The High Stakes of Religious Liberty

Photo by Alex Gilbert on Unsplash
The High Stakes of Religious Liberty

A workshop with Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

Kristen Waggoner: Among America’s greatest contributions to the world has been its commitment to free speech and to religious freedom. Alliance Defending Freedom is the world’s largest legal organization that is committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, and the sanctity of life. We have international as well as the US division, and offices throughout the world. And our team has played various roles in 54 Supreme Court victories before the United States Supreme Court. And in the last nine years, excuse me, eight years, we’ve actually prevailed in nine Supreme Court victories alone. And nearly all of those victories have been in the area of religious freedom. So I think that’s important to bring out because so many times when we’re looking at the mainstream media, we feel this hopeless sense of desperation of where’s our religious freedom going, but actually, we are seeing some significant victories occur at the United States Supreme Court in these areas.

Before we get started today, I think it’s important to talk about the basic framework for what we’re talking about when we talk about the concept of religious freedom. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, and it protects the conscience of all people, no matter what faith you ascribe to. It gives us all the right to be able to think, to express, and to act peacefully and consistently with our convictions, it is not a right that the government gives us. It is a right that is inherent in us being created in the image of God, of us all having human dignity. The right of religious freedom or the right of conscience is also secured though, in our state and federal laws, primarily in our state and federal constitutions. At the federal level, you’ll see it in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. And our Supreme Court has recognized again, and again, and again, that if we want to protect the intellectual individualism and the diversity that we have in our nation, our pluralistic society, then in order to do that, we at times have to put up with some eccentricities and even some offensive views of other people, because we want to protect the freedom of the mind and of the spirit.

In fact, one of the preeminent Supreme Court decisions in this area is a case called Burnett. And in that case, the issue was whether Jehovah’s Witnesses could be compelled in the public school system students to salute the flag in violation of their convictions. And the Supreme Court decided this case at the height of World War II. So you can think about the interests that the nation had in national security and in unity at that time, very strong interest. But this is what the court said as it ruled in favor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses right to follow their conscience. The court said the freedom to defer is not limited to things that do not matter much, that would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch on the heart of the existing order. Now, today, I would submit that the heart of the existing order that’s in conflict is our understanding of sex, marriage, and religion. And that these concepts are what we build our families around, and they’re what we all have very personal views about. They are at the heart of a national debate right now. And I hope that when you leave here today, one of the concepts that you take away is that as this cultural and political wind shift, and this debate continues, what cannot shift is our constitutional rights during the debate.

Although many of the world’s constitutions and international covenants protect religious freedom, there are some right now that are seeking to make those protections, those guarantees simply rhetoric. On the international side of Alliance Defending Freedom, our team of attorneys is defending the right for people to be able to not just speak consistent with their faith, but for their very lives. They’re facing physical persecution abroad. But here in the United States, American believers and religious institutions, especially those who hold orthodox beliefs about human sexuality are facing a much more polite persecution. And the question that I think we face today is whether Americans who subscribe to those orthodox tenets, including the Christian faith, those who are subscribed to Judaism and to Islam, whether they will have the space necessary to be able to live consistent with their beliefs in these areas.

If we are going to continue to be a standard bearer in this nation for religious freedom and free expression, if we are truly committed to living out in a diverse and pluralistic society, a background with all different faiths, then we must answer the question the same way that we always have, which is to opt for freedom over the demands of the current cultural climate.

So what am I talking about? How are these things playing out in the real world? Well, some of the first to experience this polite persecution are those who in the everyday marketplace are serving all customers, employing all different types of people from all different walks of life, but they decline to promote ideas or participate in religious ceremonies that violate their core convictions. What we’re seeing is that governments are increasingly using both laws and policies to elevate sexual orientation and gender identity to a protected class status. And then they’re punishing those who hold a different opinion on those views than the current opinion held by their governments. They’re treating disagreement essentially as discrimination. And they’re punishing it not just with civil penalties, but even with jail time and significant fines.

