S5, Ep. 01: Live Q&A with Holly and Amanda
Amanda and Holly answer audience questions on the Supreme Court, state laws, and the role of government in our world today.
Is the Supreme Court immune from public pressure? What is the role of the government when it comes to nondiscrimination laws, gender identity, and posting Scripture? As we begin season 5 of Respecting Religion, Amanda Tyler and Holly Hollman take live questions from an audience on these topics and more. Hear their updates from the summer as they share what we can expect from this new Supreme Court term, as well as how decisions are impacting our country at all levels.
Segment 1 (starting at 1:18): Welcome back for season 5
Amanda spoke about the role of religious nationalism in the Israel-Gaza War this week at a church in Pennsylvania during a previously-scheduled talk on Christian nationalism. “I believe God weeps at the sight of God’s children killing one another, and God yearns for peace,” she said. You can watch her remarks here.
Amanda and Holly discussed the decisions in Groff v. DeJoy and 303 Creative v. Elenis in our season 4 finale.
Read Holly’s column on Groff: The Supreme Court got something right on religion
Read more reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision striking down race-conscious college admissions in this article from BJC’s fall magazine, including the statement from the BJC Center for Faith, Justice and Reconciliation.
Holly talked about the new Supreme Court term in this article by Pamela Manson for UPI: Religious liberty cases could land on Supreme Court docket this term
Amanda mentioned this op-ed she wrote for CNN: New Texas law deprives families of religious liberty rights
Read more about Amanda’s move to Texas in her recent column: Faith freedom across the country
Segment 2 (starting at 12:00): Questions from our audience
The first question referred to remarks Justice Samuel Alito made about supposed hostility to religion in a 2022 speech, which you can watch here.
This episode was recorded during Banned Books Week, which took place from October 1-7. Learn more on the website of the American Library Association.
Learn more about the troubling law in Texas requiring school boards to vote on creating a “chaplain” program and how you can take action on our website at BJConline.org/publicschoolchaplains
Amanda mentioned this statement from the current and former leaders of Texas Baptists denouncing “School Choice Sunday.” Read more in this article by Ken Camp for the Baptist Standard: BGCT leaders call Gov. Abbott’s appeal ‘out of bounds’
Amanda and Holly had an in-depth discussion on the Respect for Marriage Act in episode 7 of season 4.
Respecting Religion is made possible by BJC’s generous donors. You can support these conversations with a gift to BJC.
Transcript: Season 5, Episode 01: Live Q&A with Holly and Amanda (some parts of this transcript have been edited for clarity)
HOLLY: Welcome to season 5 of Respecting Religion. We recorded this week’s episode before the war began in Israel and Gaza, and we think it’s important to acknowledge what’s happening in this area of our world — an area considered holy land in three faith traditions.
On Monday of this week, Amanda was speaking about Christian nationalism to a church group at a previously scheduled event, and she spoke about the tremendous suffering. Her comments are posted on YouTube, and we’ll link to them in the show notes.
Before we get to today’s show, I’ll underscore two things from her comments: first, the need to avoid dehumanizing anyone, and second, the importance of avoiding any urge to equate any government with the will of God.
Thank you for joining us for our conversations on Respecting Religion. Here’s this week’s show, which we recorded in front of a live audience on October 6.
Segment 1: Welcome back for season 5 (starting at 01:18)
AMANDA: Welcome to Respecting Religion, a BJC podcast series where we look at religion, the law, and what’s at stake for faith freedom today. I’m Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC.
HOLLY: And I’m General Counsel Holly Hollman. Today we’re recording a live episode of our podcast in Washington, D.C. Amanda and I look forward to your questions, which will guide our conversation and shape this episode of season 5 of Respecting Religion.
Our audience here knows quite a bit about religious liberty, so I’m sure we’re going to get some challenging and interesting questions.
AMANDA: That’s right, Holly, but it’s also a friendly audience, I hope, because we are recording this episode at the annual meeting of the BJC Board of Directors. So we know that our friends in the room here share our commitment to faith freedom for all.
