Full event transcript: Faith, Culture & Religious Freedom in the 21st Century

By Staff
Oct 11, 2013

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Manhattan Declaration bring you a conversation about the future of religious freedom in America featuring a diverse group of expert voices.

ERIC TEETSEL: Hello, good evening. I wanted to start tonight by telling a story. On March 21st, 1804, Sister Marie Teresa, Superior of the Sisters of the Order of Saint Ursula in New Orleans, sat down to write a letter. The Sisters of St. Ursula were an ocean away from the violence of post revolution France but they were aware of the plight of their sisters and brothers back home. The French National Assembly had forbade wearing religious garb and confiscated property owned by religious communities. Bishops and priests had been exiled, beaten, and even hanged, and in 1794, just ten years earlier, ten members of their order were found guilty of operating an illegal school and beheaded at the guillotine. So, when a treaty transferring ownership of the Louisiana Territory from France to the United States was signed, it is not hard to imagine this conclave of nuns wondering worriedly what does this mean for us? Emboldened by faith, and a sense of responsibility for her fellow missionaries, Sister Marie did the only thing she could think to do. She wrote a letter to the president. Her words were concise and to the point. Sister Marie asked whether “the spirit of justice which characterizes the United States of America will guarantee the continued enjoyment of our present property and, if so,” she continued, “please put it in writing.” Now, the world may have been a smaller place in 1804, but I imagine a letter to the president was still considered a bit of a long shot, so you can imagine the excitement when two months later, the president wrote back. And here’s what he said, I have received Holy Sisters, the letter you have written wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Louisiana. The principles of the Constitution and Government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you, sacred, and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules without interference from the civil authority.” Whatever diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any and its furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society by training up its younger members in the way that they should go, cannot fail to insure at the patronage of the government it is under, be assured, it will meet all the protection that my office can give it. I salute you, Holy Sisters, in friendship and respect, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson’s letter provides a clear and unequivocal articulation of the centrality of religious freedom in America. Jefferson affirms the right of conscience, self governance without interference from civil authority, and the vital civic contributions of faith-based groups, which, he argues, “further the wholesome purposes of society.” He also places a burden of protection of these rights squarely in the office of the presidency. Given all that has happened in America in the last few years, you may be thinking to yourself, maybe it is time to write another letter. Well, we are way ahead of you. In 2009, Chuck Colson, along with Robby George of Princeton University and Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School, with input from a diverse group of a hundred Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical leaders, including Cardinals, Bishops, Metropolitans, Ministry leaders in mega churches, wrote a landmark document that came to be known as the Manhattan Declaration. The Declaration is a statement of Christian conscience, but rather than the president, it is addressed to the church and explains in theological and philosophical terms the most important issues of our time. Signers of the Manhattan Declaration, and there are 542,000 of them, embrace an obligation to speak and act in defense of three truths. First, the profound inherent and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life. Ours is, as it must be, a truly consistent ethic of love and life for all humans in all circumstances. We are pro-life for whole life from womb to tomb. Second, marriage; ordained by God from the creation and historically understood by believers and nonbelievers alike to be the most basic institution in society. In scripture, the creation of man and woman and their one-flesh union as husband and wife is the crowning achievement of God’s creation. Marriage is a form of common grace, the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all persons in a society, and third, religious liberty; which has its foundation in the character of God himself and in the dignity of the human person created in his image. A dignity, as our founders proclaimed, inherent in every human. God alone is Lord of the conscience. Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience. For if the state can tell a person the answer to life’s most important questions or bar him from conforming the patterns of life to whatever answers he finds to those questions, what can’t it do? Life, marriage, and religious freedom. These are not the only areas of Christian moral concern, yet, in our time, they are severely threatened and as foundational principles of justice and the common good, they most take precedence: Life, marriage, and religious freedom. These three rely upon and mutually re-enforce one another. As the conversation tonight will illustrate, contemporary threats to religious freedom in America represent the front lines of the ongoing culture war over life and sexual ethics, particularly the meaning and purpose of marriage. Consider the Health and Human Services Abortion and Contraception Mandate, which instructs corporations and non-profit organizations to make contraception and abortion available to employees regardless of their religious obligations. Businesses, like arts and crafts retailer, Hobby Lobby, owned by evangelical Christians, the Green family, ministries, like the Order of Roman Catholic Nuns Little Sisters of the Poor, and educational institutions including my own alma mater, Wheaton College, are part of ongoing law suits seeking remedy from regulations, they consider to be a violation of their most deeply held religious belief about the sanctity of human life. Or consider the case of Elaine Huguenin, a Christian, whose family-owned photography business was sued after she declined to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Or Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who had happily serviced homosexual clients for years but politely declined the opportunity to use her creative talents to photograph and endorse a same-sex wedding, or Jack Phillips, owner of Colorado’s Masterpiece Cake Shop, who received a cease and desist order after declining to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony. These are just a few examples of the mounting incidences in which religious beliefs about the meaning and purpose of marriage clash with the enforcement of alternative sexual ethics, through so-called non-discrimination statutes. The Manhattan Declaration includes a strong reminder of the Christian obligation to obey the civil authority placed over us. Government is ordained by God and scripture reminds us that it does not bear the sword in vain. Given that, what is religious freedom? When does it apply and when, if ever, do Christians have an obligation to compromise their religious convictions? Is this as the Supreme Court Justice put in the Elaine Photography decision, simply the cost of citizenship? Or, have we reached a point where we must take heed of the words of Christ Himself when He was confronted with a question about the competing obligation between church and state. His answer, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are Gods.” These are a few of the important questions we will discuss this evening. I speak for my friends at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and on behalf of the Manhattan Declaration when I say, thank you very much for coming tonight, and without further adieu, I will introduce my friend, Andrew Walker.