Some of you may not be surprised by this if you were paying attention or reading some of the decisions that came out, especially in the Obergefell, the same-sex marriage decision. Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent wrote very clearly in that decision and he warned that some would be using the redefinition of marriage to vilify those who hold orthodox beliefs on human sexuality. And two years from the very date of that descent and that decision, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Jack Phillips at Masterpiece Cake Shop. I had the privilege of arguing Jack’s case before the Supreme Court and I think in order to understand Jack and Masterpiece Cake Shop, you need to know a little bit about him. Jack loves art and he loves baking and for many years, it was his dream to create a cake shop that would blend those two together. He named it Masterpiece Cake Shop for two reasons. One is as a Christian, and he began the shop 25 years ago. As a Christian, he believed that he couldn’t serve two masters, the Scripture’s pretty clear on that. And so we wanted to remind himself whenever he was writing the name of his business down in any way, that he needed to serve one master and that was his savior, Jesus Christ.

A second reason that he named it Masterpiece Cake Shop was because he wanted to have an art gallery of cakes. He wasn’t just having a bakery. But his cakes, he hand sketches scopes and paints his cakes. And in fact, the first reporter that reported on the opening of his cake shop actually wrote in the local paper that it truly was an art gallery of cakes, and that decision or that newspaper article still hanging in a shop today from 25 years ago. Jack is also a man of deep and sincere faith, and he believes that God requires him to operate his business consistent with his faith and his convictions. And his faith is I found it to be is very real and authentic. My initial interaction or observation of Jack was when our team was visiting his shop and he got out of his minivan and it was a real clunker minivan. It was not a very nice minivan at all. And one of our attorneys said to him something about minivans, you know, he had a big family, too. So he was kind of used to the old minivans. And he said, “Man, Jack, what’s up with the minivan?” And Jack mentioned, “Well, I actually have a newer minivan. I just didn’t drive it today.” And so of course, the attorney said, “Well, why didn’t you drive it today?” And he said, “Well, I loaned it to a friend.” And the attorney said, “Well, why didn’t you loan this minivan, the clunker minivan to your friend?” And he said, “Well, I did that one time before when I was loaning one of my cars out and as I was driving to loan him the car, God really convicted me that I needed to give my friend my best. My best car, not my clunker car.” So Jack turned around, went back home and picked up the nice minivan, gassed it up and took it to his friend. That’s the kind of man that Jack Phillips is. He’s guided by a genuine faith and a desire to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

You can also see how he lives out his faith and how he treats his customers. He works with a wide variety diversity of people. If you go to his shop what you’ll see is down the in the same shopping mall as a tattoo parlor, a marijuana joint, an Alcoholics Anonymous, and of course across the street is a gun shop. So there’s a lot of different people that come into Masterpiece Cake Shop. No matter who comes in, though, he always gives them a warm smile and a handshake and just some greetings.

My second interaction with Jack was during the course of the case, I had to stay for about a week in Colorado as we were working on some things and there was a lot of commotion going on. Over the last six years, Jack has received a number of death threats and some really difficult circumstances have come to him. It’s not uncommon for problems to arise in whether he’s getting picketed or boycotted. So I was standing in the shop and he was helping a customer chatting the customer up and all of a sudden a man walked in, in the side door. And he was a man who had scruff on his face, his hair was kind of messed up. He had one of the overall latches undone so half of his overalls were hanging down. He was rather dirty in his appearance and very big and imposing and that might not seem like much given my small stature, but I’m telling you, he was a big guy.

And he just stood there blocking the door for the longest time two or three minutes past and I’m at this point freaking out as lawyer in the room and Jack still over there chatting away with this customer and I’m just watching this guy thinking, what is happening right now? Is he gonna do us harm? Why is he here? He said nothing, just stood there like this and stared. Finally, I kind of look over and Jack’s not doing anything. So I walk up to the gentleman. I say, “Is there’s something that I can help you with?” And the man just goes like this. Doesn’t say a word to me. Finally, I catch Jack’s attention and Jack walks over and he says, “Hey, how are you doing?” And he reaches out and he shakes the man’s hand. The man shakes his hand, he has a half smile on his face, turns around and leaves. No words were shared. I said to Jack, “What was that about?” He said, “Oh, that’s my friend. Sometimes he wants to talk. Other times, he just wants me to acknowledge him and shake his hand. So I try to just do whatever he needs for the day.” It was clear that he was mentally ill and he just needed a friend. And that’s the kind of guy that Jack is.

