‘I can’t believe this is my job!’: BJC staff Q&A with Jennifer Hawks
As the associate general counsel, the Rev. Jennifer Hawks leads our lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill, participates in BJC’s advocacy and education efforts, and speaks to groups about the importance of faith freedom for all and the dangers of Christian nationalism. Her role involves a lot of legal work, too, including assisting with writing friend-of-the-court briefs for the Supreme Court. Originally from Germantown, Tennessee, she earned degrees from the George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, the University of Mississippi School of Law, and Mississippi College.
What does faith freedom mean to you?
Faith freedom is the freedom to choose whether or not to be religious and, if religious, how to express and engage with your faith tradition. As a constitutional republic, our government cannot reward or penalize our choice on the question of religion. Religious or secular, Christian or non-Christian, we are all equal citizens under the law with the same rights and responsibilities.
What’s one thing you’ve accomplished at BJC that makes you proud?
As an ordained Baptist minister and constitutional attorney, I never thought there would ever be a need for an amicus brief at the U.S. Supreme Court explaining that the cross is an important symbol for Christians. But that’s exactly what was needed in 2019 in the case American Legion v. American Humanist Association. Being in the courtroom for the oral argument and hearing justices ask questions from the brief that I assisted on was definitely one of those “I can’t believe this is my job” moments!
What have you been reading, watching and listening to lately?
Reading Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah, watching “Finding Your Roots with Dr. Henry Louis Gates” and “Only Murders in the Building,” and listening to “The West Wing Weekly” podcast.
What’s your favorite BJC quote or saying?
The separation of church and state is good for both! (A close runner-up: If you can’t say “no” to religion, then your “yes” is meaningless.)
What has been your favorite BJC event during your tenure?
Speaking in two Colonial houses of worship in Rhode Island on the same day!
In 2018, the Touro Synagogue Foundation chose BJC as the recipient of the Judge Alexander George Teitz Award for our work protecting faith freedom for all. Touro Synagogue’s ties to religious freedom work date all the way back to our country’s founding. It was the recipient of the famous “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” letter from President George Washington, promising that this new government’s approach to religious freedom would be inclusive of religious minorities. It was a privilege to represent BJC at this religious freedom landmark for a program that honored the work of religious freedom yesterday and today. Earlier on the same day, I had the honor of preaching at The First Baptist Church in America, founded by Colonial leader Roger Williams, and touring its historic building. Preaching in a Colonial church in the morning and speaking at a Colonial synagogue in the afternoon is not a work day I would have ever dreamed up!