S5, Ep. 14: Faith in elections

How does religious freedom overlap with ensuring fair and free elections?

Feb 1, 2024

What is the role of churches and other houses of worship in protecting democracy? This topic usually comes up because of bad actors that overstep into partisanship, but today’s show looks at how faith communities can help our elections run smoothly. Holly Hollman speaks with Chris Crawford of Protect Democracy – a nonprofit, cross-ideological organization that has a new playbook to help faith communities ensure “all eligible voters can access a ballot and every valid vote is counted.” Learn more about how people of faith can love their neighbors and take active roles in protecting our system of government.

SHOW NOTES:
Segment 1 (starting at 00:45): Working across differences without papering over them

Read more about Chris Crawford at this link.

Protect Democracy and Interfaith America partnered to help faith communities to serve their communities during the 2024 election. Click here to access the Faith in Elections Playbook, and learn more about Protect Democracy at this link.

Protect Democracy’s guide for recognizing authoritarianism is available at this link.

 

Segment 2 (starting at 11:49): The Faith in Elections Playbook 

Chris Crawford mentioned A More Perfect Union: The Jewish Partnership for Democracy. Learn more about their work on their website.

Chris Crawford mentioned PowerThePolls.org as a resource to learn more about being a poll worker.

Segment 3 (starting at 31:03): Religious freedom and protecting our democracy

Respecting Religion is made possible by BJC’s generous donors. You can support these conversations with a gift to BJC.

Transcript: Season 5, Episode 14: Faith in elections (some parts of this transcript have been edited for clarity)

Segment 1: Working across differences without papering over them (starting at 00:23)

HOLLY: 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 Holly Holman, general counsel at BJC.

On today’s show we’ll look at one of the most complex, sometimes contentious, areas of church-state relations: the role of churches and other houses of worship in elections. We often hear about the issue because of bad news where churches are overstepping into partisanship. But today we’re going to focus on how churches and other houses of worship can be involved in the election process and protect democracy.

To do that, I’m joined for today’s show by Chris Crawford. Chris is a policy strategist at Protect Democracy, a nonprofit organization based here in Washington, D.C., that describes itself as “cross-ideological” and is dedicated to defeating the authoritarian threat, building more resilient democratic institutions, and protecting our freedom and liberal democracy.

Chris, welcome to Respecting Religion.

CHRIS CRAWFORD: Thank you very much for having me.

HOLLY: So glad you’re here. So protecting democracy is a really big mission, but at the core of democracy is individuals. So I’d love to start with hearing how you became interested in fighting authoritarianism on a personal level.

MR. CRAWFORD: Absolutely. There’s two tracks that I think I could talk about in my experience that have really made me passionate about democracy. The first is I grew up in New Hampshire, and I was just back for the New Hampshire primary last week, and growing up in New Hampshire, you have political candidates coming literally to your door, to your neighborhood, to your schools and things like that. And being in an environment where you have someone running for the highest office in the country — where you can ask them questions and they are held accountable for their views — gave me a really almost romantic idea of what democracy can be.

And so I met Senator McCain during the 2008 campaign multiple times. I was able just as a high school student to interview Hillary Clinton when she was running in 2008. And one moment especially made me realize the importance of living in a democracy, which was when Senator McCain actually pointed down at me — I was 15 years old in the front row at an event that he was doing — and talked about if we didn’t solve Social Security, this young man will not get the benefits that I’m getting.

HOLLY: Oh, wow.

MR. CRAWFORD: And the fact that I was seen by someone who would eventually be his party’s nominee for president felt really powerful to me at that moment, and it made me realize that we should be able to question these people. They should be held accountable to us. So that’s one part of my passion for democracy.

The other piece is my Catholic faith, and the way I engage in politics is really rooted in the idea of human dignity, and I think that democracies have shown to provide the most for human flourishing, protecting human rights. So my faith is something I really bring to this pro-democracy work as well.

HOLLY: It’s fun to think about how we’re all shaped by the environment we grew up in. I lived in Nashville for a while and feel like if you live in Nashville, you’ve got to know something about country music. And if you live in New Hampshire, you’ve got to know something about elections and democracy. And it’s a great story about you really internalizing that and wanting to work in it.

Now, zooming out to our current state of democracy, how do you assess the overall threat level to our democracy?