HOLLY: Well, we should start off by saying where we left off.
AMANDA: Yeah. So, you know, our Respecting Religion seasons generally mimic the terms of the U.S. Supreme Court, and so we are starting our episode today as the Supreme Court has started its business this year, but we needed a break, because the Supreme Court was incredibly active at the end of the term with some really, you know, consequential — I think, seismic decisions that changed law, not just for religious freedom but in a lot of different areas.
At the end of June, we did have an episode that covered the Supreme Court decisions in the Groff v. DeJoy and 303 Creative cases, but we were also commenting on some of the other cases that the Court handed down.
In particular, I’m thinking of the Supreme Court’s really just horrible decision, if I can say that, in the race-conscious college admissions policies case that basically ruled that Affirmative Action policies by colleges and universities were unconstitutional and therefore no longer allowed, and they struck those down.
And this is a case that we are still learning about — what are the implications. I think that colleges and universities are struggling with the Court’s decision and how to implement it, while also continuing their mission to educate all Americans, regardless of their racial, ethnic, religious, or any other background.
And so we as an organization commented on that decision in particular through the BJC Center for Faith, Justice and Reconciliation, and in that statement, the Center said, “The Court’s decision undermines centuries’ worth of advocacy that pointed to the liberation and advancement of all people.” And so we will link to that statement and an article with more on that decision in our show notes to today’s episode.
HOLLY: That’s a good reminder that we do our work in a larger context with our eyes open to the world, and we read the newspaper, and we are all part of individual communities where we have to see how this Court and their decisions affect people and how we react.
And as lawyers and advocates, you know, part of what we do is explain what the Court did and advocate, but another thing that we do is look for the next steps. Then what? What do you do with this decision? How’s it going to be interpreted? What’s our responsibility, not as lawyers but as citizens, to live in this society, with this kind of Court and these kinds of decisions?
AMANDA: Right. The Supreme Court just kind of drops these decisions, and then we’re left with interpreting them for what it means for our shared lives together. And I will say that we’ve been engaging in some of that analysis and helping start some of those conversations since we’ve been together on the podcast, Holly.
You, for example, wrote up your longer reflections about the Groff v. DeJoy case, which was really helpful to understanding what the Court did and did not do in that case, and we’ll link to that article in show notes. The title of that piece was “The Supreme Court got something right on religion.”
So we really call out when the Supreme Court got things wrong, and we will also talk about where they get things right. And that is a good reminder that despite many of these frustrating and really harmful decisions that came from the Court last term, the Groff decision did provide some needed clarity and some rare unanimity from the Court that religious accommodations are still necessary to protect religious pluralism in this country, including to protect workers and their rights to be religious at work.
HOLLY: Exactly. Now here we are in October, first week in October, and as of this recording, they have zero religion cases, religious liberty cases, on the docket. That could change anytime. They have what’s called these conferences where they review cert petitions, decide which ones to take, but, you know, right now, there’s not a case pending.
It reminds me ‑‑ Amanda, I’m sure you get this question. Some people say, What are you all watching? What are you waiting ‑‑ what’s next before the Court? And I have sometimes just slipped and said, Hopefully, nothin’, you know. We’ve seen enough from this Court.
AMANDA: Exactly. This is not a place where we are just waiting for them to take that next case. And this is such a departure from where we’ve been the last several terms, where we have had at times two, three, or even five cases that the Court was determining that implicated religious freedom law, which also provided quite a lot of content for this podcast series.
But I’ll say, we will still have plenty to talk about in season 5, even if the Court does not accept a religious freedom case.
You, Holly, commented to a reporter for an article from UPI recently about the outlook for religious liberty cases at the Supreme Court this term, and you said ‑‑ I’ll quote you back to you and to our listeners ‑‑ “In recent decisions, the Court has changed standards for determining constitutional and statutory issues that affect religious liberty. We expect the impact of those decisions to become clearer as lower courts apply these recent cases to new controversies.”