ANDREW WALKER: Well good evening, as Eric said, my name’s Andrew Walker and I serve as the Director of Policy Studies with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. On behalf of the ERLC and Manhattan Declaration, I would like to formally welcome those here tonight and those watching online to tonight’s event on a conversation on faith, culture, and religious liberty in twenty-first century America. The ground rules for tonight’s event are pretty simple. We are going to have a conversation. There isn’t a game of twenty questions, we are here chatting about religious liberty. Our desire is to create enthusiasm for religious liberty by having provocative and influential thought leaders from different disciplines help us think through the dynamics, importance, and challenges of religious liberty in twenty-first century America by engaging in thoughtful Q&A, conversational format where polite disagreement is welcomed. Also panelists are invited to engage one another and ask each other questions. Basically, the less I talk the better tonight goes. Tonight we are striving at both the theoretical aspects of religious freedom but also a discussion about current events that are driving the conversation in the media narrative about religious freedom. So with that, I want to welcome our panelists onto stage and I will introduce them, if you want to welcome them. Seated directly next to me is Dr. Russell Moore, he is the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC is the SBC’s official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns. Dr. Moore speaks frequently to issues of theology, culture and public policy, having been quoted or published by many of the world’s leading news agencies and periodicals, including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, U.S.A. Today, and many others. Next to him is Kirsten Powers, she is a columnist for the Daily Beast. She is also a contributor to U.S.A. Today and a Fox News political analyst. She served in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1998, and has worked in New York State and city politics. Her writing has been published in the Wall Street Journal, U.S.A. Today, The New York Post, The New York Observer, and Salon.com. Next to her is Dr. Timothy Shah, who serves as the Associate Director of the Religious Freedom Project of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and is also a visiting Assistant Professor in Government at Georgetown University. He is a political scientist specializing in the relationship between religion and political freedom and theory, history, and contemporary practice. Next to Dr. Shah is Jennifer Marshall who serves as the Director of Domestic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. There she oversees the research in areas that determine the character of our culture: Education, marriage, family, religion, and civil society. She has spoken at national forums, testified before congress, and appeared on numerous radio and television shows. Finally at the end, we have Ross Douthat, who at the New York Times is an op-ed columnist in April 2009. Previously, he was senior editor at The Atlantic and a blogger for TheAtlantic.com. His most recent book is ¬Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Now just a couple of housekeeping items, around 8:10 or 8:15 we will take a very quick intermission. But around 8:20 we conclude with the conversation and move towards Q&A, and we invite you to submit your questions for those here and those online but using the hashtag ERLCLive, which you will see on the screen and after the event we invite you to hang around and enjoy the refreshments in the back and if you want to connect with the ERLC, or even sign the Manhattan Declaration, both of those opportunities will be available in the back. So, with that, I want to go ahead and kick off the first question. And this is for Dr. Shah. And this is a birds-eye view question. We want to set the ground work theoretically before we dive in to the particulars. And this is kind of a multi-tiered question. So brace yourself.

TIMOTHY SHAH: It sounds scary.

ANDREW WALKER: It is. What is religious belief, religious freedom and can you explain the difference between the freedom of worship and the freedom of religion?

TIMOTHY SHAH: Thank you, well, this is a great privilege and honor to be here. I’ve been part of a two-day conference on religious freedom at Georgetown which Ross was a part of earlier today, so I am really geared up, ready to go and keep talking about religious freedom. Well, I think there really is a big difference between freedom of worship and religious freedom. I think it I far to say and it is important to emphasize this because there really has been a dumbing down in the way we have talked about religious freedom of late, and this is not unique to any political party necessarily, but I think you can see in the rhetoric of a lot of high-profile public officials the tendency to talk about freedom of worship as really the sum total of religious freedom, but precisely because religious belief—you asked about what is religious belief; really is our belief about our place in the universe. It is our belief about who we are, about the meaning and purpose of life, and if that is what religion is, religion has to be about more than worship. Religion is about practice, it is about community. Religion touches all aspects of life and it certainly is not true of all religious people but many, many religious people really take it to be a duty, to conform the entire pattern of their life in accord with their basic religious convictions. That’s not unique to Christians; it is true of many other religious believers. So to say, well, we have respected religious freedom because we let you worship in your church or synagogue is completely false, which, by the way, is why the first amendment goes out of its way not to protect freedom of worship, what is protected is the free exercise of religion. Free exercise has always meant much more than freedom of worship, but also by the way means much more than just respecting a freedom of conscience. The framers had the opportunity to insert in the First Amendment, something about liberty of conscience but went out of their way to respect free exercise of religion, much more capacious concept.

ANDREW WALKER: Okay, if religious freedom is so important and its about connecting us with the transcendent and the ability to live out the transcendent, you will notice, it seems to not be an issue that everyday Americans are concerned about on their hierarchy of issues. I would love to hear someone on the panel discuss why is there a disconnect between this first freedom that we hold so importantly, and the lack of enthusiasm from the grassroots about this issue?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Well, we have a lot of religious freedom in America, right? I mean, and obviously I don’t think we’d be sitting here tonight for this panel if there weren’t issues and difficulties and threats and storm clouds looming and all the rest, but it is important to recognize that no only compared to countries around the world where religious minorities are actually subjected to persecution, but even compared to a lot of countries in Western Europe that don’t have the tradition of First Amendment protections, the United States has a remarkably robust both constitutional and popular commitment to religious freedom and people are believers, non-believers alike are less likely to focus on it precisely because it sort of gets taken for granted. I think this has been particularly true, if you look at sort of the debates of the last thirty or forty years, I think politics and religion and sort of the intertwinement of the two is moved in kind of cycles where there was a period where you had a series of Supreme Court decisions that really did seem to limit the scope of religious freedom as it had been understood in the first couple of centuries of American History, starting basically running from the 1940s through the 1970s, and then over the past thirty years you have driven in part by sort of the conservative movement and conservative legal therapy but by other trends as well that sort of shift in the opposite direction from the courts to the point where, it was interesting, Tim was there for the panel that I was on this afternoon at Georgetown where I was with E.J. Dionne and Kenneth Starr, and I was expecting to sort of be the moderating influence between the two, but actually Judge Starr was incredibly sort of buoyantly optimistic about religious freedom and I would guess that for someone of his generation coming out of the experience of sort of watching the trajectory of jurist prudence on this issue from the seventies to the present day, there is a lot of reason to think sort of the pendulum has swung overall in the direction of greater religious freedom. I think in a way what is interesting now whereas, in an earlier generation, religious believers were more likely to look to legislatures as a sort of refuge from the over aggression of the courts on these issues. Today, it is almost the other way around. But it seems pretty clear that the Supreme Court at least is friendlier to religious freedom than perhaps the current White House but even current Congress and so on. So, that would be one way of looking at it at least.

