By Carol McGraw The Gazette ACADEMICS: Institutes seen as new avenue to train conservative leaders. COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – They look like graduates waiting to march across the stage to get their diplomas. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat KingsBut the students, seated around a granite table at Grace Church, dress in long, black academic robes every day. All in their early 20s, they are the first class of fellows at the Colorado Springs-based John Jay Institute for Faith, Society and Law. The six men and six women politely call each other by courtesy titles and last names, and engage in Socratic discussions four hours a day, four days a week. They are learning how to spread their moral beliefs in a thoughtful manner, without beating people over the head with their faith. The yearlong program combines their calling to public life with their conservative Christian worldview. After a semester of academics, they will be interns at conservative think tanks in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, where they can further hone their skills in Christian persuasion. “We are teaching students of faith how to engage a secular society,” said Alan R. Crippen II, John Jay Institute’s founder and president. “We take bright, promising students and give them the intellectual and spiritual foundation for service in the community.” Crippen founded the institute in 2005 in West Virginia and moved it with him when he relocated to Colorado Springs in 2006. It’s the latest evidence of an intellectual movement that is taking the conservative Christian message beyond buzzwords such as anti-homosexuality and anti-abortion to attract better-educated and younger people who are interested in wider social issues such as the environment, science and law. Proponents see institutions like John Jay as antidotes to secular universities, which they believe are intolerant of conservative views. Others fear such programs will train professionals to wage war against the separation of church and state, and infuse government and the Constitution with religion. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonsectarian group that defends separation of church and state in courts and educates on religious-freedom issues, said scholarship is a fairly new venue for some in the Christian right. “Since they captured talk radio and religious broadcasting they have been looking for a new forum, and the academic world is it.” The push to recruit young intellectuals is an “investment in future allies,” says Chip Berlet, senior analyst for Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank in Boston. “If you are trying to set aside a secular republic you set up a John Jay Institute to hook people early to help create a Christian nation, which they imagine is historically real,” he said. But Crippen says separation of church and state does not have to mean exclusion of religion from the public square. John Jay supporters have similar views. “So much education in the last few decades has tended to ignore religion, but now you are seeing a resurgence of traditional intellectualism and recovery of historical roots,” says Kenneth Starr, who is on the John Jay advisory board and is dean of the Pepperdine University law school in Malibu. Starr, the former Independent Counsel whose investigation and report led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, says law has always been rooted in morality and informed by religious thinking. Starr says the John Jay Institute is promoting a belief that “voices of faith should be allowed equal dignity in the marketplace of ideas, and not excluded from democratic conversation.” John Jay uses “low-key” recruitment of students, Crippen said, getting names of potential candidates through religious and professional contacts. It’s an expensive endeavor for the nonprofit institute. It will take more than $800,000 each academic year for the 24 students who go through the program. Each student receives $37,000 in benefits, including the academic program, room and board and a $7,000 cost of living stipend. The institute obtained seed money from major conservative donors – officials won’t say who – and is raising money now to pay for next year’s scholars. The students’ days are highly structured, beginning with chapel at 8 a.m. at Grace Church followed by four hours of classes, afternoon study, chapel at 5 p.m. and more study. Each day, the students read at least 100 pages from tomes that are densely philosophical and theological, and then write 500-word essays they must defend in class. Student Adrienne Morehead, 22, of Atlanta, noted that her classmates come from many Christian backgrounds – reformed, evangelical, Pentecostal, orthodox and others. She got her undergraduate degree from Lee University, a Christian college in Tennessee. “We don’t agree on certain doctrines,” she said, “but we agree on the basics.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!