And so I think a lot of our content this season will be looking at the impact of all of these recent cases and how that’s playing out, both in cases that are working their ways up through the lower courts, and also in policies that state legislatures are embarking on and other local authorities are embarking on, that are seizing on some confusion and lack of clarity from some of these recent court decisions.
And so we’ll be tracking and reminding people about, you know, what was decided in these prior cases and what is the impact of those now on the ground.
HOLLY: That’s right. We’ll take this break as a way to catch up on where we are now, which is what matters. What is the status of religious freedom in our country now? Not just what the Court says, but what does that mean for your community?
AMANDA: As we say in our opening every week, what’s at stake for faith freedom today? And what’s at stake might not be being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court this term. We’ll wait and see about that. But what’s at stake is impacting local communities across the country.
HOLLY: You have kind of shifted one of your lenses, in that you had big news this summer. Right?
AMANDA: Yeah. So after we stopped the podcast, in the first week of July, I did not go to Tahiti for a beach vacation. I moved my family ‑‑
HOLLY: You don’t usually do that anyway.
AMANDA: Yeah. Right. I’m not a Supreme Court justice.
AMANDA: I don’t take junkets like that. So instead, I moved my family to the heat dome that descended over the state of Texas. I am now a Texas resident, living in Dallas, Texas, to be closer to our extended family there.
It was a really good move for my family, and I can already tell, just a couple of months in, that I do have a different lens about what’s at stake for faith freedom today as a Texas resident, as opposed to my ten years as a Washingtonian — as a Washington, D.C., resident.
And, you know, I’ll say that I also got kind of a crash course in what’s going on in the Texas legislature, which is a lot.
HOLLY: Which our listeners already know that we were paying attention to and responding to, but now you’ll have a different opportunity. A lot of the mischief is in the public schools, and that affects you directly, Amanda, as a parent.
AMANDA: It does. It does. I have a child in Texas public schools now, and so some of these issues that we were talking about with a little more distance are now quite personal to me, as I think about some of the threats in public schools and standing up for the religious liberty rights of all of our students.
I actually wrote personally about this in an op ed that was published by CNN.com recently, about the impact of a new state law in Texas that encourages school boards to have public school “chaplains” in their school systems and what that meant for my family which is an interfaith family, with my husband being Jewish and with raising our son in an interfaith household and what that means.
So as challenging as all that is, it is also very empowering to be in a community that is doing something about it, to be able to be part of the resistance, which I think is so important when we’re seeing these frankly authoritarian laws being passed in different parts of the country. To be part of the resistance is really empowering.
HOLLY: With that, who wants to ask the first question?
Segment 2: Questions from our audience (starting at 12:00)
QUESTION: My name’s Larry Pullen, and I’m from Ashburn, Virginia. My question is this: If, as Justice Alito suggests, the problem that looms is not just indifference to religion; it’s not just ignorance about religion; there’s also growing hostility to religion or at least the traditional religious beliefs that are contrary to the new moral code that is ascendant in some sectors, why is it the role of the Supreme Court to change that, especially if widespread cultural expressions, such as a decrease in church attendance is all that is of concern?
AMANDA: Well, before ‑‑ that’s a great question, Larry, but before we get to the question, I’m going to disagree with the premise of Justice Alito’s statement, which is that there is growing hostility to religion. I really think this is a false narrative of persecution that sets up a straw man to then tear down. Right?
And so I just don’t want that to go unanswered before we get to your second question, which is: Is it really the Court’s responsibility to save religion?
AMANDA: We have separation of church and state in this country ‑‑
HOLLY: That’s right.
AMANDA: — which means that the state doesn’t try to do the job of the church. If, indeed, the church is having a problem of growing hostility, then it is the church’s job to respond to that. It is not the state’s job to try to defend religion, because whenever the state gets involved in that business, it is religion that gets hurt. They might have good intentions, but their outcomes are very poor, and so we firmly disagree with Justice Alito in all parts of his statement.
