S5, Ep. 10: The church-state legacy of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Amanda and Holly share personal reflections on Justice O’Connor, re-visit some of her key writings, and look at how the Supreme Court has shifted since her time there.

Dec 21, 2023

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor showed a thoughtful approach toward religious liberty issues during her time on the bench, upholding both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause. Paying tribute to her soon after her passing on December 1, Amanda Tyler and Holly Hollman remember Justice O’Connor’s contributions and talk about her legacy, sharing personal reflections as well as wisdom from Justice O’Connor that holds true today. They also look at her controversial endorsement test and how the Supreme Court has shifted – both the law and in terms of public opinion – after her retirement. Amanda and Holly also take a moment to share what we learned about you, our listeners, from this year’s Spotify Wrapped. 

Segment 1 (starting at 00:38): The life of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Here are a few remembrances of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor:

Justice O’Connor’s funeral was a private event at the Washington National Cathedral, but it is available for the public to view on the Cathedral’s YouTube page


Segment 2 (starting at 15:41): Justice O’Connor on church-state cases

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor leaves legacy of civic-minded church-state jurisprudence by Don Byrd for BJC’s website

Amanda and Holly mentioned the following cases:


Segment 3 (starting at 26:49): The ongoing impact of Justice O’Connor

Amanda and Holly mentioned that Justice O’Connor was one of the authors of the plurality opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)

Amanda and Holly discuss this article from Linda Greenhouse for The New York Times: “What Sandra Day O’Connor got wrong”


Segment 4 (starting at 35:31): Who are your fellow listeners?

See our Spotify Wrapped on Instagram at this link.

Our most popular podcast on Spotify in 2023 was Episode 22 of Season 4, discussing the ReAwaken America tour. Our most shared one was Episode 23 of Season 4 on the myth of American “chosenness.” 

Respecting Religion is made possible by BJC’s generous donors. Use this special link to support these conversations, and thank you for listening! 

Transcript: Season 5, Episode 10: The church-state legacy of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (some parts of this transcript have been edited for clarity)


Segment 1: The life of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (starting at 00:23)

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, before we take a holiday break, we wanted to take note of the passing of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, to honor her and to talk about her legacy in church-state law. She retired from the Court in 2006, and she passed away in December this year.

During her career, Sandra Day O’Connor made so many contributions to our country. She served the country in various capacities in government and was a real trailblazer in the legal profession, serving as the first woman justice on the Supreme Court and continuing to serve in many ways as a retired justice.

We know that she also showed a thoughtful approach toward religious liberty that we want to highlight today, because she did a good job upholding both principles of No Establishment and Free Exercise.

And, of course, the two of us appreciate and have been inspired by her career breaking barriers, and while we may not have always agreed with her opinions or didn’t agree with every opinion, we certainly think that her wisdom is worth revisiting as we look at some of the key cases and ways that she has impacted the law and, of course, how the Court has changed since her retirement.

AMANDA: And as we look at anyone’s life, there are so many aspects that we could talk about when we talk about Justice O’Connor, and there have already been many tributes written about her in these first few weeks since her passing. And we are glad, Holly, to have our turn here on Respecting Religion to pay tribute to Justice O’Connor.

We also wanted to point to a few different resources or obituaries that we would highlight and encourage you to check out. On SCOTUSblog, there are several tributes for Justice O’Connor, including an article by Mark Walsh from this Monday, which was also the day that Justice O’Connor was brought to the Supreme Court to lie in repose.

The piece from Mark Walsh has comments given by Justice Sonia Sotomayor who called Justice O’Connor, quote, “her life role model.” And in the article, Justice Sotomayor also said this: “For many years, the way Sandra went, the Court followed, and that was for a simple reason. Sandra approached each case with incredible thoughtfulness and sought to arrive at a practical conclusion. She never disregarded the realities of our country. The nation was well served by the steady hand and intellect of a justice who never lost sight of how the law affected ordinary people.” And I was very moved by that tribute from a sitting justice, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

SCOTUSblog has an entire In Memoriam section for Justice O’Connor, which includes reflections from one of her former law clerks and a piece about how Chief Justice John Roberts honored her in the courtroom, and we will link to that section in our show notes, as well as an outstanding, if lengthy, obituary written for The New York Times by Linda Greenhouse.

