Interview: Women Speak for Themselves

March 19, 2014

Editor’s Note: From time to time, Canon & Culture will feature interviews with like-minded organizations doing great work deserving of even wider attention. We’re proud to have interviewed Meg T. McDonnell, Communications Director of Women Speak for Themselves, a grassroots campaign designed to bring attention to religious liberty from a female perspective.

C&C: What is Women Speak For Themselves?

WSFT: Women Speak For Themselves (WSFT) is a grassroots organization of women, founded by Helen Alvaré (Law professor, George Mason University) and her neighbor, Kim Daniels (religious liberty attorney). WSFT started in response to the claims that opposition to the HHS Mandate was men vs. women, and religious freedom vs. women’s freedom. Helen and Kim wrote an open letter speaking out against the Obama administration, members of Congress, and members of the media who continued to claim they spoke on behalf of all women. Helen and Kim each passed the letter to a handful of friends. The letter spread by word of mouth, woman to woman, very quickly—gaining a couple thousand signatures its first weekend and 7000 signatures by the end of its first week. Presently it has more than 41,000 woman signers from all 50 states and various political and religious profiles.

Our list is made up of diverse and intelligent women–with thousands of doctors, lawyers, teachers, businesswomen, homeschooling mothers, and longtime community advocates. Our partnership with the women–and I think we really do see it as a partnership–has produced hundreds of letters to the editor, town hall meetings, letters and meetings with congressional representatives, social media postings, and the occasional protest for religious freedom. Many of the women correspond with Helen weekly; they’re active on our Facebook page (which reaches between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people weekly) and they’re active in their communities. Often, our members alert us to opportunities, and send us literature that enlightens our efforts. They suggest slogans, projects and contacts. It’s a great nationwide collaborative effort!

C&C: What are the issues WSFT is concerned with?

WSFT: Because we got started as a response to the HHS Mandate (particularly the congressional  “religious liberty” hearing which led to a firestorm of media attention claiming that the battle over the HHS Mandate represented a battle by religious forces against women), WSFT has always operated with two points: 1) women care about religious freedom 2) the sexual expressionism Mandate –supporters promote (i.e. sex without relationship, without commitment) is not paramount to women’s progress in society.

Regarding the religious freedom point: women, statistically, practice religion more than men and claim more often that it is crucial to their lives. Also, fascinating data shows that countries around the world which respect religious freedom are also more likely to recognize the equality of the female half of the human race. It’s simply counterfactual to suggest that women don’t care about the religious freedom concerns surrounding the HHS Mandate. It’s also dangerous. Religious freedom is such a vital part of human identity, happiness and freedom.

To the sexual expressionism point: proponents of the Mandate –like Planned Parenthood – regularly equate contraception and free contraception with women’s ability to participate equally in society. This characterization of pregnancy, however, is not true to women. It gives lawmakers a free pass to do nothing more for women than offer legal and free contraception and even abortion.  And it also obscures a deeper, more empowering, and more female-friendly notion of sex as part of a mutually giving relationship between a man and a woman, responsible for new life itself….for society itself.

Sex isn’t always going to bring about new life, of course—and no one is suggesting that access to contraception be removed–but we think discussion of this point should be kept alive in the public arena.  Linking sex and new life together not only reduces the likelihood that women will be reduced to objects, but it also fosters the notion that motherhood can be very transformative in the lives of women, especially poor women who often find that motherhood gives meaning to their lives.

C&C: Religious groups are being given a choice: violate your conscience and comply with the HHS Mandate or pay crippling fines which would inevitably put charities and businesses out of businesses. Many of the groups and charities have said they won’t comply. Will women suffer more because they won’t have access to these charities? 

