it is very hard to maintain a full-time First Amendment practice, and I have also done a wide variety of general litigation. I've also developed a niche as a litigator for non-profit organizations, including churches, colleges, etc., and I am co-chair of our firm's privacy law practice. I have presented free exercise, establishment clause, free speech and free press arguments in church and media related cases, such as church pension fund social screening, clergy misconduct, charitable contributions, and newspaper, television, radio and internet libel claims against journalists.

I helped the ELCA (and its predecessor body, The ALC) develop its social statement against the death penalty in the 1980s to early 1990s. As an attorney, I have been lead lawyer in the habeas corpus proceedings for a prisoner on death row in California. After eleven years of work, we obtained a reversal of the death sentence in the Ninth Circuit in July 2004.

It takes many years to develop the "practical wisdom" needed for public service, whether gleaned as a pastor, as a lawyer, or otherwise. I found it helps to be a part of a community where I grew up (southern Minnesota), because the personal ties to local leaders and institutions are the heart of fulfilling work. I would be glad to talk/correspond with anyone at YDS who is thinking about how to develop a career integrating faith commitments, social justice, politics, and/or the institutional worlds of law and religion.