HOLLY: We’re recording on Tuesday, and this week has been really filled with and will be filled with tributes for Justice O’Connor. Today there’s a private memorial service for her at the National Cathedral. I learned from a friend of mine that some seats were set aside for the young women who attend the National Cathedral School, which I thought was a very fitting tribute from her family, to honor the young women who may be future leaders.

So we want to take some time now to kind of highlight her life and her story, the way it has inspired so many people, before we talk about specific contributions she’s made in church-state law. And we’re going to draw on resources that are available and that we’ll link to in our show notes that come from the Supreme Court.

They had an exhibit on her life. I think it used to be an in-person exhibit, but then it was boiled down to be an online exhibit. It tells her story, her growing up, her legal career. It has wonderful pictures.

AMANDA: And so some of those highlights from her life: So Sandra Day was born in 1930 in El Paso, Texas, and she spent a lot of her formative years on a cattle ranch on the southern Arizona and New Mexico border.

She was accepted into Stanford University at the age of 16, where she earned an economics degree. She went on to study law at Stanford, and she was one of only five women in her law school class. She met her husband, John Jay O’Connor, while working on the Stanford Law Review, and they married in 1952, which was also the year that she graduated from Stanford Law School.

HOLLY: I saw in the recounting of that, Amanda, that she was on a fast track, too — that she made it through in record time in her undergraduate degree and her law degree. And then I noticed that it was exactly 50 years later that I got to see what Stanford Law School was like. I actually followed my future husband to Stanford as a visiting law student, and quite a bit had changed.

My experience there was that about half the class were women. I think it was during the tenure of the first woman dean of the law school — Kathleen Sullivan was the dean the year that I was there. I know that in that class that the women who graduated are working in a variety of different capacities, and a few of them are working in, you know, the very top parts of the profession.

But I also know that many of the women that graduated 50 years after Sandra Day O’Connor are continuing to work to seek equality and opportunities in the profession for women and for other historically marginalized groups.

AMANDA: I think that speaks to the nature of progress, Holly, that it’s not a straight line, that it is, you know, sometimes three steps forward, two steps back, but that we are making gains along the way and that as we know, admission to law school or even graduating from law school does not always equate to equality of opportunity upon graduation. And that was certainly true for Sandra Day O’Connor.

She graduated near the top of her law school class, but no law firm in California would hire her as a lawyer because she was a woman. And that was a common experience for women at that time. She was offered a job as a legal secretary, but she eventually got an unpaid position as the county attorney for San Mateo County, California.

HOLLY: Yeah. That idea that you graduate from law school but then don’t get jobs as a lawyer is something that is worth reflecting on, and, you know, people who come after those who break those barriers may not realize that, because it just looks like, okay, you get the law degree and you’re going to be a lawyer.

We hear so many other stories that are similar from people of that generation, our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generation. You know, even those that are most fortunate to have the best education were not able to instantly turn that education into professional success or professional opportunity.

AMANDA: So for Sandra Day O’Connor, her professional career continued along these lines. Her husband was stationed in Germany in the mid-1950s, and she worked as a civilian attorney in Frankfurt, Germany. When the O’Connors moved back to the United States and settled in Arizona, she practiced law in Maryvale, Arizona, from 1958 to 1960.

The O’Connors had three sons, and she took time away from her legal career after the birth of their second son to concentrate on raising her family. And during that time, she got involved in local politics and community service, and she returned to work as assistant attorney general of Arizona from 1965 to 1969, and she played a very active role in Republican Party politics.

HOLLY: That certainly paints a picture of a very busy life, doesn’t it, Amanda?