RUSSELL MOORE: I think another issue for why people don’t feel this as a sort of an intuitive primal cause, is because there has been so much effort given over the past several years to, I think, hyperbolic rhetoric about Christians being mistreated in American society, the war on Christmas, the war on…it was often presented in terms of Christians taking personal offence at secularists doing things we don’t want them to do, in a way that just becomes part of cyclical in most people minds. So when there are real and present threats to religious liberty, it simply seems to a lot of people, I think, like just so much rhetoric that they no longer pay attention to it.

ANDREW WALKER: Okay, Kirsten, this question is for you. Religious liberty as Dr. Moore kind of hinted at, seems to be a creature of the religious right, that we are always crying foul on these issues, that is often how it appears, from your perspective as someone on the other side of the isle, why are religious conservatives having a difficult time in gaining a wider coalition, or I can even ask it this way—Why does religious liberty have the appearance of being a partisan issue?

KIRSTEN POWERS: I think it is exactly what you just said. That people associate it with grievances over Wal-Mart employees not saying Merry Christmas, to things that to a lot of secular people, even frankly to me, I’m a believer, but, seems petty and not really to even describe it as religious persecution, one, you consider the things that go on around the world for Christians, you know, we shouldn’t use that word lightly, persecution. I would never say that just because we aren’t having our churches burnt down doesn’t mean that we are not being persecuted, I wouldn’t say that, you still could be being persecuted by the government, but we have to be careful when we use that word and when we really start claiming that we are under assault because people aren’t, I think, generally that sympathetic in the first place, and then they get less sympathetic, the more you start crying about very petty things.

ANDREW WALKER: Dr. Moore, I have a question for you next. You wrote a blog post after the Louie Giglio Incident, following the inauguration that shut down the servers of Southern Seminary, that’s quite the feat. In this blog post, you wrote, “The Christian faith in every expression has held for two thousand years that sexual immorality is sinful. This same Christian faith has maintained again in every branch that sexual expression outside of conjugal marriage is sin, and the Christian faith has maintained universally that all persons are sinners and that no sinner can inter the kingdom with repentance. This is hardly new. The shock with which the so-called anti-gay stance is articulated by the left, is akin to the pork producers association denouncing a Muslim Imams invitation because he is anti-agriculture due to Koranic dietary restrictions. In fact, by the standards of this controversy, no Muslim Imam or Orthodox Jewish Rabi alive, can pray at a Presidential inauguration. When it is now impossible for one who holds to the Catholic Christian view of marriage and the gospel to pray at a public event, we now have a de facto established state church.” So here is my question. Giglio never had his religious liberty civilly violated or penalized, he is still free to hold and preach his views, from your perspective, why was this particular episode involving Louie Giglio and the presidential inauguration so troubling?

RUSSELL MOORE: Well, it was not troubling because I think somehow that Louie Giglio has a right to pray at a presidential inauguration, that wasn’t what troubled me. I don’t think we need evangelical Christian representation on the day of any inaugural event. What troubled me instead was the way this happened. You have someone who is selected and asked to pray and then a controversy erupts when people are shocked that an evangelical Christian holds to an evangelical view of marriage. And this isn’t Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church, this is a very mainstream Christian view that would have been held, as I mentioned in the quote that you read a few minutes ago, that would have been held by people outside of Christianity and also the Dali Lama would not have been welcome to pray at that inauguration based upon those standards. What troubled me wasn’t a legislative act or even an executive order, what troubled me was the cultural move that sees this as being something so toxic that it can’t be welcomed on the platform. Louie Giglio’s position on same-sex marriage whether you agree with it or not, was exactly the same as President Obama’s view about at least the legality of same-sex marriage just a few years ago, and is certainly something that is represented in American society. So it was the cultural move that concerned me, fitting in with so many other things that we see going on in American society right now. Now, again, I don’t think the answer to that is to stand up and say, we need so many evangelicals and so many Roman Catholics and so many Muslims to pray, I think it just signals a tendency in American society to endorse the civil religion, a bland, generic, nothing blob of civil religion over genuine religious pluralism and diversity in the public square. That’s what troubled me there, and I think we see the same sort of thing happening with, for instance, some of the questions we have going on over at Chaplaincy, there is a move to say, we ought to see chaplains as being the carriers of the American civil religion, in a way that seeks to counsel and to do some religious duties but not to actually be Roman Catholics or Evangelicals or Latter Day Saints or Muslims or what have you. I think that is troubling. I think we need more religious pluralism in the public square; I don’t believe in religious pluralism in terms of truth claims, but I believe in religious pluralism in the public square where everyone comes as he or she is into the public square for more dialogue and not less, and the shutting down of this was troubling to me.

ANDREW WALKER: Jennifer, question for you. I am going to kind of offer up some long-hanging fruit. Can you explain the HHS Mandate and the Non-discrimination Ordinances that create conflict with religious liberty? I mean, can you sort through the angles and get to the heart of the issue why these particular issues in contemporary America are causing so much conflict?

