MSU Law alum earned honors for student writing on religious liberty

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MSU Law alum Herman Hofman, winner of last year’s Religious Liberty Student Writing Competition is pictured with his wife, Naomi, and son, Gerrit.

PHOTO  BY KRISTEN ELISE PHOTOGRAPHY

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

The son of missionary parents to Bolivia, Herman Hofman spent much of his boyhood in a rural village in the South American country, attending school for nine years and quickly becoming fluent in Spanish.

Those linguistic skills have been a huge asset to this 2016 summa cum laude graduate of Michigan State University College of Law, as he is able to serve as an interpreter for Hispanic clients, providing simultaneous translation of oral and written information from English to Spanish and Spanish to English.

Hofman headed to Michigan State University Law School after earning his undergraduate degree in history from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Ia. Always passionate about reading and writing, he felt the study of law was an obvious career choice.

“I was also drawn by the intellectual challenge and the opportunity it provided to make an impact in the community,” he says.

The Dean King Scholar looks back with pleasure on his three years in East Lansing, where served as Notes Editor on the MSU Law Review, and won the Jurisprudence Achievement Award for Advocacy and the Moot Court Competition Class.

“I enjoyed being able to take classes with professors who provided rigorous training, but also took a personal interest in the success of their students,” he says. “Law Review was also a great experience; it was rewarding to work with so many talented classmates and contribute something to legal scholarship in that role.”

His legal scholarship was back in the spotlight last year when he won first prize in the Religious Liberty Student Writing Competition, sponsored by the Washington, D.C. Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Society and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University.

Hofman traveled to Washington on October 6 of last year to receive the award. He and wife Naomi met some of the leading scholars and advocates in the religious liberty legal field, and also did a lot of sightseeing, including a personalized Capitol tour through the office of Rep. Justin Amash, a visit to the Supreme Court, and a tour of the National Museum of American History.   

In his award-winning article— originally written for his King’s Scholar seminar class—Hofman wrote about the tax status of not-for-profit organizations that oppose same-sex marriage in light of the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. His paper also will be published in the Gonzaga Law Review, Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane.

“Winning the competition was absolutely thrilling, especially because I never expected to even place in it,” Hofman says. “I wrote the article sincerely hoping it would add something to the current debate surrounding the financial implications for religious non-profit organizations that oppose same-sex marriage. But the framework the article proposes really applies to any controversial social issue—what is the best approach for the IRS and the Executive Branch in general to take with regard to religious non-profit organizations that advocate for beliefs that run contrary to positions espoused by government?

“My basic position is that the government should be wary of imposing its positions in the not-for-profit arena because of the adverse consequences this can have for the charitable efforts of nonprofit organizations and the diversity of beliefs that currently exists in our pluralistic society.” 

A member of the Moot Court Executive Board during his time at MSU Law, Hofman notes Moot Court was a tremendous opportunity to improve his writing and public speaking skills.

“It taught me to focus my writing on the issues that matter, and to condense my arguments to one-sentence ‘sound bites’ for oral argument,” he says. “Working with talented teammates and traveling made it even more fun!”

In his 2L year, he served as a Teaching Assistant in the Constitutional Law/Regulatory State class. 

“I enjoyed being able to develop a personal relationship in a non-classroom setting with a professor, along with helping other students learn the subject matter and develop study strategies,” he says.

He spent his first summer as a legal extern at St. Vincent Catholic Charities Immigration Law Clinic in Lansing, and found it rewarding to provide legal advice and assistance to Cuban immigrants seeking asylum.   

Also that summer, he clerked at The Gallagher Law Firm in East Lansing.

“This helped prepare me for my later position as a summer associate at Varnum,” he says. “It was a great way to learn about law firm culture and to put substantive knowledge I learned during my 1L year to practical use.”

Hofman currently is working in a year-long term clerkship position for Chief Judge Robert Jonker of the United States District Court, Western District of Michigan, where he drafts proposed opinions, researches and briefs the Judge on dispositive motions, and observes court proceedings.

“It’s a great opportunity to develop a personal and professional relationship with a judge, learn the intricacies of federal procedure, and observe talented practitioners perform in a courtroom setting,” he says.

He will then return to working at Varnum LLP in Grand Rapids, and is excited to enter private practice.

“The attorneys there are dedicated professionals committed to providing extraordinary service to their clients,” he says. “I’m looking forward to using the skills I’ve learned as a law clerk to a federal judge to provide that same level of service to their clients.”    

Hofman’s main legal interest is commercial litigation and appellate law.

“I’ve also always had a passion for religious liberty issues, and so I hope to have opportunities to do pro bono work in that area in the future as well,” he says.

A Kalamazoo native, Hofman spent some of his boyhood years in Grand Rapids, and he and his wife currently make their home there. They are the proud parents of 18-month-old Gerrit, who will become a big brother in March.

In his leisure time, Hofman is passionate about the game of soccer; he was a varsity player at Dordt College and continues to play in a small local league. He and his wife are actively involved with their local church through volunteer efforts and membership on one of the denomination’s committees.

 

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