HOLLY: We know, as mothers of boys, in addition to having husbands with their work, it really does paint a picture of her as an outstanding individual. And I think that was the beginning ‑‑ that time period is the beginning of her political and governmental work. It led to, in 1969, her being appointed to fill a vacancy in the Arizona state senate.

Subsequently, she was reelected to two two-year terms, and in 1972, she became the first woman to be majority leader in a state legislature in the United States. As a lawmaker, she worked toward changing laws that discriminated against women, such as helping to repeal a state statute prohibiting women from working more than eight hours a day. Clearly, she was saying, that’s not what she does. She’s clearly a woman who works more than eight hours a day.

AMANDA: She had to be, to do all of this, Holly. This is amazing.

HOLLY: She was then elected judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court in 1975, and she served in that role until 1979, when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. So before she got to the Supreme Court, O’Connor served in three different branches of state government: the executive as the assistant attorney general; the legislative; and the judicial branch.

AMANDA: And I think that point is so important for a number of reasons. One, to be the first in anything, one often has to be the best. And to look at her career and all of the things that she did before being on the Supreme Court is truly remarkable. Second, this idea of elected and appointed governmental experience was something that used to be more commonplace for the judiciary but has now become, I think, a rarity, especially on the High Court.

She was the last justice to have served in some kind of legislative position before her appointment to the High Court. And it also just shows what a barrier-breaker she was for women in serving in all kinds of governmental roles.

And I think all of that led to a growing sense in American society that it was finally time to break that barrier of having a woman on the High Court. And so when Ronald Reagan campaigned for the presidency in 1980, he made a commitment to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court. And then the following year, in 1981, Justice Potter Stewart retired, and that gave him the opportunity to do so and to fulfill that campaign promise. And so he nominated Sandra Day O’Connor.

She was confirmed by a vote of 99 to zero — another historical anomaly when we think about modern Supreme Court justice appointment procedures — and she took her seat on the Court on September 25, 1981. And Justice O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court on January 31, 2006.

HOLLY: In retirement, Justice O’Connor stayed very active. She served on various boards and helped launch a program to engage students with civics called iCivics. That was so important to her that it is designated as where memorial gifts should be sent in her honor. And in 2009, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

It’s quite an extraordinary life, Amanda, that she lived, and I know we and many people have enjoyed reading about, you know, what made her, and sort of the hardscrabble life that she had growing up in the American Southwest. And she was clearly a tough kid, and she turned into quite a tough woman.

AMANDA: Yeah. And I just saw, in reading the tributes, also just this through line of her life of a woman who carried herself with such grace. And I think I also saw that in the way that she handled her dementia in her later years when she formally retired from public life to live her last days on her terms with dignity. And then, of course, as we noted earlier in the show, she passed away on December 1 after a long battle with dementia.

In thinking through her life and what it’s meant to me, you know, she was appointed to the High Court when I was three years old, and so I don’t know a time that didn’t have a woman on the U.S. Supreme Court in my memory. And we talk quite a bit in our society about how representation matters.

We’ve broken another significant and important barrier in the last few years with the first Black woman on the Court, with Justice Jackson. And I just think about how all of this started with Justice O’Connor and what her life has meant to so many people and particularly for so many women.

HOLLY: I agree. And because BJC has been around so long and involved in advocacy at the High Court, as well as in educating the public about religious freedom, it’s been really interesting to review BJC’s interaction with Justice O’Connor, as well as how we have used her words and her work in our advocacy.

Former Executive Director Brent Walker shared a photo on Facebook where he met Justice O’Connor in 1991 at a conference in Philadelphia. And interestingly, it was at a time when I had served as a BJC intern and then legal assistant, long before I knew for sure that I would even go to law school — much less that I would return to BJC. But I was at that conference and had a chance to hear Justice O’Connor.

I would say, early in my thinking about being a lawyer, I saw Justice O’Connor as a leader in the field of religious liberty, and it was a conference where she was the keynote speaker. It’s just nice to remember that longstanding impact that she has had on religious liberty law.

So let’s highlight some of the most significant parts of her record in this area in the next segment.