One last story I want to tell you about Jack, because I think, again, it typifies who he is as a person. Jack’s case was essentially before the court, the court took almost a year to decide whether it would hear it and that’s very unusual for the Supreme Court. So Jack waited, and waited, and waited. And the way that he discovered it was on a website called SCOTUSblog. Every time the court was going to say whether it would take a case six in the morning, Jack would get on the website and look, did they take it? Did they take it? One morning, they took it in June. Jack was so choked up that he couldn’t really call his wife or talk to anyone. And so instead what he did was there was one homeless guy that was sitting in his cake shop and the guy comes in almost every day. I’ve seen him multiple times when I’ve been there. And he said, “Hey, Mike, guess what? The Supreme Court’s going to take my case.” And Mike said, “That’s really great. I go to court on Wednesday, too.”

Jack’s faith also impacts how he creates art, how he creates his cakes and his artistic talents. From the moment he opened his cake shop, he and his wife had decided that they needed to develop and design cakes in a God-honoring way. So he developed a simple rule from the very beginning and that is that he would serve everyone who walks in his store, but he would not create cakes that express messages that violated his core convictions, his faith. So what that meant over 25 years that there were a number of cakes that he didn’t design, Halloween cakes are one of those, and if you think about what it’s like for a cake shop or a bakery to decline for 25 years to do any Halloween items, Halloween is one of the most profitable times of the year for a cake shop. But that violated Jack’s faith. He’s also declined to do cakes that were anti-American, those who would be derogatory towards LGBT individuals, those that celebrate divorce would have anti-American themes or lewd themes. For 25 years, he lived by this rule.

When the same-sex couple came into his shop in 2012, they wanted him to design a custom cake, made to order cake to celebrate their wedding. He politely declined, he apologized and said, “I’m sorry guys. I can’t design a cake for same-sex wedding, but I’ll sell you anything else in my shop. You want cookies, brownies, whatever it is. Happy for another occasion to sell that to you or if you just want something out of the cooler.” Unfortunately, they responded by giving him the finger, cussing him out, boycotting, picketing and eventually, filing a lawsuit through the state of Colorado against him. And 20 minutes later, after they left to shop, he began to receive all kinds of vile threats. Those threats continued for the next six and a half years.

As Jack’s case was in litigation, another man went to three other cake designers in the area and asked those cake designers to design cakes that were critical of same-sex marriage. And in fact, used some scripture verses and symbols that would be critical of same-sex marriage. Those cake designers declined to design those cakes because of their message. The same commission that ruled against Jack actually ruled in favor of those cake designers. And I think the rationale is important. What the commission said is that they had the right to decline to design cakes that they found to be offensive in their message. They also found that when a cake designer in that circumstance was designing a cake, it was the cake designer speech and not the customers. And they found that because those cake designers designed all kinds of cakes for people of all different faiths, including Christians, they were only declining that message that that was not religious discrimination.

In stark contrast, they found the opposite for Jack. A cake that was designed to celebrate and promote same-sex marriage, the commission said was not Jack’s speech. They said that Jack did not have the right to decline to design, or celebrate, or promote a message that violated his convictions. And they severely punished him for doing so. In fact, the commission issued an order that not only caused Jack to lose nearly half of his business, 40% of his family income, but that order required Jack to report on a quarterly basis to the government every time he declined to design a cake, and to tell the government why. It also required Jack to re-educate his family members essentially telling them that he was wrong to operate his business consistent with this faith.

Around the same time that Jack was sued, Barronelle Stutzman, a 73-year-old grandmother with 23 grandchildren faced a similar choice. She owns Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, and she served a gay customer for nine years. He knew she was religious, and she knew he was gay, and it never presented a problem for them. They were good friends. But when he asked her to design arrangements that she thought were custom for his wedding, she politely took his hand in the corner of the store and said, “I’m sorry, Rob. I can’t design your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.” They continued to talk about how he got engaged. They talked about whether his mom would walk him down the aisle, they hugged and Rob left. So you can imagine, Barronelle’s surprise when the attorney general of Washington sued her, not just her business, but sued her in her personal capacity, meaning everything she owns is at risk.