HOLLY: And, Amanda, you said, good intentions, and I’m going to add even to that, is that I understand ‑‑ I think we understand, whether it’s as Christians or parents or community members, when we see things that are bad in society ‑‑ and we might pick different ills ‑‑ right? ‑‑ different things that we’re concerned about.
And maybe sometimes there’s something in our religious response that makes us nervous, you know, that there’s something that we’re losing. I think that happens, and we’ve heard that. I think, you know, we hear that from time to time.
But as you said, the response is not then the government comes in and advances their view of religion. We have to do the work. We have to understand what the root causes of any potential problems are.
I agree that Justice Alito’s not super clear on what he’s worried about, but he did give us a hint, Larry, because I think that comment, his concern ‑‑ he’s spoken that way in a couple of different forums, but I remember particularly ‑‑ I think it was in the Notre Dame speech or some big speech that he gave after the term, and he talked about that concern of secularism and this kind of rise of something different.
And he told that story ‑‑ he tells this story. He says, I’m reminded of an experience I had a number of years ago in a museum in Berlin. One of the exhibits was a rustic wooden cross. A young and affluent woman, a well-dressed woman, and a young boy were looking at this exhibit, and the young boy turns to the woman, presumably his mother, and said, Who is that man?
And Justice Alito, from that little incident, says that the memory stuck with him as a harbinger of what might lie ahead for the culture, and the problem that looms is not just the indifference to religion, not just ignorance, but this growing hostility.
AMANDA: How is that even a hostility to religion, that this little boy didn’t recognize Jesus on the cross in a museum?
HOLLY: Yes, yes. I don’t know. So not only is it not true. The evidence he presents as a lawyer is pretty weak.
HOLLY: Pretty weak. Right? And it’s so funny, because I thought about this and how, whether through art history classes or taking my young boys to museums as I raised them around here and going to the museums, how there’s so much religious art. And we did engage and have these conversations, and I thought, What a nice young boy, to want to know.
In fact, if that kid keeps going to museums, he’ll see about religion’s impact, learn about history and culture and the different ways it is in the world. There’s so many different ways to interpret that, different from the one that Justice Alito did and took and ran with it. Thank you, Larry.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Madison, from Chicago. And my question is about how, to a lot of folks — myself included — the Supreme Court often feels sort of impossibly remote. Even for folks for whom their decisions might be life-shattering, have very little influence or control over what they do, very little influence over who sits on the Supreme Court, sort of, you know, a crapshoot, who the members of the Court are.
How would you suggest someone in this position think about how they could influence, impact, affect public conversation around the Court’s decisions in a way that can support their values?
AMANDA: I think that’s a great question, Madison, and I’m reflecting on a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak about Christian nationalism at the Texas Tribune Festival, which is this major gathering of different leaders and pundits and politicians from around the country. And on an upcoming episode of Respecting Religion, you’ll hear more about what I said at the Texas Tribune Festival.
But I also got to attend, and I went to a number of different panels about the status of the Supreme Court. I went to a live recording of the Strict Scrutiny podcast, which is a podcast that Holly and I listen to. I also went to a panel of Supreme Court experts who were talking about and trying to place this Supreme Court in the larger arc of history and understand how this Supreme Court’s decisions have been fundamentally undemocratic, both in the way that they’re operating but also in the impact of that.
And I’ll say that a common theme from both of those panels that I went to is that this Court is not immune from public pressure ‑‑ right? ‑‑ and from public opinion. I think there’s this mystique around the Court that in some ways the Court has gone a long way to ‑‑
HOLLY: Perpetuate, yeah.
AMANDA: — invent and perpetuate, that they are, in Chief Justice Roberts’ words, you know, We’re just umpires calling balls and strikes up here; you know, we are meant to be isolated from the democratic process; we are just, taking the law, applying it to the facts, and going forward.