Segment 2: Justice O’Connor on church-state cases (starting at 15:41)

AMANDA: Well, Don Byrd wrote an article for our website titled, “Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor leaves legacy of civic-minded church-state jurisprudence.” And his title emphasizes something that was important to her as a justice and later in her life as well. That’s because her post-Court legacy, as we’ve noted, was focused on civics and making sure that our citizenry is educated on what it means to be an American citizen.

But that civic-mindedness is also reflected in the ways that she spoke and wrote in plain terms about the importance of both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause in protecting religious liberty for all. She did not write that many majority opinions in church-state cases, but her concurring opinions were quite influential.

HOLLY: As Don writes, “She brought to the conversation practical, commonsense perspectives that reflected her keen awareness of the dangers to religious liberty that arise when government appears to privilege religion.” We’ll link to that piece in the show notes.

Let’s talk about some of those important contributions that she made and that have been really helpful to us, Amanda, in the work that we do in promoting faith freedom for all and educating people about the importance of religious liberty.

I think we have to start with that famous quote that comes from the Mergens case. The Mergens case was a case from 1990 that upheld the Equal Access Act about when clubs are allowed in public schools and how to have clubs that are constitutional, including clubs where students are involved in religious activity but not in ways that are sponsored by the school.

And in that case, she said that “there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect.”

AMANDA: Yeah. That’s a quote that we use often, because it is stated so plainly, so clearly. And it also shows how really three clauses of the First Amendment work together to protect religious freedom, and that these clauses are not to be thought of individually but rather as working as a whole, working together.

I also note in that quote a word that gets repeated, “endorsing,” “endorsement.” This is a test that is often associated with Justice O’Connor, because she helped develop it.

And she developed it first in a concurring opinion in a case called Lynch v. Donnelly from 1984. It was a dispute over a holiday display ‑‑ seems appropriate we’re talking about it here over the holidays, Holly ‑‑ a dispute over holiday display on government property. And she proposed this endorsement test as one way of determining whether a government display or action violates the Establishment Clause.

In that case, she wrote this famous quote: “Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community. Disapproval sends the opposite message.”

HOLLY: Yeah. These quotes show that she had a sense of separation, that there was something that the government is not supposed to do, and that that separation, I think, brings citizens together. We are brought together as citizens and that the government has a distinct role and should not be advancing religion.

And though O’Connor’s endorsement test was controversial from the very beginning and it was never something that a majority of the Court fully embraced and accepted as a consistent standard, it was one method of analysis in church-state cases that had a lot of influence in lower courts and particularly in the controversies that dealt with displays on government property.

I think the test shows an emphasis from her perspective that one can agree or disagree with, but it’s definitely worth consideration, and that is that the test centers the Establishment Clause protections on what she calls the, quote, “political community.”

She highlights the harm that can be done to the public and to civic life where people perceive that the government is privileging religion and particularly one religious perspective over the other.

And, you know, we certainly would agree with that, Amanda, that that has a real effect on communities when they sense that the government is dividing them into insiders and outsiders based on religion, which is directly in opposition to the guarantee of religious freedom for all, where we are equal citizens without regard to religious affiliation or religious practice.

AMANDA: And I think it’s here, too, Holly, that we can really see her political experience, her years of working in community service and serving in elected office, of being accountable to a constituency really coming through. There’s a practicality of what it means to live in diverse communities and what the responsible role of the government is in serving all people, regardless of religion. That really comes through in this writing and in this test that she helped develop over the course of her career.

HOLLY: Yeah. And as a justice, she was very practical, and a lot of the tributes mention that. A lot of her former clerks talk about that, and that quote from Justice Sotomayor recognized that, too. Justice O’Connor was the kind of justice that looks at all the facts before her, looks at the context, and tries to judge, tries to resolve the case.

Establishment Clause law is very complex, and it is difficult to boil it down to one test that could be applied to all different disputes. And as we know, Amanda, there are different kinds of disputes about the relationship between religion and government, and Justice O’Connor often talked about saying that she didn’t think there was one grand unified theory to apply to all cases.