Calligraphers Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski face a similar situation in Phoenix. They’re calligraphers and hand painters. A Phoenix ordinance tells them that they will face not just $2,500 a day per violation if they declined to create custom art projects that violate their convictions. But they also faced six months in jail for every violation. Their case is before the Arizona Supreme Court right now.

And I know you’re probably getting a little tired of hearing the lawyer tell about the client stories. And this isn’t just limited to those in the wedding industry. So I want you to have an opportunity to hear from other clients who are facing these kinds of threats in other areas.

Man 1 [recording]: …you wanna be when you grow up? I told them that I want to be a fireman when I grow up. In 1981, my dream came true. Being one of the first African-Americans on the Shreveport Fire Department had significant challenges. After living a life experience in a lot of discrimination, it gave me a conviction that should I ever be in a position of leadership that I would never allow anyone to have the same experience I had as a minority. That’s why I was so surprised that writing a book for a Christian men Bible study would cause my career to come to an abrupt end.

Woman 1: Since the physician-assisted suicide law was passed, it certainly brought home the reality that we’re in a whole new world in the field of medicine, being forced to talk to someone about committing suicide and ending their life artificially, and having me be complicit with it violates my sense of conscience because my role is to protect life. This is something that really could end my practice. If I’m forced to do this, I won’t continue to practice medicine in this state. I would leave my practice, there is no compromise here.

Man 2: Five years ago, we were approached by a customer who asked us to print the message that conflicted with my conscience. So we respectfully declined the order and I had another print shop that would print the same job at the same price. But they ended up going to our local government. And they filed the lawsuit against us to try to get us in the future to print shirts that had a message that will conflict with my faith. I received a phone call after I made the decision to decline the message and the gentleman called and didn’t give me his name. And he just asked me said, “Are you sure you wanna stay in for this? Are you sure you’re gonna hold your beliefs on this issue? I wanna know before we do this.” And I just said, “I have no option.” I said, “I can’t print that message.” And he hung up on me. When that happened, I knew this wasn’t gonna be a small issue.

Woman 2: Every creative professional has a list of reasons why you choose a project and why you decline a project.

Man 3: And that’s true for everyone I work with. But there’s a law in Minnesota that force us to tell stories that conflict with our core beliefs. Preserving freedom of conscience is important for every single person. We don’t want anyone to feel or fear that the government will punish them for simply holding an opinion that might be unpopular.

Man 4: One of the great joys I have is leading a Christ-centered university, a faith-based university. This legislation, if it would have passed in its original form, would have ended up setting ourselves up for the possibility of being sued, just for practicing what we believe.

Man 5: Ministry is not just about being on the pulpit, but rather serving a community. So our church recently bought a property that we are developing to help victims of domestic violence. All of a sudden this law came out . That was going to make it very difficult for us to be able to serve these women that have been abused. So we worked with ADF to defend the freedoms that the church had.

Woman 3: Everybody in our country should care about word of conscience in all aspects of our public life. When someone else comes and dictates that you must do something against your conscience, it brings us back to some of the worst times in history. Everybody should care about this because if we were the first or some of the first to be targeted, it is the short that other professionals will eventually be targeted.

Man 6: Religious Freedom helps everyone. It’s not just freedom for me its freedom for everyone.

Man 7: It’s bigger than just this one person. It’s about the freedoms for all of us to live by our conscience. We were meant to be free. The world is a place that flourishes, that grows under freedom.

Kristen: The right to be able to live consistent with our conscience isn’t just limited to individuals either. Obviously, it also extends to religious organizations. And what might surprise you is that we’re even seeing religious organizations that are in the crosshairs of these current battles over religious freedom. One case that we’re having right now involves homeless shelter and not even homeless shelters are safe from these types of situations. Every night in Anchorage, Alaska, the Downtown Hope Center serves about 50 women who come into their shelter. During the day, they serve men and women, all kinds of different meals, job training skills, and different areas like that. But at night, they specifically cater to providing women a safe place and most of those women have been on the streets, they’ve been sex trafficked, they’ve experienced domestic violence and rape, and many have alcohol and substance addictions. This is a dry shelter and the women sleep in a common room much like this room just three to four feet apart in different beds.