MR. CRAWFORD: I used to be someone who thought that our institutions would just naturally hold and that there was a lot of inevitability to the United States functioning effectively, our democracy working, our institutions holding. And I don’t feel that way anymore.

I think that there’s so much evidence of people pushing against our institutions that I think we really cannot be complacent at this moment. It’s important for us to remember that there’s not something divine about our Constitution or our institutions. They’re run by people.

The checks and balances that we have are meaningless if we don’t have people who utilize them, if we don’t have people standing up to authoritarianism.

And so I am concerned right now. I think especially the most foundational element of a democracy, free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power, that came under attack after the last election, and it well could after the next election.

HOLLY: Well, you mentioned authoritarianism, so maybe we should start there or go back to that.

MR. CRAWFORD: Sure.

HOLLY: Can you just state your understanding of authoritarianism and how you see that as potentially a threat in this country under the system that you admittedly — you’re not alone in this — kind of took for granted growing up in America.

MR. CRAWFORD: I would say I should direct your listeners to Protect Democracy’s website, because we just came out with an updated version of our Authoritarian Playbook, which outlines the six key elements of authoritarianism.

Ultimately in my view, authoritarianism is about placing a leader above the rule of law — and I think that’s one of the most dangerous notions that we have right now, and it’s being discussed in our courts right now, is whether a president is above the law.

HOLLY: It’s such important work, Chris, because I think sometimes people are so dedicated to a single issue or something that they just really feel passionate about, that they are so sure is right, not only for them but for their neighbors and for their political community, that they might tend toward authoritarianism, support for authoritarianism, you know, assuming that the authority agrees with them. Is that something that you’ve encountered?

MR. CRAWFORD: Yeah. And I think people need to understand just how valuable our system of government is. And authoritarians can be very good at casting a vision for, If you stick with me, you’ll get what you want; I alone can fix it, for example.

I think from a political standpoint, one thing to remember is there’s backlash to authoritarians often, but even more importantly, if we don’t preserve the system, we will lose so much, no matter what your belief is. We need to believe in that system and know how to use that system in order to achieve the ends that we want, because if that system falls apart, we won’t be able to make progress on anything.

HOLLY: On any issue. That’s right.

Well, you’ve worked with faith leaders specifically in your work at Protect Democracy, and I’d like to hear you talk a little bit about what you think that faith communities — and faith leaders in particular — what role that they have in your work.

MR. CRAWFORD: Absolutely. I think it’s important to start with something that I think is really remarkable about Protect Democracy as an organization, which is as a secular organization, we understand — and I think history has borne this out — that to defeat authoritarianism, you have to be able to build a broad coalition that can put aside differences on politics or policy, to prioritize a defense of democracy.

What I appreciate about the organization Protect Democracy is that we are trying to meet people where they are and build that coalition, and faith communities are such a vital part of building that coalition. They have been in the past.

And so our work specifically that I’m working on in partnership with Interfaith America is particularly concerned with helping houses of worship, religious nonprofits, entire denominations think about how they can take action in nonpartisan ways that are aligned with their values, their skill sets, the specific needs of their communities, to help ensure we have a free and fair election. That’s my specific focus.

HOLLY: That work of engaging the faith community, making sure that they are part of this larger work you are doing is so important, and it’s just one piece of what I understand Protect Democracy’s work is. Can you just say for our listeners kind of the overall big picture of Protect Democracy and what it is doing in this important space where so many Americans are engaged and trying to do their part.

MR. CRAWFORD: Sure. So we are a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, and our central focus is ensuring that the United States does not fall into a more authoritarian form of government.

What does that look like? We have a few tracks of work that we’re focused on. One is free and fair elections. The second is ensuring the rule of law. We do a lot around disinformation, misinformation. And then also even at this crisis moment, focusing on the future of democracy. How can we build an infrastructure, systems in our democracy that don’t benefit authoritarians as much as our current system can?

HOLLY: And you’ve described Protect Democracy as cross-partisan. So what does that mean in practice?

MR. CRAWFORD: In practice, it means a few things. I think we can start by thinking about internally what does it look like to build a cross-partisan team. We have individuals — I started my career in the pro-life movement. I’ve worked on projects with someone who worked on health care issues for Senator Barbara Boxer. We have someone who was a communications strategist for Ted Cruz. We have people who worked in the Obama White House.