And so the endorsement test was one of many ways, I think, that she saw as trying to get to the heart of the problem, the heart of the matter. And so you have to kind of look at what she says and that she’s trying to get at the meaning of the Establishment Clause, and this endorsement test actually turned out to be pretty useful, at least in the religious display cases.

There were other tests that were applied in funding cases or in cases about internal religious matters, but the endorsement test had, if not as a test itself, at least in principle and thinking, it had quite an impact on religious disputes, including in the Ten Commandments cases.

There were these two cases in 2005 that came to the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays on government property, and the Court issued split decisions. And if anyone’s interested in reminding themselves of how that happened, we can link an article in our show notes, if you want to remember more about those specific disputes.

But what’s significant about Justice O’Connor is that she wrote a concurring opinion in the Kentucky case, the one in which the Court held the display was unconstitutional, and in doing so, she was very clear about the limits on the government’s role in making religious pronouncements and advancing religion.

AMANDA: She said it this way: “Voluntary religious belief and expression may be as threatened when government takes the mantle of religion upon itself as when government directly interferes with private religious practices. When the government associates one set of religious beliefs with the state and identifies nonadherents as outsiders, it encroaches upon the individual’s decision about whether and how to worship.”

And she goes on, and this is the part that is most often ‑‑ and I believe, should continue to be ‑‑ quoted widely. “The goal of the religion clauses is clear: to carry out the founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society. By enforcing the clauses, we have kept religion a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat.

“At a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government, Americans may count themselves fortunate. Our regard for constitutional boundaries has protected us from similar travails, while allowing private religious exercise to flourish.

“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”

HOLLY: And that question typically brings the house down when you’re in front of a live audience.

AMANDA: Exactly.

HOLLY: It encourages us all just to take a moment and get out of our immediate thoughts about what’s going on and just to step back a little bit and think about how this arrangement between religion and government in our constitutional tradition has served us so well.

And particularly, I think, we appreciate, Amanda — which is not emphasized enough — which is how that tradition has been good for religion and still protects individual exercise of religion. It’s not hostile to religious affiliation or religious practice and religious diversity. It just recognizes the distinction between official acts of the government and individual citizens, and how we really need that system of that government restraint in order to hold us all together in all of our diversity.



Segment 3: The ongoing impact of Justice O’Connor (starting at 26:49)

HOLLY: Despite Justice O’Connor’s really good questions to us, there have been very significant changes in church-state law. Those are changes that we’ve often talked about on this podcast: changes in rules and standards that this Court uses or abandons as they decide the conflicts that come before them.

And that really leads us, Amanda, to a story, I think, that sums up a lot about what has changed in the law and particularly looking at Justice O’Connor’s legacy and how she looked at the law and where we are now, that was written by Linda Greenhouse in The New York Times, and I thought that article provides a good jumping off place for us, Amanda, to talk about what’s different in our time now at the Court from when Justice O’Connor served.

AMANDA: Yeah. I was glad, Holly, that you brought that piece to my attention. The title is, “What Sandra Day O’Connor got wrong.” In this piece, Linda Greenhouse cites O’Connor’s thinking. “Rare, indeed, is the legal victory, in court or legislature, that is not a careful byproduct of an emerging social consensus.”

And it’s that idea that Linda Greenhouse says O’Connor got wrong, not because it is a wrong idea, but because recent events on the U.S. Supreme Court show us that the Court does not always follow public opinion or other kind of emerging social consensus that might be happening in society at large.

HOLLY: As Linda Greenhouse described Justice O’Connor, she says that that idea “provided a rationale for the nondoctrinaire, context-attentive approach she took toward deciding hard questions on issues like abortion, Affirmative Action, and LGBTQ rights.”

So she was talking about Justice O’Connor, explaining this way of looking at the law and understanding the courts that makes a lot of sense and, I think, that perhaps we often had taken for granted until recent years and seeing the changes on the Court.