JENNIFER MARSHALL: Well, given the pluralism that Russell just talked about, we have increasing pluralism of religious views and ideology and it runs against the grain of that then when we have increasingly centralized decision making as we have now seen in the healthcare law. So, for instance, in education, educational choice is a way to avoid the zero sum game effort to ideologically direct the content of public schools. It allows parents to be able to choose a place where they can educate their children according to the values and to the needs of the children. In the same way, healthcare, we have all kinds of…healthcare involves very intimate, personal, often religiously directed kinds of decision making for an individual and a family. So, when more and more of the details of healthcare are assumed into a pretty massive federal law that is dictating what Americans must buy, what insurers must offer, what employers must cover, it allows no way out of that box and particularly when a mandate, one of the very first mandates with regard to what must be covered comes out instructing that nearly all insurance plans must cover aborting-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization regardless of religious view point, effectively the only ones exempted are formal houses of worship and their affiliated auxiliaries which basically means if you have a church-run soup kitchen or something to that effect, you can be exempted, but the kinds of folks that cannot be exempted from this are people like Tyndale Bible Publishers, Wheaton College where Eric and I went to college, and Little Sisters of the Poor, that are helping elderly to be cared for. All these kinds of groups are not religious enough to receive an exemption, not to mention all those who would like to be running a family business according to the dictates of their conscience, and that is something that we’ve understood, back to the first question that Tim answered about the difference between the freedom of worship and the free exercise of religion. I ran across a quote from the first lady, Michele Obama, today, maybe some of you have seen this, it is a very rich quote about why she was expressing on behalf of her family but faith was not just something they did on Sunday, it was something they lived out through the week. Well, it’s a perfect understanding of what we are trying to say here, that not just churches, but religious institutions and even individuals who are faithful would want to run a business or undertake their endeavors consistent with their faith. That is something that, as they try to give benefits to their employees, they should be allowed to do so in a way that is affirming to the values that they are trying to establish in their enterprise; that’s something that is very much at the heart of our American entrepreneurial spirit, but as we try to consolidate more decision-making in massive overhauls like this, we are going to see a collision with the increasing pluralism of America.

ANDREW WALKER: Go ahead

ROSS DOUTHAT: Good. Well, I mean, I was just going to complicate this a little bit by saying that the challenge in part that all of the panelists have been speaking to a little bit is that the danger, I think, for religious believers, religious conservatives, Christians, whatever group you choose, in thinking about this and arguing this, I mean, in certain ways we are here talking about religious liberty because it has become a sort of front that a lot of religious conservatives have effectively retreated to in culture war debates and particularly culture war debates surrounding issues of sexuality, homosexuality, and so on. And I think that that retreat is sort of necessary and possibly over due given the swiftness of cultural change on some of these issues and I have a lot of friends who have been sort of engaged particularly around the debates about gay marriage and sort of arguing whether this retreat should have begun sooner and at what point do you sort of recognize the battles are being lost and that it is more important sort of preserve the rights of your community effectively. All of that is true and important but it is also important to recognize that the arguments from religious liberty alone are not going to suffice if a culture like our own decides that certain positions that religious traditionalists, conservative Christians hold are simply beyond the ethical pale, right? I mean, I think that for all the sort of deep and rich tradition of religious liberty and diversity in American history, it is also the case that there have been points at which regarding particular religious communities and traditions, either the state or society or both combined have drawn lines and said this is a religious freedom too far, and this was true of Mormon polygamy in the late 19th century, it was true and remains true of issues related to race and religion and everybody in this room is I’m sure familiar with the case of Bob Jones University that sort of gets held up as kind of a negative example for Christian colleges thinking about how to navigate this issues but I think, Kirsten can speak to this more than I can, but particularly on the American left right now, there is an assumption that over the next ten, twenty-five, fifty, or seventy-five years, issues related to homosexuality specifically will follow a trajectory similar to issues related to race and racism, and there will come a point when, and I think most people who hold this view, will say there will come a point when they are just most sort of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues in time will change their views on homosexuality too and then the outliers that remain will deserve to end up in the position of a Bob Jones University. This is not true to the same extent of issues, sort of broader issues surrounding sexuality that tie into the contraception mandate but there is some of that there where you have, again, arguments saying look there are these sort of fundamental freedoms, freedom of employees, freedom of women, and so on that the state needs to balance against religious freedom and so on. So, what all of this means is that even when you are in the process of sort of retreating to what is effectively the redoubt of religious freedom, it is insufficient to only make that retreat. You actually have to continue arguing for the legitimacy of the underlying views that you are trying to protect because in the end, the first amendment in America’s tradition of religious tolerance will not suffice to protect Christians if the completely dominant cultural view is that the traditional Christian view of sex is horrifically bigoted, awful, and basically life destroying.

KIRSTEN POWERS: I would say that that is absolutely right, that is the way it is seen on the left and I just think it is sort of objectively true that that is the trajectory that we are on but a lot of my Christian friends will talk about this and say, you know, well this isn’t going to be fair, we are going to be ostracized, we are going to sort of be pushed to the margins of society and, to me, that’s, you know, we are Christians, right? To a certain extent we should expect that and that may happen, and I will always stand up for my pastor’s right to say I’m not going to perform a gay marriage, and I will have to take whatever comes with that basically and I don’t expect anybody to feel sorry for me because of it, and I think sometimes I hear a lot of Christians talking in a very self-pitying way, like woe is us because this is the way society is going but, this is what it is probably going to mean for a lot of people and, you know, that’s not religious persecution by the state, that is the society basically saying we have different views than you have. That’s a very different thing than if the state to say we are going to force you to perform a gay marriage or something like that, which I think, or we are going to put you in jail for a sermon. That would be religious persecution, but we need to keep them separate and understand that people not liking you is not religious persecution.

ROSS DOUTHAT: And also, just to sort of caveat my previous statement along those lines, even the government sort of passing restrictions and sort of harassing you and so on, does not necessarily rise to the level that people think of when they think of religious persecution and I think here, this is both Catholics and protestants have history here, but for Catholics especially, if you look back over the sweep of two thousand years of sort of church state entanglements, there were periods when the church had to live with kings appointing bishops and kings appointing priests, and all these things that sort

TIMOTHY SHAH: And that was terrible….