Well, that is obviously not what they’ve been doing over the past several terms in many of the cases that we’ve been talking about. And what we’ve seen, because the impact of these cases, as you say, is so extreme on the lives of Americans, we’ve seen Americans taking to the streets and protesting the Supreme Court in ways that we haven’t seen, at least in my lifetime recently, the kinds of responses that we’ve seen to these recent cases.
I’m thinking about the Dobbs case and the impact on abortion rights. I’m thinking about the Affirmative Action cases and how people have criticized the reasoning of those, some of the voting rights cases, though they did come back some from the edge in voting rights this last term, which was a good move, but also in the 303 Creative case that we talked about at the end.
So all of these cases ‑‑ I guess my point is: Public opinion matters. And the legitimacy of the Court is really in danger right now, if not already lost to a lot of people, and the justices are people, too, and they are not immune to that pressure that they’re feeling to legitimize their institution, in some ways to save their institution.
And so I would just encourage people to say, you know, these are nine people’s opinion, nine unelected people’s opinion about what the law should be. The Constitution begins with the words, “We, the people.” They are interpreting a document that applies to all of us, and so it is our right ‑‑ it is not just our right, but our responsibility as citizens to reclaim those first three words of “We, the people,” and to stand up when decisions from the Court are wrong.
QUESTION: Hello. I’m Amethyst from the D.C. area, and I wanted to talk about book bans. So this is book ban week. We’re on the tail end of it, and so I’m wondering about religious freedom and those books bans. We see Black authors, LGBTQ authors being banned, but also authors who include Jewish characters and Muslim characters in their books are also being banned as well.
So I’m wondering if there are any strategies that you’ve seen that religious communities are taking on that they can fight against book bans.
HOLLY: Just the whole idea that you’re going to shut down reading is offensive to people who are committed to religious freedom for all, particularly people who come from a religious tradition that has a book that has been used for a lot of good and a lot of bad. So we’re kind of pro-reading.
HOLLY: We’re pro-thinking. We’re pro-engagement. And so I appreciate you bringing that up and talking about like, let’s think about this. What’s this going on, and what’s the connection, and what’s our responsibility as people who are committed to faith freedom for all in these harmful fights about banning books and what books are banned?
AMANDA: Yeah. I mean, isn’t it a sad commentary for our time that we now have a read Banned Books Week ‑‑ right? ‑‑ because we are in a society that is taking new efforts to ban books. These are not markers of a democracy. These are markers of an authoritarian system, and we have lessons from not distant history of where this can lead. Right?
If we start banning books, what’s the next step? And so it is important that we as a society not take these measures lightly and that we stand up for freedom. I mean, that’s part of religious freedom is freedom in general, freedom to read books but also to interpret them for ourselves. And some of these ‑‑ you know, some of the overlap with religious freedom is in some of these fights ‑‑ if you read the Bible, the Bible has a lot of offensive content in it. Right?
I mean, the Bible itself could be banned in some of these places. And also we just have to look around the world and see how banning books ‑‑ religion has been used to ban books in ways that harm religious freedom around the world as well.
And so if we are going to be consistent advocates and defenders of religious freedom, then we have to stand up to these attempts to ban books in our libraries and in our communities and other places. My question is: What are you so afraid of? Like, why are you afraid ‑‑ don’t we trust our people enough to understand and interpret these for themselves? The answer, sadly, in so many of our communities is we don’t.
I do believe that this is a minority position in our country still, and so it is up to the majority to stand up and to push back, to stand up for our neighbors. But I know that people are being targeted in so many different places for doing that kind of advocacy. So I’m really glad you asked the question, Amethyst, and I really like your tee shirt that says, “Read Banned Books.”
QUESTION: Hello. I’m Stephen Reeves, and I live in Dripping Springs, Texas. And like Amanda, I have kids in Texas public schools, and so I’d like to ask you all two questions about that.