And I agree with you, Amanda, that she’s not saying that that’s a wrong way of thinking. She’s saying that that’s just not how it is now. That’s something that we’ve certainly thought about and have been disappointed in, in this Supreme Court, you know, in many areas of the law.

AMANDA: I think this change is particularly pronounced in the area of abortion rights. That’s because Justice O’Connor was part of the plurality that authored the decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe v. Wade.

And in reading and listening to some of these tributes of Justice O’Connor, I learned that she herself was not a supporter of abortion rights, but yet she had reflected on public opinion and on the fact that over three decades, people had come to rely on the right to an abortion, and that she did not feel it was her role as a justice to overturn that consensus that had emerged in society.

And then we put that next to the Court’s decision in Dobbs, which objectively speaking — no matter what your view is on the opinion — public opinion shows that the Court is not reflecting a majority of public opinion right now when it comes to abortion rights, that they are going against public opinion in overturning five decades of reliance on the right to an abortion. And that just shows this real switch in the Court’s approach to fundamental rights and what the Court’s role is in determining them.

HOLLY: It certainly does. And we’re not even speaking to, you know, how judges make decisions. We’re just speaking to the fact that there’s a change where the Court’s decision does not reflect public opinion.

But we have in other episodes and certainly many other Court-watchers have noted that at times, this Court is looking very much just to get to an ideological end, as opposed to looking at the context of a particular dispute and moving in incremental ways or in ways that build on past decisions, that we would often expect justices to do. So we’re seeing two different things.

We’re seeing not only that the Court’s decisions don’t line up with the public opinion, but we’re also seeing a way of judging that’s very different from the one that Sandra Day O’Connor modeled in a more context-specific, practical approach, with a real understanding of the way these decisions affect real people in their everyday lives.

AMANDA: And this difference, Holly, is not just philosophical. It’s having real impact on people’s lives, and, you know, in the context of abortion rights, again in my state of Texas, we are in a situation where women are literally having to leave the state to get medical care because the state is refusing to have abortions even when they are impacting the health of the mother.

HOLLY: The terrible consequences, Amanda, like the one that you describe, I feel like, are just being known, that people are just starting to hear the stories of women who cannot get basic health care services because of the Dobbs opinion.

And so I think there’s going to be a growing understanding and knowledge of how that decision affects real people in their everyday lives and harms them. It will continue to fuel this impression of the Court as being out of touch — out of touch with the American people and expectations under the law.

As Linda Greenhouse pointed out and we have seen in other reporting, the Supreme Court’s public reputation has taken a real dive in recent years, even starting before the Dobbs case in some decisions also relating to the harsh anti-abortion laws in Texas.

I think that there’s a growing sense that the Court is out of step and is making decisions not consistent with legal expectations and the law, but instead out of an ideological place that is really harming the Court’s reputation. I think their standing has been at an all-time low and has remained so much longer than has ever been the case.

AMANDA: Yeah. And this is not just about popularity. Right? This ‑‑ and I think that Greenhouse makes ‑‑ asks the question, you know, in her pieces. She says, Does legitimacy even matter? And here she quotes a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis, James Gibson, and he says, “Institutions perceived as legitimate have a widely accepted ability to make binding judgments for a political community. Those without legitimacy often find their authority contested.”

And this authority in a political community is really vital at a time when other aspects of that political community are also viewed as illegitimate, such as our government right now. And that’s because of a number of things — including unsubstantiated attacks on the political system, on elections, Congress’s approval rating being at all-time lows. These all work together to work against the fabric of our government and in our society.

And so I think we have to take seriously when the public loses confidence in our institutions, including in the institution of the U.S. Supreme Court. And so part of examining the ongoing impact of Justice O’Connor and her time on the Court, we have to also see what we’ve lost. And what we’ve lost is, in many ways, a centrist jurist who was able to reflect public opinion and find ways to find common ground and to have decisions that would serve all Americans.



