We have seen numerous state and national court cases in recent years addressing our religious liberties. From adoption agencies to public monuments to medical service providers, it is becoming harder and harder for people of faith to live out their faith anywhere outside of their home or church. Religious liberty is one of the most fundamental freedoms in our nation, and Luke Goodrich of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty fights every day to defend this freedom.
Goodrich is the vice president and senior counsel at Becket, and he joins NC Family Communications Director Traci DeVette Griggs to discuss his new book on this week’s episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast, in Part 1 of a 2-part show.
“We tend as Christians to treat religious freedom primarily as a political or legal issues,” says Goodrich, “when in reality, it’s much more than that. It’s a basic issue of biblical justice rooted in the nature of God and the nature of man.”
In his book Free to Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty in America, Goodrich unpacks the top five threats to religious liberty in our culture today. One of these threats is the issue of non-Christian religious minorities and if they will receive the same religious freedom as everyone else.
“Protecting religious freedom for non-Christians is simply the right thing to do,” urges Goodrich, “if we really believe that it is a basic issue of biblical justice rooted in the nature of God and the nature of man. If we believe that the government is exceeding its God-given realm of authority when it violates religious freedom, we have to protect religious freedom for people of all faiths.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Luke Goodrich share more about the biggest threats we all face to our religious freedoms in America.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. It’s no secret that religious liberty in America is under attack. From adoption agencies to public monuments to wedding and medical service providers, it’s harder and harder for people of faith to live according to their faith anywhere outside of their home or church building. Well, thankfully there are leaders stepping up to defend one of the most fundamental freedoms of the great American experiment, and that is religious liberty. Our guest today is one of those leaders. Luke Goodrich is vice president and Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, where he has won numerous precedent-setting cases across the country, including multiple U.S. Supreme Court victories for clients like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby. His debut book is called Free to Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty in America, and it’s a candid look at the current status of religious freedom in America today. He has some tangible recommendations for what we can all do to protect this very basic human right.
Luke Goodrich, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
LUKE GOODRICH: Thanks so much for having me.
TRACI GRIGGS: Religious liberty is being attacked by some these days as a guise for discrimination, and sometimes people who say this don’t seem to realize that we have had a right to religious liberty in our U.S. Constitution since nearly the very beginning. Can you tell us why this important freedom is essential in our country’s legal, political, and historical landscape?
LUKE GOODRICH: Absolutely. Religious freedom is such a bedrock value, and even if you’re not a religious person, there are many reasons to stand up for religious freedom. And one is that religious freedom benefits all of society because it allows religion to flourish, and religion produces the moral virtue that’s necessary for self-government. It also produces schools and hospitals and nursing homes and halfway houses that care for the most vulnerable in society. Religious freedom also protects all of our other rights because the basic premise of religious freedom is that there’s something inside each one of us that the government simply cannot touch. When the government is limited in that way, it provides a foundation for all of our other rights. But the most important reason to protect religious freedom is that it is a fundamental human right. It’s rooted in who we are as human beings—that we all have a thirst for transcendent truth, we all have a conscience that urges us to embrace truth and reject error. By its very nature, we can’t act on our conscience under compulsion; we can only embrace truth authentically if we embrace it freely. So when the government coerces us to go against conscience, it’s violating who we are as human beings, and violating a fundamental human right.
TRACI GRIGGS: So are you surprised at the sometimes vicious attacks on religious freedom that we’re seeing, especially in considering the fact that it’s been with us since the inception of our country?
LUKE GOODRICH: Yeah, I’m troubled, but I’m not at all surprised. And I think if we’re paying attention to what’s going on in our culture, we can understand why religious freedom is under such pressure. And the reason for that is longstanding Christian beliefs about truth, about human life, and about marriage, are now increasingly viewed as a threat to modern culture. And it’s no longer enough, for example, for abortion to be legal under Roe vs. Wade; it also has to be acceptable, and if you don’t accept it, you’re somehow discriminating against women and denying them access to health care. You see the same attitude on same-sex marriage. It’s no longer enough for same-sex marriage to be legal under the Supreme Court’s decision; it also has to be accepted, and if you as a traditional religious person who doesn’t accept it, you are discriminating and the government should punish you. And those are very real currents in our culture today, and they are producing increased religious freedom conflicts in cases across the country.
I think there are a lot of ways that we as Christians need to grow in our understanding of religious freedom. We sort of just take religious freedom for granted, but a lot of Christians are now starting to wake up to the fact that religious freedom is under renewed attack. And yet we’re kind of in a reactive posture. I see some Christians who tend to lean conservative; they basically view religious freedom as a way of protecting Christianity, protecting our Judeo-Christian heritage, and keeping a privileged place for Christianity in society. I talk with other Christians—they tend to lean more liberal—and they kind of reject the idea that religious freedom is under attack at all. And they might even say, “Well, religious persecution actually could wake us up as a church, so bring it on.” And I think the error in both of those views is that we tend as Christians to treat religious freedom primarily as a political or a legal issue, when in reality it’s much more than that. It’s a basic issue of biblical justice rooted in the nature of God and the nature of man. And we need to recapture that understanding so that we can advocate for religious freedom in an effective and holistic and persuasive way.
TRACI GRIGGS: Leading to possibly a shameless plug to your new book, how do we do that? How do we begin to understand more what religious liberty is so that we can wield it in a way that’s just, and not like you said, for keeping this privileged status?