ROSS DOUTHAT: Well in the Lutheran settlements, yeah, it is going to be free wheeling dialogue here tonight. But right, so given that, I mean, I think the reality of a state that sort of harasses religious institutions around issues of same-sex marriage and that sort of forces, you know, I think like the Catholic archdiocese in San Francisco has done something, I could be wrong about this, where they effectively have stopped offering marital benefits to comply with non-discrimination ordinances, and they’ve just said, well, you know, you can designate a beneficiary, and we are not sort of taking a position, a moral position on this, and so on. There are a lot of places where you will end up with sort of accommodations like that but that are not ending in back to the catacombs on the rack kind of stuff.

TIMOTHY SHAH: At our conference at Georgetown today, Ross played sort of cautious, well, you were the pessimist; Ross was the cautious pessimist, now he’s a little more optimistic. I am going to be the not cautious pessimist and say that I actually really do think that the big elephant in the room in terms of emerging threats to religious liberty does come from shifting sexual effects, that what I think we can plausibly foresee is not just the discomfort of having associates disagree with our views, but having the power of the state systematically favor one set of views over another. I don’t think that that is alarmist; I think this is what you were speaking to, Dr. Moore, talking about the inaugural controversy. I mean, imagine a world in which religious institutions lose their tax exempt status because they don’t conform to the emerging sexual morality. I mean, imagine, Ross is already alluding to this, imagine that opposition to same-sex marriage is treated the same way as racism has been treated in our civil rights statutes and so forth. So imagine that religious universities, colleges, as Bob Jones lost its ability to receive federal funding and so forth, imagine that that happens. Imagine, in other words, where there is systematic government enforced sanctioned favoritism towards one cluster of views over another. I mean, this is a good point actually to broaden out our conversation to include the rest of the world. It might sound like well complaining about these kinds of things really is at best distasteful in a world where Coptic Christians are having their churches burned; eighty-five to a hundred churches were burned in August where Muslims in Myanmar are being systematically attacked by mostly, but its majority. Country after country has seen horrific religious persecution, but the data show that you are far more likely to have very very dangerous forms of religious violence and hostility in societies where governments systemically favor one kind of religious view over another. That’s what the Pugh Research Center data show—that countries that systematically favor, the government puts its thumb on the scale and says, we prefer that kind of religious view over these other ones. That creates profound civic alienation. It creates distrust between large segments of population and the government; it creates distrust between groups of people. I am sorry to say that I don’t think that that is very far down the road in our country. I wish were not the case, I hope and pray that it is not the case. The shift first dawned on me when I was sitting in a lecture hall at Harvard Law School about twenty years ago and the great Catholic natural law theorist John Finnis, was giving a lecture, about conscience and morality and while he was speaking, this is one of the most respected legal theorists in the world, and it had turned out he had just testified in the Colorado Amendment II trial on issues of same-sex marriage and so forth, and during his lecture a student got up, pushed a button and behind him a big screen came down and the student before had put up the sign “homophobe” while he was lecturing. Imagine if we all start to live in a society where the moment we open our mouth someone in effect will push a button and put up a big sign behind us that says homophobe.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Are you familiar with the comment threads……WashingtonPost.com.

TIMOTHY SHAH: That’s right, Ross is already facing this; but what happens if the government then adds its coercive, as well as teaching authority to social sanction, and puts up a big sign on your forehead and mine that based on our personal religious and moral views, we are in a sense not worthy, reasonable, liberal, democratic citizens. I don’t think this is any way alarmist. I mean, I think this is actually already happening. What happened at Harvard Law School twenty years ago will pretty much happen in twenty years.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Ted Cruz is proof of that.

TIMOTHY SHAH: Yeah, so, I want to play the apocalyptic pessimist if I may.

JENNIFER MARSHALL: So I think one way to put in proper perspective and proportion the size of our religious liberty challenges with the rest of the world, is to, as a Christian I will say that I anticipate having greater and greater challenges and we must be ready for that as contesting Christians. But as a Christian citizen, I have a duty to steward those blessings that we have and to do that not as parochial interests but to do so because of the goods that this has created in this wonderful nation that we’ve inherited and there has been a lot of discussion about even the fact that we have toleration, even that we have the room to have very vocal atheists who have great deal of animosity for everything we are saying here tonight, the Christian contribution to that space has been enormous and there are lots of very bright people wondering how long we can live on the fumes of that. So, even a tolerance that we enjoy here, the common good, these are all reasons that for our neighbor’s good, we should steward the enormous religious liberty we have and be very vigilant at each erosion of it, and that’s why I do think we have to take things seriously. It is also why we have to make publically accessible arguments. Tim and I sat through a project with the Witherspoon Institute and Tim produced a wonderful monograph on religious liberty and one of the common refrains there was that religious expression in the public square should be very welcome and one of the things we should expect to that is that it is meant to be a dialogue that is publically accessible and that needs to be true of our case for marriage, that needs to be true of our case for life, for all these things that we were claiming, we need to make reasonable arguments as well in the public square to engage on why there are public goods associated with these things.

RUSSELL MOORE: I do think it is important that the places where we fight on these issues have to be at the beginning in the beginning stages. There is always a time where there is something that is worse going on or something worse that could be going on. My Baptist forbearers in this country were petitioning for a first amendment because they objected to having to have licenses to preach. There are worse things that have happened in the history of religious persecution but they knew that license to preach represented something greater, which was a state that stood over the consciences of people and that is worth fighting for. We need to see that happening at the front end, not later when we are dealing with much more complicated and much more harassing sorts of elements of state power.

ANDREW WALKER: Well, we are familiar with Richard John Neuhaus’ use of the phrase, “the naked public square,” a public square where religion and religious values are somehow off limits, so how does we advocate for the legitimacy of religious values in a society that is no longer being governed by religious categories? And I pose that to the panel at large. Is there a way forward for us to express the liberal democratic good of religion in a society and in an elite that no longer shares those assumptions?

