The end of our Pledge of Allegiance accurately states our desire for America as a society, “and justice for all.” The reality is that there is not justice for all. The lack of access to affordable legal help has reached critical proportions in our country. Each year, millions of Americans facing injustices and other legal problems cannot find affordable help for crucial life issues. Many of them are left to fight abusive spouses, unscrupulous landlords, and oppressive debt collectors completely on their own.
These legal problems can lead to other critical problems such as health and medical issues, homelessness, and poverty. For instance, a single mother who receives a few traffic tickets, but cannot afford to pay the fines or hire a lawyer to represent her in court can be arrested and serve jail time. This could cause her to lose her license, her job, and send her into a downward cycle of poverty.
The need for legal aid attorneys across the nation is enormous. Currently, there is only one legal aid attorney for every 10,000 people in poverty in America. Eighty percent of those with legal needs have no access to legal assistance. The result is a crisis of justice.
“Justice for all” should mean justice for all Americans, not just those who can afford it. Otherwise, we will create a class of people who must live in the shadows of society, unable to protect themselves or others through the law. They will always be victims living in fear without the ability to live and prosper.
Benefits of Christian Legal Aid
Christian legal aid can be of tremendous benefit in the lives of low-income people in many ways. Among the most important are helping to save jobs, housing, marriages, and removing the obstacles of prior warrants, convictions, debts, and fines.
Many people living in poverty housing are illegally evicted, have rent deposits illegally detained, or have safety and sanitation repairs withheld, which only timely legal intervention can prevent. And with the chronic shortage of low cost housing, such evictions or constructive evictions usually lead to an inability to obtain alternate housing. This also often results in family split-ups with the wife and children going to live with her family, and the father ending up in shelters or on the street.
We also found that there were many factors which could be addressed by lawyers which cause people in poverty to be unable to obtain or have caused them to lose their jobs. These include everything from illegal firing to demotions. Lawyers can also assist in removing obstacles to employment. Such obstacles often result from prior traffic violations which prevent taxi drivers and commercial drivers from performing their jobs, or old convictions which need to expunged from the record.
Past pilot programs showed that an estimated two out of three troubled marriages were saved as a result of efforts from the Christian legal community working in conjunction with Christian counselors and pastors. Christian legal aid provides an opportunity to save troubled marriages. Christian legal aid attempts to funnel those persons into a combined legal and counseling partnership, which often proves successful. Thus, family breakup, which can be a major cause of poverty for family members, can often be averted.
The poor and especially the homeless often suffer from old civil and criminal charges and violations, debts, or from fines and sanctions which frequently prevent them from obtaining employment or housing. These frequently lock people into poverty or prevent attempts to emerge from it. Arranging for debt restructuring, and if necessary, bankruptcy where there is no chance of being able to repay, can frequently remove these obstacles. Municipalities also have an array of ordinances aimed at the homeless, and serious fines and sometimes imprisonment resulting either from convictions or sanctions for relatively minor offenses or citations. Inadvertent failure to show up for hearings result in bench warrants and impose additional serious financial burdens on many who are just barely surviving, including the working poor. They eliminate chances of their getting ahead. Lawyers are often able to eliminate those old debts through the statute of limitations or other legal issues and to quash and set aside these citations. warrants, fines, and potential sources of imprisonment in many cases through defenses and sometimes appropriate pleas for leniency.
Love of Christ
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” - 2 Corinthians 5:17. As bible believing Christians, we have an understanding that our sins are forgiven through the ultimate sacrifice that is Jesus Christ. We have grace and mercy bestowed upon us and live in faith that God can make all things new through Christ. People living in desperation and depressing situations are the exact people whom Christ spent most of his time ministering to. We want to encourage these fellow children of God that they are, in fact, still children of God regardless of their situation or status. We want to remind them of God’s love and care, and that he can take their lives and make them new again, no matter what their history might be. The ways we can do this are through prayer, directing them to Christian counselors and pastors who can more adequately address their spiritual needs, and leading by example. Jesus tells us in Mark: 12:30-31 that there are no greater commands than to love God with all your soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.