LUKE GOODRICH: That’s why I’ve written Free to Believe, is to help ordinary Christians understand why religious freedom matters, how it is threatened today, and what can we do to protect it? And I think as Christians, we need to start with scripture. So that’s where I start. And if you go back all the way to Genesis 1, God creates Adam and Eve in His image. And that means a lot of things, but one thing it means is that we’re created with a capacity for relationship with God, a loving relationship with God. We also see throughout scripture that God is pursuing relationship with us; He ultimately sends His son to rescue us. So we desire relationship with God, God is pursuing relationship with us, and yet God never coerces anyone into relationship with Him. And so if God Himself doesn’t coerce us into relationship with Him, how much less should the government? And when the government does that—when it inserts its course of power into that relationship between God and man—it is exceeding its God-given realm of authority and committing an injustice. So that’s the sense in which religious freedom is a basic issue of justice rooted in the nature of God and the nature of man. And that needs to inform how we advocate for religious freedom in the public square.
TRACI GRIGGS: So you think then simply better understanding the scripture surrounding religious liberty is going to help us naturally make better decisions?
LUKE GOODRICH: Absolutely. We need to understand scripture first, but that’s not the only thing we need to understand. And the second part of my book is devoted to the top five threats to religious freedom in our culture today. And the five issues are…Number one: the conflict between abortion rights and religious freedom. Number two: the constitutional conflict between gay rights and religious freedom. And number three: the misuse of anti-discrimination laws to interfere with the ability of churches and other religious groups to choose their leaders and members in accordance with their religious beliefs. The fourth one is how we think about religious freedom for non-Christian religious minorities. And then the fifth major area is what I think of as the public square: the relationship of government to religion, and religious symbols in the public square, or government funding for religious groups. And so we as Christians need to understand how these different areas are going to play out in the law so that we can respond with wisdom and with grace and with confidence.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right. I think you started with abortion rights, so tell us a little bit more about why you feel like this is one of the top five threats.
LUKE GOODRICH: So when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade back in 1973, on the same day it decided a case called Doe vs. Bolton, and that held that religious organizations can’t be forced to participate in an abortion. And that’s a position that’s held steady for many years. But with the cases that we handled at Becket on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby, you saw an attack on that longstanding compromise. They were trying to force the Green family—the owners of Hobby Lobby—and the Little Sisters of the Poor—who are Catholic nuns—to use their health insurance plans to provide coverage for drugs that could cause an abortion. We ultimately took those cases up to the Supreme Court and won those cases, but it’s still an ongoing fight today. “Can religious people be a coerced by the government to participate in some way in an abortion?” And we need to be prepared as Christians to understand the arguments for and against that, and why it’s vital that no person of conscience should be forced to participate in the destruction of human life in violation of their religious beliefs.
TRACI GRIGGS: Okay, so I think the second one that you mentioned was gay rights.
LUKE GOODRICH: Yeah, so the potential conflict between gay rights and religious liberty, you see it playing out in two main ways. One is private lawsuits; this is where LGBTQ individuals or couples might sue religious organizations, or individuals, for denying them service in support of their wedding and so forth. The other major area is what I think of as government penalties. This is where the government doesn’t wait for a lawsuit, but rather a state or local government deems traditional religious beliefs about marriage to be discriminatory, and then penalizes religious individuals or groups by denying them a license or denying them accreditation or contracts or grants or loans, or even tax-exempt status. So this area of the law is a major risk to religious organizations and individuals today, and we need to be prepared as Christians to make the public argument for why traditional religious beliefs about marriage are not some sort of invidious bigotry, but are rather a longstanding belief that many people have held and continue to hold, and is worthy of respect and protection.
TRACI GRIGGS: Okay, so we’re working our way through what you have found to be the five most pressing threats to religious freedom in America and you have gone through abortion rights and gay rights. What would be your next one?
LUKE GOODRICH: The next one would be the misuse of anti-discrimination laws to interfere with the ability of religious groups to choose their members and leaders in accordance with their religious beliefs. And you see this playing out in a couple of different contexts. One is Christian student groups on state university campuses, and they’ve been penalized by their universities because they expect their leaders to uphold a traditional Christian sexual ethic. You also see it in religious schools that are choosing their teachers in accordance with their religious beliefs. But then the teachers sue and say, “You’re discriminating against us!” And the question in all of these cases is, “Can religious groups choose their leaders in accordance with their religious beliefs or not? Is the government going to interfere in that?” And you know, when it comes to other mission-driven organizations, nobody would expect an environmental group to be forced to hire a climate change denier! You hire people who fully believe in and support your mission. And the same should be true of religious groups.
TRACI GRIGGS: So tell us what would be another threat then? What would be the next threat you’d want to tackle?
LUKE GOODRICH: Yeah, another major issue is non-Christian religious minorities and will they receive the same religious freedom as everyone else? And I’ve talked with a lot of Christians about this and some Christians do struggle with this and wonder, “Should we stand up for religious freedom for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and others?” And I offer three arguments why all Christians should care about religious freedom, even for those we disagree with. One, I call the argument for self-interest, and that’s simply the fact that the precedents that are set in cases involving Muslims and Jews and others, directly affect Christians. So even if you only care about religious freedom for Christians, it’s simply smart to defend religious freedom for everyone else.
The second argument after that I call the argument from evangelism, and we as Christians obviously want people to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. And what is the best way to get them to do that? Is it to take government power and stop people from practicing false religions? We never see that in scripture. Rather, we appeal to people’s conscience, and it has to be a freely embraced truth. And so actually protecting religious freedom for non-Christians enables more people eventually to come to faith in Christ. Then the third and last argument for defending religious freedom for non-Christians, I call the argument from justice, and this is the fact that protecting religious freedom for non-Christians is simply the right thing to do if we really believe that it is a basic issue of biblical justice rooted in the nature of God and the nature of man. If we believe that the government is exceeding its God-given realm of authority when it violates religious freedom, we have to protect religious freedom for people of all faiths.
– END PART ONE-