TIMOTHY SHAH: I think so. I mean, the Christian faith has a long tradition. I mean, you could argue that Christianity actually invented the idea of the secular state—that seems odd. You know, it was early church fathers and popes who actually stood up to the state and said no, your job is to look after worldly affairs and our job is to look after spiritual affairs. In other words, that was the moment when, in fact, the idea of a state as secular was invented, a state that isn’t supposed to be God; it isn’t supposed to be invested with sacral functions. This has been the great antithesis of Baptist tradition which really in a sense sharpened the idea of separation of church and state. That came not from the Enlightenment; it came from the Baptists in the 1600s, Thomas Helwys and Roger Williams. That really is in a sense a….

RUSSELL MOORE: We got it from Jesus.

TIMOTHY SHAH: You got it from Jesus, right. Jesus had something to do with it…

ANDREW WALKER: Typical Baptist.

TIMOTHY SHAH: …But we don’t have to be uncomfortable with kind of secular political language and on religious liberty, there is a tremendous case to be made that regardless of your point of view, regardless of your religion, regardless of your ideology, we spent two days again at Georgetown hearing from world renown economists and political scientists, some of them were religious, most of them were not, and the consciences of these scholars is that societies destroy themselves when they don’t maximize protections for religious freedom. The reason that the Arab Spring has become an Arab Winter, a very cold Arab Winter, not just for religious minorities, but for all the people affected, by all the people of Egypt, is because these societies have not had a robust sphere of civil society that is independent of state control, and they have not had a sphere where religious organizations can operate on the basis of freedom and equality. They have lousy economies, very poor prospects of democratization, a terrible social violence, largely because of one thing, the lack of religious freedom. So, I think we have a whole armory of arguments to make that underscore the point that we should be vigilant. We can, in fact, imagine an America with much less religious liberty than it has—do we want that? Do we want that for our children and grandchildren? Do we want a society where it is harder for religious organizations to serve poor children? Do we want a society where it is harder for churches to help all the children during the summer time who are much more likely to go hungry in our country because they don’t have access to school lunch programs? Childhood hunger spikes during the summer time. If religious organizations are not freed up to be able to solve that problem, if they are hampered, if there are more restrictions on them, that problem is less likely to be solved. I mean, there are a hundred examples of that sort where religious organizations play all kinds of positive functions and that will be much harder, that is much harder in regimes which limit religious liberty, which constrain or put the thumb on the scale.

ROSS DOUTHAT: I guess I’d also push back a little bit on the idea that American culture is not governed by religious categories and that the public square really is becoming more naked, more secular. I mean, I think that, again, if you look at sort of the religious freedom issues as they stood in the sixties and seventies when Father Neuhaus was writing his book, I think that narrative made more sense at that point because it really was a situation where you had an elite that was much more secularized than the population as a whole, sort of pushing a very specific set of explicitly secularizing legal changes. I think if you look at the culture now, what is distinctive about America is that, this is sort of a hobby-horse of mine, and it is obviously sort of open to debate, but I think we are very much still awash in religious impulses, ideas, you know, the entire sort of spiritual but not religious category, is actually a religious category, then an incredibly important one and I think that it has implications for how these debates play out, I think it is very telling that when president Obama had his “conversion” on gay marriage and went on television to talk about it, he talked about it in the language of Christianity, and talked about it in the language of sort of what would Jesus do? And I think that is sort of true on a wide range of these kind of issues that what is the challenge in this landscape is less about saying that religion can be valuable because I think the culture believes that and more about making both the specific case that what we were talking about at the beginning right, that freedom of worship entails freedom of exercise as well, and that religion is a corporate freedom, as well as an individual freedom, right? I think that sort of, because the religious culture is so individualist, so do it yourself, so, you know, Eat, Pray, Love and so on, people are like well, yes, of course you can have your religion but what’s this about your church having the freedom to discriminate against people. Where does that come in? And then sort of secondarily making the argument that, as I said before, that is sort of these specific elements of traditional western monotheistic whatever thinking have a place in the public dialogue. I mean, I think if you look at sort of the mass media’s reaction to Pope Francis, right? And the sort of almost wild enthusiasm surrounding a pontiff who makes some comments that seem to suggest a softening of sort of the public Catholic line on some of these frock culture war issues, that is not the reaction of a hyper secular society that is just sort of eager to sweep Catholicism to the margins, it is the reaction of a still fairly religious society that is happy that it seems like the pope is finally getting on board with where this train is going, right? So, I think in a way it is a more encouraging landscape for religious believers than the sort of completely secularizing landscape that a lot of people thought we were headed towards in the seventies because, guess what? You know, people are still interested in God, they are still interested in religion, the religious impulse doesn’t go away but it is also more challenging in certain ways because you are not just saying well there are these secular elites and we have to fight them on behalf of the Christian heart-landers out there whoever they may be.

ANDREW WALKER: I have one last question before we take a brief break here, and it is actually for Ross, and it is about everyone’s favorite culture war issue, Chick-fil-A. I read every single column you write and of all the columns you wrote, your one on Chick-fil-A was noticeably, it struck a different tone. You wrote this, “if you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think, that the exercise of our religion threatens all that is good and decent and that you are going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will. There. Didn’t that feel better? Now we can get on with the fight.” If you can think back to that far, what was it about this particular event that got you riled up to produce a column that was not typical?

ROSS DOUTHAT: It’s funny because I had had lunch a couple of weeks before that column with a couple of young men, who along with Eric, have been involved in some of the battles surrounding gay marriage, ….