HOLLY: All within the organization.

MR. CRAWFORD: All within Protect Democracy as an organization. And it’s sort of like a microcosm of the coalition we want to see out in the world defending democracy.

And then another important thing is the way we try to show up in the world is to find allies who we can meet where they are and speak to them in their own language and help them have what they need to defend democracy in a way that’s meaningful to them.

I think in our politics, too often when we talk about like building bridges, we mean, I want to build a bridge so you come over to exactly where I am. And we try to avoid that. We want to help people find, within their own values, how they can get active.

HOLLY: How is it that people can see past their particular issue, perhaps that they’re experts on, that really animate their involvement in politics — how can they see past this to join in this broader fight with people with whom they disagree to protect democracy?

MR. CRAWFORD: It’s important to start with understanding and recognizing that we do have differences. I think when we try to paper over the differences that we have, it actually can decrease trust. And we have to understand, these differences don’t go away, but it’s important that everything is threatened if we lose our democracy and our institutions, no matter what issue you care most about.

And I think it’s important to think about the fact that it doesn’t mean the issues go away or the differences go away. It means we preserve a system to resolve those differences peacefully.

HOLLY: Yes.

 

Segment 2: The Faith in Elections Playbook (starting at 11:49)

HOLLY: Well, Chris, let’s talk about this project, Faith in Elections. I understand there’s this Faith in Elections Playbook. It sounds like something that really can clarify what we want our listeners to know about the important and legal responsible way that faith communities can be involved in elections.

And as I was looking at it more closely, I noted that Sofi Hersher Andorsky, the vice chair of the BJC Board right now, is on the advisory committee for the project, and I know she has a great passion for this.

MR. CRAWFORD: I’m so glad that you started this conversation by mentioning Sofi, because the work that she’s doing with Aaron Dorfman at A More Perfect Union is basically the project for Jewish communities that we’re standing on their shoulders by putting forward this playbook.

HOLLY: I think it’s worth noting just what the six principles are. So number one, you’re addressing polarization and building cohesion in your community.

Number two, you’re sharing trustworthy information about where and how to vote.

Number three, supporting voters to have a safe, positive voting experience.

Number four, recruiting poll workers.

Number five, offering your space or finding an alternative so your community has enough polling locations.

And, number six, building relationships with local election officials.

MR. CRAWFORD: On a big-picture level, we have two main goals here. The first is to help faith communities find how they can staff and support a smoothly run election. The second piece is trying to increase trust in elections. If we do the first part well, the second part will become much easier.

I see this as a calling in for people. These are so nonpartisan in nature that we want people to see themselves in this playbook. We want to meet them where they are, so that they can take actions in line with their values.

And the calling in piece and building trust piece is important, because there are people that have questions about how our election system works, and I want them to think how they can be part of making it work better. If they have questions, they should know where to ask those questions to get good answers.

If they want to know how our elections are run, I want them to sign up to work as poll workers. I want everyone to see themselves reflected in our democracy.

HOLLY: What do you mean about staffing an election?

MR. CRAWFORD: The first one is just literally serving as staff at a polling location —

HOLLY: Okay. Got you.

MR. CRAWFORD: — serving your community in that way. But it’s also to me about providing other services around an election, if you want to provide food and water or things of that nature, just people serving our election system in some direct way.

HOLLY: And I think that would extend to faith communities that have their own space, providing that as an alternative for polling. So depending on the community, you may need more places just for people to show up and vote to avoid the long lines that we’ve seen in recent elections where some people, you know, had to wait hours and hours to vote. But that is part of this project as well. Right, Chris?

MR. CRAWFORD: Absolutely. And this is one of the most complicated areas, and I’d actually love to hear your thoughts on this topic generally, of houses of worship serving as polling locations, because I was surprised to learn that about, I think it was, 20 percent of polling locations are houses of worship, most of them churches. That number’s over 50 percent in some states. I think it was Oklahoma and Arkansas are the two states with a majority.

But it’s complicated for a number of reasons. Houses of worship have to think about their safety and security. They should think about if they have a religious holiday during an early voting period. They should think about — an election official told me this comes up more than you would think — do they have bingo in the church hall on Tuesday nights that they absolutely cannot change or there will be a revolt? These are questions that people have to think about in addition to church-state questions, questions of priming the way that people are voting.