The first is a proposal that actually failed — fortunately — in this legislative session, this last legislative session in Texas, and that’s around mandating the posting of the Ten Commandments in every classroom. I’d love for you all to talk about why that’s a bad idea in violation of religious liberty.
And the second one is the one that passed – unfortunately — and you’ve mentioned it already. And that is this idea of “chaplains” in the public schools. And in most cases, the legislature passes a law, and it’s implemented in September, September 1. In this case, it’s not really happening like that, so if you’d maybe help us understand how there still might be an opportunity to make that bad law not very effective.
AMANDA: [to Holly] Do you want to take the Ten Commandments, and I’ll take the chaplain?
HOLLY: Yeah. It kind of follows up on that last comment. I mean, we’re pro-reading the Ten Commandments.
HOLLY: Since I’ve worked here, Amanda — and we’ve known that there have been efforts like this before, of government promoting the Ten Commandments, you know, picking and choosing which religious scripture, without the context that most religious people would look to, to understand the government doing that, and that’s being clear in our voice that that’s not government’s role.
People have given me little Ten Commandments things. I’ve got a Ten Commandments key chain. I’ve gotten all these different things, and we kind of joke about that, you know, Why are you against the Ten Commandments? Yeah. We’re not against the Ten Commandments. We’re against the government picking which scripture should be predominant and government-sponsored on our capitol grounds, in our courthouses, in our kids’ schoolroom.
Very important difference and very important that we, as religious people, speak out against that in the understanding of our faith and the faith of others, and the problem that arises when you give that kind of power to government over matters of religion.
AMANDA: And then on the chaplain law, and we will ‑‑ I’ll just do a little preview. We are going to have a whole episode soon that goes into what’s in the chaplain law, who’s behind it, and what’s been happening since it was passed and implemented.
But I will answer your question of, Isn’t this a really strange way to pass policy? So the law requires school boards in Texas to take a vote between September 1, 2023, and March 1, 2024, on whether or not to implement a school “chaplain” policy for their school districts. Okay.
HOLLY: School “chaplain” policy, which is …
AMANDA: Which is that they would allow either volunteer or paid “chaplains” into the public schools. Well, what’s a “chaplain,” you say. Well, the only thing the law says is a “chaplain” is someone who can pass a criminal background check. So there are no licensure requirements, no training requirements to work with children, and no parameters on what this “chaplain” is doing in the public school.
And so without really necessary religious liberty protections, this opens the door for all kinds of infringement on religious freedom rights in the public schools, as well as other harmful consequences for the children and children’s safety in public schools.
Some of these school boards might also replace their school counselors with school “chaplains” in one of these volunteer or paid positions, and they can also use their public safety money — money that is meant to protect children from the epidemic of gun violence in the state of Texas that has killed children in public schools in Texas — to use that funding instead to bring “chaplains” in, because if we pray with our kids, then somehow that will protect them from the guns that are in the society and people who are there, going into public schools.
So it’s bad policy all the way around. But thank you, Texas Legislature, because if you really wanted to do this, you had a strange way to implement it, by then leaving it up to all the school boards to decide. There are over 1,200 school boards in the state of Texas, and so the legislature just created 1,200 opportunities for advocacy and resistance.
And so some of the work that we’ve been doing is working with leaders on the ground to help equip them with the resources they need to go advocate to their school boards and explain why this is a terrible idea. And of the early boards who have taken up this vote, overwhelmingly they have said, no, we do not want to implement a school “chaplain” policy in our school boards for all the reasons that we’ve talked about.
So there’s my preview of what we’re going to be talking about on an upcoming episode soon.
QUESTION: My name is Meredith Stone, and I live in Waco, Texas. And so as the third person in this room to have a child in Texas public schools, we’ll keep the subject there for a moment. There’s going to be this special session of our Texas legislature in which school vouchers are going to come up once again.