One night, a man came to the shelter door, dressed in a women’s night gown. He was visibly injured on his face with the slash across his face. And he was also visibly drunk. The executive director of the religious shelter came to the door and say, “Can I help you?” And he asked for admittance. He wanted to sleep in that common room with those women. And he also was known by those women to have a violent reputation on the street. In fact, he had just been kicked out of a nearby shelter for violent behavior. The women’s shelter said I’m sorry, we can’t admit you. We can provide you with transportation to get your injuries treated at the hospital and they gave him some money, prayed and he left. You can imagine, again, the shelter surprised when the Human Rights Commission in Anchorage, Alaska sent them a letter and said you either will admit men into the shelter that say that they’re transgender allowing them to sleep next to these women who have been victimized or you’ll close your doors because we would rather ensure that this ideology is perpetrated and is more important than serving the women in need.

Another example is found in New York. Dr. Schwartz is a licensed psychotherapist and Dr. Schwartz serves the Orthodox Jewish community. There are times when some of his clients come to him and say they want to live consistent with their Jewish faith and may be experiencing some confusion or some same-sex attraction. He listens to them, he talks to them. He gives them advice based on his own experience and his faith. New York has passed a law that says a religious or any licensed counselor that would seek to advise people on these issues and help them achieve their personal goals as adults will face a $10,000 violation per conversation.

In addition, right now, New York is also threatened New Hope Adoption Agency that’s placed 1,000 children in homes across New York State. And they have told…New York bureaucrats have told New Hope that they will need to close their doors unless they stopped prioritizing the placement of boys and girls in homes with moms and dads.

And the threat isn’t just limited to sexual orientation and gender identity issues. We’re also seeing hostility play out on college campuses. Chike Uzuegbunam believes that God called him to become an evangelist. And so he went out on his college campus, a public college campus, and he began to share the gospel. A campus administrator came to him and said, “You’re violating our policies, you need to, first of all comply with these policies.” And the policy basically says that on a public university campus, that campus, you have 18 hours a week in which you can speak freely, and you must do it in a particular speech zone, which is .0015 of the campus.

He then complied with that policy, sought permission to go out and share the gospel again, got that permission. Stated in his speech code in his speech zone, and then was confronted again by college officials that said, “Someone has complained that you’re sharing of the gospel is making them feel uncomfortable, and you need to stop.” When we took Chike’s case to court, the attorney general of Georgia took the position that sharing the gospel may be fighting words under the Constitution. And what that means is there’s no first amendment protection whatsoever.

Ellie Whitman is one of a number of students who are very committed to the pro-life cause and on her public college campus, each year they have what’s called the cemetery of the innocents. That is a display that they put out to help identify the number of babies that are aborted each year. That cemetery of the innocence often prompts discussion among college students about what abortion is and what it does. And it’s literally saved the lives of babies on that campus. When Ellie went to get the permission to do it for this last year, what she was told by college officials was that she would need to post trigger warnings around the campus if she wanted to have this particular cemetery of the innocence. And those trigger warnings needed to be there to identify for students that they might face emotional trauma if they walk by the display.

Nor is the church immune from these religious freedom issues. You saw pastor Esteban in the video and what he was facing and ADF, our first primary objective with regard to the church is to ensure that the church can share and live out their biblical witness which means preaching the full gospel from the pulpit without fear of government punishment. Right now, as you can see, our culture is facing a number of false ideologies and we need to speak the good news. We need to speak it with hope, with love, and with compassion, but also with truth. And without the fear of the government, penalizing or crushing those who dare to share their faith.