Segment 4: Who are your fellow listeners? (starting at 35:31)

HOLLY: Well, Amanda, this is going to be our last episode of 2023. It’s number 10 in Season 5 of Respecting Religion. And so far in this podcast series, we’ve released 83 shows, starting back in February 2020.

AMANDA: Yeah, Holly. Right before the pandemic began, we launched Respecting Religion, and it has been quite a ride since then. We love coming together each week, with each other and with all of you listening. And we’re now midway through Season 5.

HOLLY: This calendar year, we’ve welcomed a lot of new listeners, and we just want to say how grateful we are for those of you who tune in to these conversations, as well as those of you who leave us five-star reviews and ratings. You help others find us.

AMANDA: If you tune in week after week, you learn a lot about Holly and me. And thanks to those of you who listen on Spotify, we now know a little bit more about you. If you use Spotify, you got your own Spotify Wrapped a few weeks ago, showing you what you listen to the most. And as podcasters, we also get a Spotify Wrapped that tells us about who is listening to Respecting Religion.

HOLLY: As a reminder to our listeners, we’re on several podcasting platforms, and we know that most of you listen to us through Apple Podcasts. Spotify is now our fourth most popular platform, but we get these cool graphics from Spotify that tell us more, so we’ll link to those in our show notes.

AMANDA: So what does our Spotify Wrapped tell us about you, our listeners? It tells us that a lot of you found us for the first time in 2023. We had a 559 percent increase in the number of followers to this podcast on Spotify.

HOLLY: Whoa.

AMANDA: We know that Season 4 was downloaded more than 35,000 times across numerous platforms, and this is a look at the calendar year of 2023 for Spotify which includes some of Season 4 and some of this season, Season 5.

Our most popular episode in 2023 was Episode 22 of last season, where we went inside the ReAwaken America Tour. It was streamed about six times as much on Spotify as other episodes, and 17 percent of our new listeners found us through that program.

We appreciate you sharing this podcast with your friends and family. Forty percent of our shares on Spotify came through text messages from one listener to someone else. Our most shared podcast was actually the podcast on the myth of American chosenness.

We also know that for 148 of you who listen to us on Spotify, we’re in your top ten podcasts, so we just want to say thank you for listening, no matter which platform you use to hear these conversations.

HOLLY: Yes. And we always appreciate hearing from you, both in person and through email. This is really a labor of love for us, and we are glad it means a lot to you as well.

AMANDA: We also want to thank everyone who supports this podcast. We’re able to do these shows without any sponsored content, and that’s because of generous donors who give to the work of BJC. We have a link in our show notes that you can use to make a donation to BJC, and using that link lets us know that you found us through the podcast.

HOLLY: Like all nonprofits, BJC tends to receive a large portion of our annual funding through donations at the end of the year, and those gifts really propel our work into the next year. If you’d like to give to BJC, your gift is tax-deductible, and we always appreciate your support.

As long as you give online before December 31 or mail a check to us postmarked by December 31, your gift is tax-deductible for 2023.

AMANDA: Your gifts make our work possible. We depend on them to continue advancing religious freedom for all and countering the dangers of Christian nationalism. Thank you for being part of these conversations and being in this work with us.

HOLLY: That brings us to the close of this episode of Respecting Religion, which is our last one for this calendar year, but we’ll be back in 2024. For more information on what we discussed, visit our website at RespectingReligion.org for show notes and a transcript of this program.

AMANDA: This episode of Respecting Religion is produced and edited by Cherilyn Guy with editorial assistance from Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons and Jennifer Hawks.

HOLLY: Learn more about our work at BJC, defending faith freedom for all, by visiting our website at BJConline.org.

AMANDA: We love hearing from you. You can send both of us an email by writing to [email protected]. We’re also on social media @BJContheHill, and you can follow me on X, which used to be called Twitter, @AmandaTylerBJC.

HOLLY: And if you enjoyed this show, share it. 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 and BJC’s work. As we mentioned, you can donate to these conversations at the link in our show notes.

HOLLY: Join us on Thursdays for new conversations Respecting Religion.