And unbelievably, the governor called last month for a school choice Sunday on October 15 for pastors to get in the pulpit and advocate for what they’re calling “parent empowerment and education freedom,” essentially to advocate for school vouchers, the governor telling pastors what to do.
So I wonder how you all might respond to that.
AMANDA: Well, thank you for the question, Meredith. I will say, first off, we will respond more fully on an upcoming episode of Respecting Religion, where we look much more in depth at the policy of vouchers, why vouchers threaten religious freedom for all, why there are serious policy problems with vouchers, and why we, at Baptist Joint Committee, are advocating against the expansion of voucher programs, including in Texas.
The governor has called this special session. If adopted, Texas would be by far the largest state in the country that has a voucher program, so there is a lot of attention on this particular special session.
But I agree. I found it completely outrageous that the governor of the state of Texas would instruct pastors on what they should preach about and when. Right? You know, there are all other kinds of sources for that word that comes from the pulpit. Some churches follow a lectionary that helps them kind of discern where they’re going to preach. Other preachers are inspired from other places.
The last place that that kind of direction should come from is from a state authority. I can’t believe I’m saying this for the third time in this episode. This sounds really authoritarian for the government to be directing what is happening in churches, and yet that is what is happening in the state of Texas.
And I was really pleased to see advocacy that came out of a group called Texas Baptists, that they put out a statement, and this is a large organization of Baptist churches in the state of Texas.
Some of their current and past leaders put out a statement in which they said, “It is out of bounds for any representative of the government to co-opt a Sunday morning time of worship. A government’s request for churches to join a legislative agenda violates the conscience concerning religious liberty and separation of church and state. Churches that too closely entwine with political affairs hamper both their Christian witness and citizenship responsibilities.”
Now, I want to note that if some of these churches want to talk to their congregations about supporting or opposing a policy, that should be up to them. It’s not the fact that there are conversations about public policy happening in churches. It’s about where is that direction coming from. And I completely agree with this statement that the governor of Texas crossed a line in telling pastors what they should be preaching about and trying to co-opt religious authority for his own legislative agenda.
HOLLY: [After some silence in the room, to the audience] Do you want to talk more about problems in Texas?
AMANDA: Any other? We got a really Texas-heavy episode here.
QUESTION: Another institution close to the Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress, passed the Respect for Marriage Act on a strong bipartisan vote. Could you talk about the intersection of LGBTQ rights and religious liberty concerns?
HOLLY: Yeah. That’s obviously something that’s been on people’s minds, you know, for the last couple of decades but I’d say more intensely the last decade or so. And when I say it’s been on our minds, it’s just in the culture and in the changes that we grapple with, the demand for equal treatment for LGBTQ people and the variety of religious teachings when it comes to human sexuality. And that’s just the way it is. That’s the world that we live in.
And, you know, BJC has done our part, I believe, in explaining — particularly in the concept of marriage — about the separation of church and state and recognizing that there’s religious marriage, you know, the covenant that we might think about that churches ‑‑ I see there are pastors in the room, and they’re nodding their heads – the marriage that religious institutions understand through their scripture and their traditions that bring two people together and what it means in God’s eyes in their tradition.
And there’s civil marriage, a bundle of rights.
And so the Respect for Marriage Act is really about the idea that the Supreme Court has recognized that same-sex marriage is marriage from a civil perspective, and that is protected. And yet we also know that religious entities will continue to make different decisions about marriage.
And so the Respect for Marriage Act, I think, is a very positive development in what has been a hard, difficult conversation about religious freedom and LGBTQ rights that has often, unfortunately, been put out as at odds or irreconcilable.
And this act ‑‑ it was a reaction to a concurrence in the Dobbs case, the abortion case, that looked to be threatening Obergefell, the important 2015 case that upheld the constitutional right to marriage for LGBTQ people.
Congress came together and said, if that ever went away, if the Court ever somehow took that apart, we still protect ‑‑ we can still have that right that protects and recognizes marriage state to state, and at the same time said, this does not mean that religious institutions have to solemnize or participate in weddings, same-sex weddings.
