Online Faith and Justice Summit will connect faith communities with legal resources

The Online Faith and Justice Summit will feature a special panel presentation on the intersection of faith, justice, and mental health.

Faith leaders, judicial branch members, and community partners from across Tennessee will gather online on April 21 for the 2020 Tennessee Faith and Justice Summit. Participants will consider the ways faith and justice intersect, learn about free legal resources available to better serve Tennesseans in need, and build bridges both locally and statewide for a better future.

The Summit, which will be held for the second time as part of the #Help4TNDay celebrations, will be held online for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Faith leaders, attorneys, and others can register for the free event, which is co-sponsored by the Beecken Center of the School of Theology at the University of the South, the university’s Office of Civic Engagement, and the Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance (TFJA), at <>.

“The Faith and Justice Summit is a fantastic program that is full of inspiration and practical solutions geared at helping the faith and legal communities join together to help people in need,” said Bill Coley, chair of the Access to Justice Commission. “This year provides a unique opportunity for us to open up the summit to groups who traditionally have not been able to make the trip to Sewanee. We are confident this year’s summit will help create new relationships and programs.”

The program will provide a deep dive into the problems, resources, and solutions that faith leaders need to know about as they work to serve their communities and especially community members who are struggling with legal issues and do not know where to turn for help. These subjects will be illustrated by first-hand accounts of lives positively impacted by the work of the TFJA and its partner organizations.

The program will feature a number of prominent voices from Tennessee’s judiciary, health, and faith communities. Scheduled speakers include Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark, Dr. Monty Burks, director of faith-based initiatives with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Tennessee Access to Justice Chair Commission Bill Coley, Administrative Office of the Courts Director Deborah Taylor Tate, and many more.

Morning plenaries will highlight why access to justice is the number one strategic priority of the Tennessee Supreme Court, and why Tennessee needs all hands on deck (particularly faith and community partners with trusted relationships built in local communities) to achieve access to justice for all Tennesseans. A special panel will specifically consider the intersection of faith, justice, and mental health, and how faith-based partners and the legal community can benefit from what is happening in the mental health community. The panel will explore the advantages of broad partnerships and shared resources to help improve access to justice for all Tennesseans.

While more than a million low-income Tennesseans need legal representation in a given year, there are far fewer attorneys in the state to provide them with counsel. These disparate numbers leave many Tennesseans without access to legal care. In fact, less than 20% of people eligible for free legal help in Tennessee ever find it. Some may feel uneasy about approaching an attorney or going to court to find a way out of their legal predicament. Others dealing with civil legal issues like eviction, foreclosure, a denial of government benefits, or debt collection may simply not know that they may be eligible for legal relief. They may feel more comfortable seeking aid in a religious setting, and often faith-leaders are trusted in a way the legal community is not.

Faith and community partners can serve a vital role in making sure people eligible for free legal help can connect with that help when they need it. The Tennessee Faith & Justice Summit seeks to build connections between faith, community, and justice in Tennessee, grow awareness of the legal problems that impact our communities, teach religious leaders how to identify problems with potential legal remedies, and pave the way to helping all Tennesseans find the legal help they need.

Clergy and religious leaders of all faith-traditions, lay leaders, faith-based organizations, social workers, non-profits, university leadership (including faculty and staff), representatives for legal organizations, judges, state government officials, and more will particularly benefit from this program.

Registration for the event is required at <>.