HOLLY: Right.

MR. CRAWFORD: So I would love your thoughts as we continue to share this resource, the expertise of your organization on how we can make sure we get this right.

HOLLY: Really, Chris, I’m not surprised that roughly 20 percent of all polling locations are churches, and that is because, of course, houses of worship can provide a similar service to community centers, civic organizations that exist in many communities that are polling places.

Now, as you mentioned, there are things to be careful about, not only their internal schedule and their religious needs that will come first for a house of worship, but also — it’s also ensuring that this is a space that is conducive to all comers, because we don’t want any religious test for being able to vote in your community.

So when churches are involved in this work, it would be in what’s typically called like a fellowship hall or some other sort of neutral space. Often the houses of worship that do this well are those that already are very involved in a community beyond their immediate internal communities that are focused on religious education and worship and sharing the faith and growing young disciples.

So, you know, it’s a wonderful way that churches can be good citizens, good contributors to the civic environment, and to do so without any threat of interfering with elections or advancing religion. As you know, there are certain safeguards that you would want to have in place for churches to do that.

MR. CRAWFORD: I think that’s important from both perspectives. You don’t want a religious test, but also as a Catholic, I don’t want a polling booth right in front of where the Eucharist is or right at the foot of a crucifix. I see that as protecting my religious faith in addition to protecting the state.

HOLLY: Let’s talk about the second point, because I really like this idea that faith communities would be involved in sharing trustworthy information about where and how to vote. And, you know, that just assumes that a lot of faith communities — religious organizations — are, again, good citizens in their community, that you can look to them for trustworthy information.

When there’s a lot of people who are dedicated to misinformation and confusing voters, you want people who will tell the truth and provide good information that people can trust. Tell me how you see that particular principle at work in this project.

MR. CRAWFORD: If you think especially about a local community and zoom into that level, you have church bulletins. You have bulletin boards at churches, synagogues, different community centers. People turn there for just basic information about what’s going on in their community. And I think it should be an easy item to add, that people know they can check those sources for where and how they can vote.

You get at something that’s really important that I think as people of faith we should see as an obligation, and I get fired up about this sometimes. But people should know when they talk to a Christian about politics that they’re telling the truth.

And one of the things that upset me most after the 2020 election, the lies about the election, were the ways that faith leaders played a part in that. And we saw this on January 6, either directly telling lies or trying to get cute and accommodate lies and give room for these lies about voter fraud, and then later to say, well, our people believe that there’s voter fraud, so we need these new laws.

You have an obligation if your flock believes something that is not true, you have an obligation to tell them the truth, not to accommodate a lie for political purposes. And that’s something that I get really fired up about that I think is important for us to remember.

HOLLY: And well you should. I really think as religious people, we should be able to hold each other to account for the truthfulness of our statements. We may not always agree on things, but I think that we can share a commitment to telling the truth, and that’s particularly the case when it comes to elections and processes.

Even if we disagree about religion or disagree about where our particular faith takes us on an issue, we should be dedicated to the truth on such basic matters.

MR. CRAWFORD: Absolutely. And I think this gets easier at the local level. These declines that we see in the way that Americans trust different types of leaders — you see that their trust in religious leaders is going down on a national level. But I still think in community centers across the country, people trust their local pastor. People trust the information that they’re getting at a local level, which is part of why this project is designed to meet those people where they are, because I think we can build communities that are supportive of democracy from the ground up for the 2024 election.

HOLLY: So faith leaders and faith communities can be really helpful as trustworthy resources. But I know that the playbook also says that faith communities can really be helpful in recruiting poll workers. Chris, what have you seen as a real need for poll workers and how faith communities can be involved in that?

MR. CRAWFORD: Our elections are run spread throughout the country and rely on about a million everyday people to serve in different capacities as poll workers at voting locations. And just thinking of the huge segment of our population that’s involved with religious organizations, I think we can play a huge role in helping us reach the number that we need.

I should note, people are usually paid for their service. I was talking to someone who runs a social service organization that helps people get back on their feet who’ve been unemployed. I think this is an area that we could think about with folks who are trying to build a resume and get some extra income.