TIMOTHY SHAH: Not a Chick-fil-A…

ROSS DOUTHAT: Not a Chick-fil-A, well, actually at what’s the southern restaurant in downtown DC? Georgia Brown’s; which is sort of a Chick-fil-A overlap there. But I mean Chick-fil-A is way better because Chick-fil-A is better than anything except Jesus. But, yeah, we had this conversation and they were very focused on you know sounding like Tim on sort of these emerging threats to religious liberty and I was playing the sort of more jaded worldly, you know 2000 years of Catholic history card I played earlier and so on, and then the Chick-fil-A debate happened and I wrote that column, and one of them e-mailed me and said well where did that come from? I said something like, you know, part of taking a generally sort of guardedly pessimistic attitude where you are sort of not expecting the absolute worst and so on is you also want to, in specific instances, you want to push back very sharply, right? And I think those two attitudes can and should co-exist, right? That sort of if we are talking about the general pattern of American life, I am not going to say you know we are spiraling into a climate of major religious persecution because I don’t think we are, but if you take the specific example of mayors of major American cities saying that Chick-fil-A is not welcome in their city limits, that is a travesty, right? And it is something that requires, I think, yeah, a more strenuous push back than my usual even-handed-to-a-fault style of column writing might suggest. But, I mean, the point I was making there was the point that I have been trying to make here, right, that it is a point for people on the other side of these debates but it is a point for religious believers as well to recognize that just appealing to religious freedom is not going to work in a context where you are in an argument with people who think that that particular exercise of your religion is something that should be stamped out the way we tried to stamp out polygamy in the 19th century, but, of course, the wheel turns, and any of you watch Polygamy USA on the National Geographic channel? Fascinating stuff. I’m just saying when the real persecution starts, my wife has picked out a few sister-wives and I haven’t met them yet but she says they are nice. They are recording this.

RUSSELL MOORE: I wish to apologize to the Southern Baptists right here and now. We had him with Jesus and Chick-fil-A, he was doing so well, and then…

ANDREW WALKER: It is 8:13, let’s take a brief brake and try to get started back at 8:20 and we will start that portion of tonight’s events with your all’s questions.

Alright, if everyone would take their seats please, we will go ahead and begin with the Q&A portion of the evening. I’m not going to ask any one particular person these questions, you all feel free to take a stab at ‘em, dialogue, disagree. This first question is from Molly Hemingway. She asks, why did the founders not just protect conscience? What does religious liberty give us that conscience protections don’t?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Journalists and their tough questions.

TIMOTHY SHAH: Well, religion is a special part of human life. It does have special value but it also historically has been a source of special conflict as well. So, I mean, it is important to remember, the first amendment, in a sense, imposes or provides special protection for religion but it also imposes a very special limit on religion. The non-establishment clause in sense singles out religion for a special limitation. There is no non-establishment clause with respect to other spheres of human life, like culture, or spheres we can think of, so religion is singled out in both a positive and a negative way. But I do think that the two clauses together can be unified under the objective of insuring that this very special part of human life is neither subject to special interference by the state, nor receives special privileging by the state, less there by a union of church and state that historically I think we realize has been very destructive. That was clear to the founders at the time and the benefit of further experience suggests in the benefit of all kinds of cross national experience, enables us to see very very clearly that that was absolutely true. There is abundant evidence to show that alliances, institutional alliances between churches and states, any religion, in any state is terribly, terribly destructive. There is also evidence to show that when religion is permitted a free space, that it actually does perform an incredible important valuable role in society, so that’s why it is important to single out religion. Religion is too powerful, too pervasive a force in human life to ignore, it is a distinctive good, religion, achieving some, whatever harmony we can with whatever transcendent reality there might be. Even people who don’t have any religious convictions in a sense are religious. There is a kind of, I think, intuitive recognition that one should do one’s best to understand the meaning of life and the widest reaches of reality and live in some kind of harmony with that reality. So, religion in the sense is not special to people who go to church, it is a distinctive good, and yet, it its relationship with the state has always been fraught and therefore it is important that it receive special protection, but also be prevented from having a kind of entangled relationship with the state. When we do that, religion is able again to be a very, very fruitful positive force in society.

ANDREW WALKER: Jay Paul Barker asks, are Christians at the forefront of religious freedom for all? Do we understand the implications must include our other?

RUSSELL MOORE: Well, that’s the key question and it must be the case. I think that one of the mistakes that Christians have made in years past is this kind of majoritarian understanding, we’ve got to fight for our own rights here and maintain our own rights without being very diligent and making sure that we are fighting for religious liberty for all persons. Now that hasn’t been the case throughout all of American history, but in recent years I think that that has been a problem—especially in my sort of world of evangelical Protestantism, sort of a lack of attention to this; but when we are talking about liberty of conscience and freedom of religion, we are talking about this for all people and that’s because, not because we believe anything less about the gospel as a Christian, because I believe more. I believe that as George Truitt, and old Baptist preacher said, “Government establishment can make people hypocrites, but it can’t make them believers.” If you really believe that, then that means that we need to have a free open market place of religion. So we need to be, evangelical Christians need to be the first people, and Catholic Christians and others, standing in any given community and saying we really don’t want the mayor to have the power to keep a mosque out of here simply because it is a mosque. And not only because we know that that is eventually going to be turned against us, but also because we believe that there is something important about keeping the state within its bounds, not taking on the role of God to be able to have that free and open dialogue that we must have.