Yet keeping the government at bay can be quite a challenge. And we’re seeing that it comes up in the most odd places, including on street corners in Gilbert, Arizona and playgrounds in Missouri. So what am I talking about? Well, Clyde and Anne Reed, they had a church that was using a public building and they wanted to post directional signs that would invite people to church in Gilbert, and let them know where they were meeting. Gilbert passed an ordinance that said, well, people posting other kinds of signs had all kinds of flexibility in the signage, how big they were, how long they stood up. Those who were posting religious signs like Clyde and Anne’s could only be up for a very limited window in a very limited places. Their case went to the Supreme Court.

Governments are also trying to exclude religious organizations and people from programs that are available across to other public benefits to those who are in the marketplace and to other nonprofits. Trinity operated a preschool and a daycare center that was open to everyone, and Missouri had a program that said, we will use tire scraps to resurface playgrounds to keep children safe, and that program was available to non-profits. Except guess who it wasn’t available to, the church. Even though Trinity Lutheran placed 5 out of 44 applicants, Missouri said that a church that’s open to the public, including their playground seven days a week, could not have access to this program. And that case went to the Supreme Court. We’re also seeing challenges to churches and the religious in terms of them having to fund chemical and surgical abortions through their policies and even to march for life itself.

And we see it happen in the zoning and land use areas. Redemption Community Church is a church that had a building in a suburban community, but they wanted to minister to the downtown core. So they sold the building, moved into the downtown core and during the week, use their building as a coffee shop. But during the weekend, they want it to be able to minister to people and hold a church service. The city there said you can hold the karaoke bar if you want during the weekend. You can hold the book club and you can study books, you can sing songs, the karaoke bar, but you can’t sing worship songs and you can’t study the Bible. Our zoning code would prohibit that. That case has also been filed on Redemption Community Church’s behalf.

Its challenges like these that have prompted ADF to offer the church a ministry Alliance program because it expands our ability to help churches and ministries to be able to stand and to preach the full gospel. We offer really just liberty audits of documents and policies as well as an accessibility of an ADF attorney to talk about religious liberty issues and specialized resources that can be given, like webinars and sample policies, and free representation when religious liberty issues arise. We know that it’s not a matter of if the church faces legal action, it’s just a matter of which one and where. But we also know that as we face these kinds of religious conflicts, that the church has the duty and the moral responsibility to preach the full gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, right now, we’re in the midst of an interesting time where many are feeling a little bit fatigued by these religious liberty battles. We want them to go away. Certainly I do. I’d much rather not have to deal with these, but they won’t be going away in the near future. What we have seen in response is some in the Christian community have actually suggested that we should compromise our religious beliefs, and we should pass a law that essentially elevates sexual orientation and gender identity to being akin to race, but then carve out narrow religious exemptions that protect our religious institutions.

I hope you’re starting to flag the problems with this aside from just the fact of our biblical witness being undermined. Another problem is that these exemptions are not durable. What we see in the state and local level where these laws are passed, as soon as the political power exists to remove those exemptions, that’s exactly what the government does. Because at the essence of this conflict is whether those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman and those who believe in Genesis 1:27, that God created man and woman. The essence of the conflict is whether those beliefs are bigotry. And those kinds of laws like the Equality Act and Fairness for All, which is promoted by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, is to say they are bigoted, but you should give religious institutions an exemption. The exemptions are not only not durable, but think of the stories you heard this morning of all the people that will lose their rights, those in the marketplace, the students that these colleges are training, the photographers, the artists, the licensed professionals, the doctors, the nurses, the teachers, the counselors, probably most of us in this room right now have a license to do what we do as a professional. If you are in the marketplace, your rights to be able to live consistent with your convictions are gone.

And third, don’t underestimate the destructive nature of gender identity ideology. I referenced to Genesis 1:27, and I think sometimes when we were engaged in whether marriage should be redefined, we didn’t perhaps spend enough time on why the gospel and why God’s definition of marriage promotes human flourishing. But we do know that God created man and woman and that sex is a binary concept. It’s not up to man or woman to change that. He created us in His image. And when we accept concepts like gender identity ideology, we need to think through what the implications of that are.

