On Wednesday, Sept. 8, Noelle Garnier, Policy Strategist at NRB, hosted NRB Live at Lunch with a panel of outstanding legal scholars who weighed in on the biggest issues affecting Christian nonprofits and brought viewers up-to-date on what’s going on in the Supreme Court regarding religious liberty.
Mike Farris, President and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF); Michael Berry, General Counsel at First Liberty Institute; and Brad Dacus, Founder and President of Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) joined as panelists for this virtual event.
Garnier began the conversation by asking what each of the panelists sees as the most important religious liberty issues that non-profits are facing right now. Farris mentioned issues in the sexual orientation and gender identity sector and specifically discussed several Christian colleges that ADF is currently defending. Dacus brought up questions around religious exemptions from vaccine mandates as well as issues with shutdowns—which in many cases, constituted a serious blow to the principle of equality and equal treatment among religious and non-religious institutions. Berry discussed issues with the IRS and non-profits’ tax-exempt status.
With this basis of understanding on some of the most concerning religious liberty issues right now, the conversation then turned to what religious nonprofits and Christian ministries can do now to be prepared for potential future threats to their Constitutional rights.
First Liberty Institute’s Religious Liberty Protection Kits are designed to provide organizations with the resources that they need to protect themselves from attacks on their religious liberty. These tool kits are segmented out for different areas of life and practice such as for schools, military, and ministries.
“Hypotheticals are now reality. Those attacks are going to happen. They are going to come after your ministry. They’re going to come after your school. They’re going to come after your career, your livelihood, etc.,” Berry said. “So, there are things that we need to be doing as Americans to be proactive to protect ourselves. And that’s what these religious liberty protection kits do.”
ADF’s Church and Ministry Alliance also has resources available to help churches and ministries stand for religious freedom. PJI has resources to equip churches and ministries to write bylaws that protect them against religious liberty threats as well as other legal help.
Even though many consider religious liberty to be on a “winning streak” in the Supreme Court, Christian communicators should take the threats to religious liberty seriously.
“I think that the Supreme Court has done a good job on religious liberty, but I wouldn’t say that it’s done a fantastic job,” Farris said.
ADF has had a great record in the Supreme Court over the past eight to nine years, winning 12 of the 13 cases they have defended in the Supreme Court, yet Farris acknowledged that they are not invincible, and religious liberty must still be fought for.
Dacus said that there is a lot on the line with the delicacy of the current 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court. But for now, from a wins and losses perspective, religious liberty is on a winning streak.
“Is it perfect? By no means is it perfect. Is there more that we wish we could accomplish and achieve for the cause of religious liberty? Absolutely,” Berry said. “Do we often see these cases where technically it’s a win, but we feel like maybe we left something on the table? Sure.”
While this winning streak ought to be encouraging, there is no certainty that this will continue.
“Those winning streaks can turn south very, very quickly,” Berry said. “And what we once thought was a dynasty can very quickly fall into disrepair. You’ve got to continue to grind every single day to ensure that the winning streak continues.”
Dacus praised the recent Supreme Court justice appointments and said that these pro-religious freedom and pro-life appointments were “monumental” in terms of shifting the court. At the same time, there is ongoing pressure to expand, or “pack,” the Supreme Court.
“The seriousness of the threat is two ways: what would happen if they did it, and how can they make it happen in the current political environment,” Farris said. “It’s as bad of a threat as you can possibly imagine if they were able to pull this off.”
Farris said that such a move would completely politicize the Supreme Court and have significant, harmful long-range and short-range impacts. Although he said that the Left doesn’t appear to have the political momentum to expand the court right now, Farris encouraged listeners to keep pushing against this because it seems that its proponents are ready to play the long game.
The Biden administration has launched a commission to evaluate arguments for and against the different types of Supreme Court reform. Due to the commission’s limited mandate, the panelists said that they don’t expect much of significance to result from this commission.
“Whatever they say, we’re going to need to respond with strong voices,” Farris said.
Despite the fact that court reform doesn’t appear to be a realistic proposal at this time, Berry encouraged attendees that we still need to speak “very forcefully and in unison against it to make sure that this issue of court reform or court packing in whatever form it takes is a toxic, radioactive issue that they never want to touch again.”
To close their time on NRB Live at Lunch, each of the panelists shared with the audience different resources they are currently reading or would recommend to anyone who is passionate about defending religious liberty.
Dacus urged radio talk show hosts to be aware of what’s going on with religious liberty issues and encouraged them to take advantage of PJI’s weekly newsletter, The Legal Insider, for weekly resources to equip them as they lead these conversations. He also urged TV producers to look at what they’re airing on their stations. PJI’s daily half hour show, “The Dacus Report,” is heard on 711 stations and transmitters across the United States. They also produce 30 or 60 second commentaries for stations every Monday through Friday.
“If stations ignore that aspect of educating, empowering, and equipping, then the people listening are not going to be equipped,” Dacus said.
He also recommended “Christians in a Cancel Culture” by Joe Dallas as an excellent book for equipping the church on how to engage culture with truth and grace. PJI also has resources on how to legally evangelize, including a book that Dacus co-authored, “Reclaim Your School.”
Right now, Farris is reading “Cynical Theories.” Although the authors hold to a different worldview than Farris’s, Farris said that the authors’ points about critical race theory, critical gender theory, and other forms of critical theory—are worth examining.
Berry recommended “Live Not By Lies” by Rod Dreher for instructive insights on resisting threats to liberty and freedom.
Berry also said that he likes to get news updates from podcasts such as The Briefing and The World and Everything in It. First Liberty has a newsletter, First Liberty Insider, with great resources on religious liberty as well as hosting First Liberty Live, a series of live interviews with newsmakers of the day.
“It’s easy to become tired and forlorn in this battle for religious liberty and battle for our first amendment rights and other freedoms. Don’t grow weary in doing what is good. Courage is contagious,” Berry encouraged webinar attendees. “In order for our organizations to advance the cause for religious freedom, we just need one person who is willing to take a stand. And usually when that first person stands up and is bold and courageous, it spreads.”
Dacus encouraged Christian communicators that their responsibility is not to guarantee results—but to follow God faithfully.
“[God] wants us to be obedient. He wants us to be faithful. Results is not our issue. That’s God’s issue. He wants us to be obedient and faithful with the truth and take our walk with him seriously on a day-to-day basis,” Dacus said. “Now is the time to step up and not retreat.”
Farris emphasized the providence of God to those who serve Him.
“I have seen God deliver time and time again,” Farris said. “We need to be diligent. We need to be alert to the times around us. But we need to know that we serve a God who cares about his people.”
Click here to watch a full replay of this conversation on NRB Live at Lunch.