TIMOTHY SHAH: I will say though, I think there is a general, and I take it part of the reason for this meeting, is that there is an appalling lack of engagement of Christians on the issue of religious freedom. It is beyond outrageous that we don’t have a much greater immobilization on the part of you, on the part of Christians in this country about religious liberty, setting aside the challenges in this country; we live a world of the most grotesque outrageous and escalating religious persecution. There is no outrage about this. If this kind of thing were happening in any other domain, if we were witnessing the kinds of dramatic forms of religious persecution that we are witnessing, if we saw the equivalent kinds of human rights violations, I would expect some kind of movement; at least among religious people, but we don’t see this among Christians. What on earth is going on? What would have to happen? What worse forms of persecution would have to happen? I mean, in the last few months we have witnessed dramatic attacks on Christians in Egypt, we have witnessed escalating attacks on Christians and non-Muslims in Kenya. This horrific attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi was a religiously targeted attack. It was not a general attack on a shopping mall. People were allowed out of that shopping mall if they could demonstrate that they were Muslims. Hindus and Christians were targeted ruthlessly. This is happening all over the world. It is happening in India where I spent this last summer. It is happening in Sri Lanka. It is happening in country after country. It is happening in countries that have not seen this level of persecution. It is happening in Tanzania. I will just say one quick thing about Tanzania. President Obama visited Tanzania in July of this past summer because he said and the state department said that Tanzania is a model of religious peace and tolerance. In the last two years, Catholic priests have been assassinated; a Pentecostal pastor was beheaded a few months before president Obama went to Tanzania. We are seeing gross attacks on Christians in the island of Zanzibar, which is part of Tanzania, I mean, I could go on for two or three hours, Knox Thames from the U.S. Commission for Religious Freedom is here; his job and the job of the commission is to document these kinds of horrific attacks. These attacks are publically known and yet, what are churches doing about this? I mean, I’ve talked to some Christians, I’ve talked to people in my church, I’ve spoken about it but this has not caught on as an issue. I warmly applaud Kirsten Powers for writing about it, but there are not a lot of people writing about it, Christian or not. But surely at least Christians should write about it; I mean if we’re not writing about it or talking about it or doing something about it then who is going to do something about it? Where is the outrage?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I mean I would say as someone who hasn’t written about it recently and I completely agree that it’s, you made me feel ashamed about that, but part of the dynamic here though is that there is a tension, a slight tension in certain ways between the desire to be champions of a completely ecumenical religious liberty at home and the way that people, I think, naturally, not necessarily sort of theoretically correctly, but naturally, think about the persecution of Christians overseas because most of the persecution that you are describing is happening between the fault line between Christianity and Islam; it certainly is the most natural way that American Christians and western Christians relate to that, is not by thinking about it in terms of the abstract value of religious liberty but in thinking of it in terms of the fourteen-hundred-year-old conflict between Christianity and Islam which then in turn, you know, for a lot of American Christians they are not going to Tanzania, maybe they are in an evangelical congregation and have been on mission trips and so on, but a lot of people, you know if you are sort of a middle class, ordinary, American Christian your contact with that far-off fault line is maybe through the Mosque that is being built in your town. It is happening but it is happening in almost exactly the wrong ways in certain ways that you decide that the way to sort of express your solidarity with Christians in Tanzania is to vote for a misguided anti-Sharia bill in your home state. Right? I mean that that might be part of what’s happening there.

TIMOTHY SHAH: Well, I think that’s a great point but I think if Christians started to be concerned and active about the persecution of Christians, I feel that many of them, maybe not all,
would then begin to be concerned about wider forms of persecution. I’m the first to say, I mean, I am as horrified to find out what was happening to Muslims in Myanmar as I am about what is happening to Christians, I’m concerned about what is happening to Hindus in Pakistan. But I take your point but we have to start somewhere. I mean, let’s be outraged about something, or some form of it, somehow, and begin to build some kind of movement.

RUSSELL MOORE: And there is something natural about Christians taking recognition of the world-wide body of Christ being persecuted in the same way, for instance, that Polish Americans were standing up and saying, we really need to think about what is happening in Eastern Europe because we have a natural connection with the people that are there. And you are right—we start there but talk about religious liberty for all people everywhere.

KIRSTEN POWERS: But I also think, you know, you have to remember that where a lot of this persecution is happening is the birthplace of Christianity so it carries an even greater urgency, I think, that people are being driven out, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a religious minority driven out of the Middle East. Many Rabbi’s have pointed out that they noticed the same exact thing is happening to Christians and they can’t understand why Christians are not hysterical, why they aren’t showing up in front of embassies, and protesting. I do think Ross definitely hit on something in terms of the sort of reflexive, maybe take it out on the ground zero mosque thing or something which is completely backwards because often these are more moderate Muslims that Christians are turning on when in fact the problem is radical Islam. Even in Egypt, yes, Coptic Christians were treated badly under Mubarak but they weren’t being persecuted the way they are being persecuted under the Muslim Brotherhood. As it will get worse, in Syria right now I am just hearing horror stories of what is happening to Christians because of all of these radical Islamist rebels, and living in a country that is a majority Christian country and that has not been pushed into the center of the conversation over what we should be doing in Syria, is more than a little odd. You know, that nobody is questioning the fact that we are actually considering arming the people that are murdering Christians, that are going through, they are doing pogroms literally just wiping out entire villages. So I just think there needs to be more education of how Christians could place pressure on the government frankly to be doing the right things, to be pressuring Saudi Arabia who is ostensibly supposed to be one of our friends, to stop spreading anti-Christian propaganda throughout the Middle East, that basically tells people that they are completely justified in treating Christians this way.

JENNIFER MARSHALL: I think one of the reasons that we fail so badly at that and we don’t know what the tools are to use, is that it goes back to that fundamental lack of understanding of how to integrate our understanding of the First Amendment, of our free exercise of religion and so on. The wonderful experiment in religious liberty that has contributed to the success of this American endeavor for the last several centuries, we don’t have a very good time at the state department of explaining that abroad. There is not a real comfort level with that and so your program at the Berkley Center has talked a lot about public diplomacy and the state department needing to have more understanding of what this religious heritage in the United States means, what our religious liberty tenants mean, how we should represent that abroad, particularly to very religious populations and there’s just not a deep level of cognizance about how you might use the tools of state craft in that regard; that and the fact of our lack of facility generally of how to articulate religious liberty in the midst of a pluralistic society. So its kind of all bound together, I think.

ROSS DOUTHAT: But it’s also bound together and I think it is interesting and often depressing ways in the ways conservative coalition politics and sort of conservative intellectual politics or something if you will, have run in American life, particularly since 09/11, and where you had this dynamic where American foreign policy in the Bush era was being made by a president who was very closely associated with evangelical Christianity and the thrust of that foreign policy for a while was the idea that

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