Right now, we’re seeing those in the medical profession take the position that you can permanently harm children who are not even capable of consent and give them surgical and hormonal treatments that cannot be reversed. Even though science tells us that most children who experience gender confusion if left alone, they will live consistent and happy with their biological sex when they reach adulthood. It also greatly undermines our parental rights. We’re seeing cases pop up across this country where foster parents and adoption parents are losing their rights to be able to foster and adopt, we’re losing the right as biological parents to be able to raise our children in the way that we believe God has called us to raise them. That is what gender identity ideology undermines.

Now, there’s no question I have no doubt that we’re going to continue to see these assaults continue, and they’ll impact all of us and the stakes are no doubt high. But as we finish our time together, I want to encourage you with a few ideas of why this is worth standing for. Three reasons primarily just for today. The first reason is that there are solid important reasons to protect religious freedom, even if you are not a religious person. And those reasons make common sense. They’re for, the common good. A second reason that we have hope is that the Supreme Court has issued decisions that are very positive to protect religious freedom and we believe will continue to do so. And third, our job is faithfulness. Our job is to have a biblical witness. God’s job is the outcome of that. And we can never underestimate that what we see as challenges, he sees as opportunities to share the gospel.

So first, let me give you a few quick reasons on why religious freedom protects everyone, even the non-religious. First, religious freedom ensures that we all have the freedom to be able to speak and live consistent with our convictions, to explore the difficult questions of our lives, who we are, why God made us, what is our purpose on this earth? The atheist asked that question as much as the Catholic or the Protestant does. And so this right protects their right to explore and live consistent with their answers as well. A second reason is that having religious freedom curbs government power. If you think about it for a minute, a government that can force someone to violate their religious convictions, has virtually unlimited power. Religious Freedom limits the power of government and says there are some things that are not the power of the government, they are a duty to God.

Third, we know that from studies religious freedom contributes greatly to a healthy, economic and stable society. In America actually, the studies show that religion contributes over $1.2 trillion dollars to the American economy every year. That’s nearly 7% of the GDP. A fourth reason to protect religious freedom is that religious freedom permits people of all faiths to share their faith in the public square, to share the ideas they have and why they promote the common good. And as Christians, we should embrace this freedom for all faiths, because we know that the teachings of our faith are true, they’re cogent, and they’re convincing. We know that accepting Christ brings eternal life. And we know that accepting Christ brings unspeakable joy. So put to the test in the marketplace of ideas, we have confidence that the gospel will ultimately prevail.

And lastly, one last thing, for those that you’re talking to that say, “I’m not really this, I don’t care about this.” Remember, civil liberties travel together. We see this in other countries as well, where other countries decline to give robust religious freedom. They don’t have robust economic freedom. They don’t have freedom of the press. They don’t protect the vulnerable. They don’t have the right to petition their government. Civil liberties travel together and the loss of religious freedom will signal the loss of other civil liberties. Second, the Supreme Court has also decided a number of very significant decisions recently protecting religious freedom. And certainly, Jack Phillips is one of those. But before I even get to Jack’s case, I want to encourage you, we talked about Pastor Reed and the Gilbert case about the speech signs, the signs and whether he had the right to post those signs for his church. He won his case before the United States Supreme Court.

Same thing in Trinity Lutheran in a seven to two decision, the Supreme Court recently said that it’s odious to the constitution to treat people of faith as second class citizens or as unequal to counterparts. And in Jack’s case in a seven to two decision, Jack also won and the court held that the Commission displayed clear and impermissible hostility towards Jack and his religious beliefs. And in fact, it found that the double standard that I told you about between those who would criticize same-sex marriage and those who were in favor of it violated the Constitution. The courts will not allow the government to tip the scales in these debates. The court also reiterated that the free-exercise clause forbids even the most subtle departures of neutrality.

Now, some you would say, “Well, this is a narrow decision because it didn’t protect Jack’s right of free speech.” Hogwash. The Supreme Court left in place every single argument that was made in Jack’s case that it didn’t fully embrace, including the free speech arguments. It’s simply said it didn’t need to reach those free speech arguments, because it ruled on his free exercise of religion. And I think the court knew exactly what it was doing because just 20 some days later, it issued another win in an ADF case called NIFLA. NIFLA involved religious pro-life pregnancy centers that were forced by California to post signs pointing the way to abortion, telling them where you could call to get a free or low cost abortion. That’s compelled speech. It’s also a violation of the free-exercise clause. But the Supreme Court ruled on free speech grounds and said that the government does not have the power to coerce or co-opt our private voices to express its message. And the court said and rejected the argument by the other side that said, if you’re a licensed professional like most of us are, somehow you have less free speech protection or less constitutional rights, because you’re in the marketplace.