AMANDA: And I think it also recognizes the important truth that there are many different religious views on marriage.
AMANDA: There is not one religious view on what marriage means, and it is for that reason, and others, that the state shouldn’t take sides when it comes to recognizing marriage one way or the other. I think this distinction between the civil institution of marriage and the religious institution of marriage is so important, and I think that the state should have no role in the religious institution of marriage and that religion should have no role in the civil institution of marriage.
And the Respect for Marriage Act recognizes that, and it is encouraging to see a really diverse group of advocates come together to pass that important law and that important protection in case we should ever need it because the Supreme Court ‑‑ we saw in the Dobbs case what a Supreme Court gives, it can take away. And so to see a legislature come together for the people and to preemptively say, This is something that is important for us to keep.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Sabrina Dent, and I’m a resident of Arlington, Virginia, and I’m a parent of a school-age child. My concern is around last year Virginia Gov. Youngkin introduced the Model Policies that were targeting transgender students in public schools, and that was based on one’s ideas or one particular religious ideology around what they believe about individuals.
What do you think, and what are your thoughts around the ways in which these policies impact our students in public schools which serve many different communities and children of many different identities as well?
AMANDA: Well, I think it’s really a wonderful follow-up to the question that we just had, in that what is the role of the government here? And the role of the government is to ‑‑ in one of many roles, is to enforce nondiscrimination laws. And part of nondiscrimination is not discriminating on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, and that includes gender identity.
And those protections are so important in our diverse society to ensure equality for all people and protection for all people. And we see not just in the state of Virginia tragically but in many other communities across the country these attacks on transgender people and on the broader LGBTQ+ community that are often coming from a place of religious doctrine point of view and trying to impose a particular religious view of sexuality, of human sexuality, on the entire culture.
And that is a threat to religious freedom for all, because ‑‑ I sound like a broken record ‑‑ but it is not the job of the state to enforce religion or religious laws. That is not a marker of democracy. That is a marker of theocracy.
And so it is important that, I think, the religious freedom community recognize this particular attack on the transgender community as an attack on some of these fundamental principles of religious freedom for all.
HOLLY: Yeah. And I think there are opportunities for everyone in their communities ‑‑ I’m also a Virginia resident, and I think about my friends and neighbors advocating and trying to show up, see what’s going on, be part of those conversations.
And I think that really helps, too, because issues of sexuality and identity don’t line up with one particular religious tradition. You know, it’s not like people of different religious persuasions don’t have children who are LGBTQ. You have these conversations and maybe can find a sign of hope there.
That’s what you want, to reveal what is wrong for the government to do, that looks like you’re not protecting the public and all people and stop that harm, and to protect all children and at the same time, not feed into some horrible dichotomy about religious people and nonreligious people.
AMANDA: I just want to say, these have been some great questions. If you, our listeners, have any questions for us, send us an email to [email protected]. We not only love hearing from you, but we might even use your question on a future show.
HOLLY: That brings us to the close of this episode of Respecting Religion. Thanks for joining us. For more information on what we discussed, visit our website at RespectingReligion.org for show notes and a transcript of this program.
AMANDA: Respecting Religion is produced and edited by Cherilyn Guy with editorial assistance from Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons and Jennifer Hawks. And thanks to our audience for their questions today. You all get a producing credit.
HOLLY: Learn more about our work at BJC, defending faith freedom for all, by visiting our website at BJConline.org.
AMANDA: We’re also on social media at BJContheHill, and you can follow me on X, which used to be called Twitter, at @AmandaTylerBJC.
HOLLY: And if you enjoyed the show, share it with people you know and take a moment to leave us a review or a five-star rating to help others find us.
AMANDA: We also want to thank you for supporting this podcast. You can donate to these conversations by visiting the link in our show notes.
HOLLY: Season 5 has officially begun. Join us on Thursdays for new conversations Respecting Religion.