HOLLY: Yeah.

MR. CRAWFORD: This is a great way to serve in that way. I also talk about this issue from the standpoint of when we have a crisis moment, a natural disaster of some kind, faith communities are the ones that are on the scene, putting in the work to provide for their communities.

At this moment, we are in a crisis moment for our democracy. We are facing the democracy and elections equivalent of an earthquake or a tornado, and I would love to see faith communities running at this issue, to take it on and to serve their communities in a similar way in this election season.

HOLLY: How do you find out if your local community needs poll workers?

MR. CRAWFORD: Most of them do need them. The easiest way is to go to PowerThePolls.org, and they have the information you can fill out to sign up, and then that gets sent to your local election official so they know to reach out to you. So that’s PowerThePolls.org.

HOLLY: Your project points out that elections are not run from Washington, D.C., or by political elites, but they are run at the state and local level. And certainly people who have been newly paying more attention because of the problems with elections in recent times have seen that, have seen good people from a variety of perspectives, from different political parties, and we know, Chris, they’re from different religious perspectives, really just serving. And I hope that that experience encourages people to want to continue to serve in their community as poll workers and to see that as something that you can do.

MR. CRAWFORD: Yeah. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. I was in New Hampshire for the primary last week, and as they were getting ready to tabulate the votes, I was talking to someone who was there as a police officer providing security at the polling location. And he said he’s not a political guy, but he said he loved watching the people doing the work. He said, They’re kind of nerdy; they’re really into it; they’re excited about it; they’re strict about the rules in their care. But he said he wished that anyone who has questions about how our elections are run, anyone who believes in conspiracies, just come watch these people do the work. Go sit on the bleachers at the gym and watch. I wanted to get him on CNN in that moment to talk —

HOLLY: Exactly.

MR. CRAWFORD: — about this from that perspective.

HOLLY: Everyone needs to hear that.

MR. CRAWFORD: But I thought he really got at the heart of the beauty of serving your community by being a poll worker.

HOLLY: Tell me a little bit about how you emphasize building relationships with local election officials.

MR. CRAWFORD: Sure. This ties in nicely with the piece about knowing where to go for trustworthy information, because pretty much every time, if you want accurate information, you should go to your local elections office. They have the information.

So what we want to encourage people to do, in whatever way makes sense for their communities, is to approach their election officials, ask questions that you may have, so that you can build a relationship of trust that works in both directions.

If you have doubts or you have things that need clarifying, your election officials should provide that information. At the same time, if your congregation or your coalition believes things that aren’t true, you should get the information that they need from their election officials.

And this is especially important. I have this vision that we can build relationships over the next number of months leading up to the election, so that trust can be built along the way, so if there’s a crisis moment, if there are big questions, if an issue arises, the conversation’s already started, and people know each other and can share information quickly and in relationships based on trust.

And I think there’s a number of ways people can do this. You can invite your election officials to talk to your house of worship. You might be part of an interfaith coalition that does public conversations. You might be part of a broader civic coalition with civic leaders who might not share a religious identification.

But I think there’s a lot of work that we can do to build that trust and get accurate information out, and we provide for a variety of options within this playbook. The folks at A More Perfect Union have been doing this with Jewish communities very effectively, so we basically used their resource as the guide within the Faith in Elections Playbook. So I think there’s a real opportunity here.

HOLLY: Who are we really talking about when we’re saying, Get to know your election officials?

MR. CRAWFORD: They might have slightly different titles, depending on where you are, but if you search your city or town or your county and election office, you’ll get the right name.

HOLLY: Who’s running the election. We’re talking about process here. Right?

MR. CRAWFORD: Right. Exactly. These are the people who are administering the election, who can provide information on how the election works.

HOLLY: Well, Chris, it looks like Protect Democracy and Interfaith America have put a lot of work into this playbook, to make sure that you have these guidelines, kind of a how-to guide for communities that want to be more involved in elections. Tell me a little bit about what kind of response you’re getting.

MR. CRAWFORD: We’ve been encouraged by the response that we’ve gotten so far and especially encouraged by the interfaith response that we’ve had, from either interfaith groups who want to get involved or just interest from across a wide variety of faith traditions.