And for me, the icing on the cake last term was that a decision that was unexpected, which was called the Janus decision and in involved whether union dues could be compulsory in certain circumstances. The court didn’t have to say it, but it did address this issue and it said when you force someone to speak a message that violates their convictions, it demeans them. It undermines their dignity interest, and that those who are speaking in highly controversial areas, like it specifically referenced human sexuality, you have the highest protection under the Constitution. So while we don’t yet have the Supreme Court, again, affirming the right of Jack and others to be able to speak, not speak messages that violate their convictions in the marketplace, yet, we are well on our way to that decision, and we’re hopeful.

And lastly, on this issue of our constitutional rights, remember, the Supreme Court has never, never, ever, never compelled anyone to speak an ideological message that violates their convictions, nor has it ever force someone to participate in a religious ceremony. And when the court does take up this next case, we’re hopeful. And there are plenty of cases in the queue like Barronelle’s, like the filmmakers, Carl and Angel that you saw in the video, and like Blaine Adamson, the printer. All of those cases are pending right now.

So as we close today, I just want to leave you with one thought. There’s a book that I’ve been reading how I’ve been on the treadmill and it’s called Seizing Your Divine Purpose, and I thought it really captured where my heart is at on these issues and the most important reason I believe we have hope. The author said, “Whenever we choose to engage a divine opportunity, there is real potential of bringing others into God’s presence and God’s purpose.” I’ll say that again, “Whenever we choose to engage a divine opportunity, there was real potential of bringing others into God’s presence and God’s purpose. He uses men and women who he places on the front lines to bring others to himself.” And there’s no question. It’s not an easy feat. But think about guys like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr., or Susan B. Anthony, those who stood against the prevailing cultural currents of their time. Think of a letter from the Birmingham Jail who was written to Martin Luther King, by pastors who are telling him that his stand was unloving and Ill-timed. It was hard for him to stand in that cultural moment. But his courage and others courage manifest in humble and determined advocacy, change the law and move the culture in a forward direction.

I believe we’re in that same circumstance, when you see men like Chief Cochran, or Jack Phillips, or Chike, or Eli, or Barronelle, or Carl and Angel taking those stands. I think that we can be emboldened in our own ways to take stands as well, to know that what we see as challenges God sees as opportunities, and I can tell you for each one of those individuals, the opportunity isn’t just in the litigation. It’s not just in the case, it’s not just in changing the law. They have been able to share their faith with thousands of people, their own family members have come to know Christ, their friends have come to know Christ, because it has caused them to consider, who is this Jesus? Why would you potentially give up all you have for him?

So I just want to encourage you today that as we leave, and we talk about these difficult issues, at Alliance Defending Freedom, we’re committed to protecting the right to be able to speak and live consistent with our convictions. But every one of us here has the obligation to actually do that. We have to be able to share our convictions, because that is what loving our neighbor is about. Thank you. I appreciate your time. And I want to encourage you, this isn’t just the work of professional public interest lawyers. This is the work that we do at our water coolers and in our boardrooms. And frankly, at the dinner tables in our own home.

“Here in the United States, American believers and religious institutions, especially those who hold orthodox beliefs about human sexuality, are facing a much more polite persecution. And the question I think we face today is whether Americans who subscribe to those orthodox tenets—including the Christian faith, as well as those who are subscribed to Judaism and to Islam—whether they will have the space necessary to be able to live consistent with their beliefs in these areas. If we are going to continue to be a standard bearer in this nation for religious freedom and free expression—if we are truly committed to living out a diverse and pluralistic society, a background with all different faiths—then we must answer the question the same way we always have, which is to opt for freedom over the demands of the current cultural climate.” — Kristen Waggoner

Date: April 2, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

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