WSFT: Of course. Think about what the Catholic groups alone provide (let alone the many other religious charities)! Groups like Little Sisters of the Poor and Universities like Notre Dame and Ave Maria (all plaintiffs in lawsuits against the HHS Mandate) are part of a global Catholic network which support leadership and aid for women. Here are some of the global Catholic figures to give you an idea:

Catholic schools have been a leader in educating women worldwide, empowering them to assume leadership roles in culture, society, family and the economy.[1] The Catholic education system is the largest nongovernmental school system in the world.[2]  Globally, there are nearly 93,000 Catholic elementary schools, with over 31 million children in them. There are nearly 44,000 secondary schools with nearly 18 million children in them.

The Catholic Church maintains 54,742 day-care centers caring for 2.3 million girls. The Church today also supports 100,231 health-care institutions worldwide, including hospitals, crisis pregnancy centers, shelters for battered women, leprosaria, nursing homes for the elderly and centers for the assistance of the seriously disabled. Mother Teresa’s 4,000 Missionaries of Charity alone maintain shelters for battered women, orphanages for girls and boys, and homes for destitute and dying women and men in 564 sites around the world.[3]

And beyond the direct care, there is also the witness religious groups provide to women, of a view of sex more likely to prevent the objectification of women, and the care of children. I just wrote quite a bit about the negative consequences of uncommitted sex in an article that called into question Bedsider, a program of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (a group which supports the Mandate).  Bedsider, and some of its allies (like Planned Parenthood), are doing more than just trying to get contraception to women, they are promoting sex without much discussion of its other consequences. Bedsider in particular offers sex tips, lewd graphics, and vulgar videos, many of which promote drunken sex, casual, uncommitted sex, and irresponsibility in relationships.  Their logic seems to be “as long as you don’t get pregnant, there is no harm.” But there is real harm that can result from uncommitted sex or having sex with multiple partners, especially for women.

The data contained in my article aren’t religious arguments for more intentionality in sex and relationships, but it’s compelling information, which you almost never hear from ‘big media.’ It’s the religious groups that seem to be doing the most work to get this information into the hands of women (and men).  It would be awful for women and children in particular to lose this witness.

C&C: There have been a number of articles from proponents of the HHS Mandate who want to paint groups like WSFT as “people who hate sex” or people who don’t understand that birth control is not the same as abortion. What is your response?

WSFT: It’s playground bully stuff, although — as someone with just a little bit of journalism experience under my belt, it amazes me that some people apparently believe its “journalism.”  Those claims have nothing to do with our materials. They ignore the data we use from sources like the Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen and even Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

People like to say that there are “reasonable people are on both sides of the debate,” and while that may be true, the megaphone that has been given to these preposterous claims give me more motivation to double down on our efforts at WSFT. We have had some success getting our data into the papers and on television, and we will work to get more of the media’s ear, but the heart of our efforts are in the communities where our women live.

I don’t think we should underestimate the power that lies in women standing up for their beliefs–whether it be in their homes, their neighborhoods, their kids’ school, or at their city or town hall meetings. Cultural and political change doesn’t happen overnight, but these two years of WSFT activism have shown us that one woman and her friends standing up on their community can make a difference. WSFT isn’t going away; in fact, we intend to grow!

If you want to join our efforts, please sign up at www.womenspeakforthemselves.com 

[1]Vella Francis, Do Catholic Schools Make a Difference? Evidence from Australia, 34 The Journal of Human Resources 208 (1999);


[2]See e.g. Roy Gardner, Denis Lawton, & Jo Cairns, Faith Schools (2005), p. 148; Gerald Rupert Grace & Joseph O’Keefe, “Celebrating the past: Claiming the future: Challenges for Catholic Education in Ireland”, in Grace, Gerald; O’Keefe, Joseph, International Handbook of Catholic Education Challenges for School Systems in the 21st Century (2007), 15–22.


Andrew Walker
Andrew Walker is the managing editor of Canon and Culture. He also serves as the Director of Policy Studies for The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination’s entity tasked with addressing moral, social, and ethical issues. In his role, he researches and writes about human dignity, family stability, religious liberty, and the moral principles that support civil society. He is a PhD student in Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Andrew lives in Franklin, TN with his wife and daughter and is a member of Redemption City Church. You can find him on twitter at @andrewtwalk.




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Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24