Something important for your listeners to know is that we have a grant-making component of this project, which is informed from my time working philanthropy. Funders often are late to the game when it comes to funding religious projects related to democracy and elections. So we wanted to invest some of our own funds to start out and hopefully raise more funds along the way, but to resource, provide some seed funding for faith communities to get some initial funding for these projects.

So there are two levels of funding. One is $15,000, which is more for larger networks, and then $1,000 grants for individual houses of worship or local nonprofits. And for both of those amounts, there’s a specific threshold that you’re committing to, of you choose from the six different principles in the playbook what you’re interested in doing, what your community most needs, and we’ll provide that little bit of funding to help get started.

And we’re announcing the first round of grants soon, so I don’t have the exact information yet, but something I am excited about is we have Christian groups, Jewish groups, Muslim groups, interfaith coalitions. So we’re seeing a diversity of response that we were hoping for.

HOLLY: So this is money to help the groups that already exist to dive into some of these principles to make sure they’re at work in their community. Is that fair?

MR. CRAWFORD: Exactly.

HOLLY: Are you focused on groups that are already engaged in their communities, or are you really using this money to try to get some religious communities who aren’t known for being particularly active or involved in elections involved?

MR. CRAWFORD: It’s a combination of those two things. There’s so much good work already happening that I think could benefit from having a boost in funding. There also might be groups who are trying to think of what they might be able to bring to the table in an election season that being able to have a little bit of money to help accomplish that goal can be helpful.

And we want groups to have some flexibility in how they might use this funding. So for some groups, the $1,000 grant might be what they can pay a volunteer to really prioritize this, if they get a stipend to put the time for it. Another group might want to host an event to sign up poll workers. That can cover the cost of the events.

Something I love about this playbook is that these are not my ideas for the most part. We are taking the good information that’s already happening across the country, compiling it in one place, making it accessible for then communities who are doing the work to find the information, look at the FAQs, the sample emails, the helpful information, so that they can use that so that they can do this work in their communities in a way that makes sense for them.

HOLLY: I think one really powerful takeaway from this project is, Chris, that is good news — and people always want to hear good news, right? — is that it assumes that in our country, we are dedicated to fair elections and fair processes for elections. Would you agree with that and say that that’s an underlying understanding of what you’re doing?

MR. CRAWFORD: Yes. We do have an assumption here, based on all of the evidence, that we have a strong, secure election system, and that system relies on everyday people stepping up to make it work, so we want to help them do that.

 

Segment 3: Religious freedom and protecting our democracy (starting at 31:03)

HOLLY: Well, Chris, as we’ve been talking, and I hear both your passion for free and fair elections and your commitment to maintaining that, protecting our democracy through protecting elections, I feel like it’s a parallel track and a related track to the work that BJC does to protect faith freedom for all as well as in our work in fighting Christian nationalism. And part of that is because we believe that religious freedom is something that people want and that we have to work to protect. And I hear that from you and that most people want a democracy and have to understand that we have to work to maintain it.

I appreciate that the playbook states this. It says, “The freedoms that Americans enjoy, including religious freedom, rests on our ability to exercise healthy self governance. Our constitutional form of government depends on millions of Americans stepping up to ensure that every eligible American is able to exercise their right to vote and that our elections are administered in a way that earns the trust of the people.”

So tell me. How do you see this connection between protecting democracy and ensuring religious freedom for all?

MR. CRAWFORD: I think there’s just no way to separate the two. And we’ve talked about the way that elections are foundational to having a democracy and protecting any other rights. You need the right to vote. You need a functioning democracy in order to really have any other rights. Our rights don’t exist in a vacuum, and we need to be thinking about ways that will stand up for each other’s right to vote, stand up for each other’s right to practice our faith.

I think there’s just no way to separate these things, and we need a system of government that allows us to debate our disagreements, to have different, competing visions for what’s best for a society, including visions that are informed by faith. But if we don’t have free and fair elections, if we don’t have democratic institutions, we don’t have that guarantee.

HOLLY: Often when we talk about religious freedom, some people hear that as only important to religious people. And, of course, we know that’s not true, that my religious freedom is only as strong as someone’s right to be free from religion, at least in their personal lives and how they make their personal decisions or whether they choose to be part of a religious community or involved in a particular religious tradition. Is that something that also relates to how you see democracy?

MR. CRAWFORD: Absolutely. I think there’s a question of credibility for all of us. We have to mean what we say about wanting a multiracial, pluralistic democracy where everybody has a voice. We can’t say that on the one hand, and then as a person of faith say, but I would never vote for an atheist, no matter what they believed in, or I don’t want people that have a different faith in my government, or I don’t care about them accessing the ballot because they might vote differently than I do.

And I think the inverse is true, too. There’s a credibility test for people who don’t have a religious faith. They can’t come to the public square and say, I believe in this type of democracy but leave your religion far away from these discussions. I think we have to mean it when we say that we care about everybody’s voice and everybody’s values.

HOLLY: As we say, people of all faiths or no faith at all have the right and responsibility to be active as citizens, to vote and try to influence government.

Given that, Chris, are there particular ways that you see houses of worship and other faith-based entities respect nonreligious people and people of other faiths as they engage in these activities?

MR. CRAWFORD: Yes. I think, as we’ve talked through the different elements of the playbook, as people of faith are thinking about engaging in all of these different activities, they should be mindful of the fact that those around them might not share their religious tradition. If you’re trying to provide a polling location, how do you make that comfortable for all?

I think this goes back to the fundamental thing of loving your neighbor, and we have to love all our neighbors as we’re trying to engage in supporting our democracy. And I think this idea of treating people how you want to be treated is something that came directly from Jesus’s mouth, but it’s also something that I think we can universally recognize as a value, and as a country, we can recognize as a value.

And I think it’s something that is missing often on the personal side of our politics, that we should be thinking of how can we love our neighbor. How can I will the good of my neighbor in the same way I will the good of my own family? I think that’s really valuable, and also it’s something to think about from a systems standpoint and a structural standpoint of I have rights that I think are important to me, and I need to respect the rights of people who are different from me.

And I think sometimes when we think about religious liberty as one area, we do this rhetorical trick of thinking, well, an assault on the religious liberty of my Muslim neighbors is bad, because it could mean that my religious liberty is eventually assaulted.

HOLLY: Right.

MR. CRAWFORD: But I also think we should see their religious liberty as important in its own right and —

HOLLY: Exactly.

MR. CRAWFORD: — not just because it could eventually harm me. I think we have to value that at a starting point.

HOLLY: Well, Chris, I really appreciate the work that you’re doing, spending this time with us today and for our listeners to learn more about the Faith in Elections Playbook. And I want to leave with this moment of hope, which I really think this work demonstrates.

American democracy has been tested before, and it has survived. We know that we are under great strains right now. We know that we are all called to participate and that we have to work hard to defend some basic principles that we have often taken for granted. And I appreciate the work that you’re doing.

I want to know specifically: What gives you hope that we can, even in these really strained times, protect democracy?

MR. CRAWFORD: I’ll go back to the New Hampshire primary, because that was something that was so foundational to my development and my views toward democracy as I grew up, and it was so meaningful to be back there, watching the election last week.

Watching the people at that polling location take such care gave me such hope. It even makes me a little emotional thinking about it, because there’s a million of those people doing that, who will do it in November. They’re under so much stress. Our election officials are facing so much at this moment.

It’s a reminder — you said this in the first question. Our democracy is about individual people. Our institutions don’t hold without people holding them up. And I want to remind your listeners that, as we think about preventing authoritarianism from taking hold, defending our democracy, this takes big, bold action at pivotal moments, but it also takes ongoing activity, dutiful activities in our everyday life in ways that we can find our own small contribution to make toward democracy.

And I’m privileged in this work with faith communities to see people taking that action, and it’s so meaningful and powerful to be able to witness. So I hope everyone that can hear our voices goes to InterfaithAmerica.org and finds their one thing at least that they can do to contribute to our election system.

HOLLY: That brings us to the close of this episode of Respecting Religion. Thanks to Chris Crawford and to all of our listeners for joining us. For more information on the Faith in Elections Playbook, visit our website at RespectingReligion.org for show notes and a transcript of this program.

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

Learn more about our work at BJC, defending faith freedom for all, by visiting our website at BJConline.org. And you can email the show by writing to [email protected]. We’re also on social media @BJContheHill, and you can follow Amanda on X, which used to be called Twitter, @AmandaTylerBJC.

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