Q&A: Michael P. Farris, NRB General Counsel

NRB | January 26, 2023 | NRB News

This week, NRB was delighted to welcome acclaimed religious liberty and free speech advocate Michael P. Farris to the NRB as General Counsel.

In a recent Q&A with NRB, Farris shared his perspective on threats to Christian communicators, reflections on decades in First Amendment advocacy, and what he hopes to accomplish at the NRB.

Q: What draws you to participate in the mission of the NRB: to help maintain access for Christian communicators and keep the doors open for the spread of the Gospel?

MF: There are several reasons that I am really looking forward to this new role with NRB. Perhaps the starting point would point back to 1994 when I was President of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). A bill in Congress, H.R. 6, threatened to harm all forms of education, but it would have been the death knell of homeschooling because it would have required every homeschooling parent to be state certified.

While HSLDA had organized the fledging homeschooling movement, our efforts were immeasurably [amplified] by Christian broadcasters. First was Marlin Maddoux who exposed his audience to the need to rally all believers in freedom to support homeschoolers in their fight with Congress. Jim Dobson gave us a huge boost when he used his platform at Focus on the Family to get the message to millions. And countless other broadcasters, both radio and television covered our story and delivered our message. The result was a huge victory in Congress when Bill Clinton was President and the Democrats were fully in control of Congress. I learned firsthand the value of this community in the battle for freedom for our faith and our country.

I have also become increasingly concerned about the effort to de-platform Christian speakers of all types by Big Tech and their government allies. Preserving freedom of the press and freedom of speech is essential for this industry, but even more for our audiences and the Nation as a whole.

Q: What will you be working on in this role?

MF: Having been in Washington since the early 1980s, I will play a role in delivering NRB’s message on Capitol Hill and in the courts. I would expect to regularly file amicus briefs on behalf of the members of NRB in the Supreme Court and in other key cases in selected appellate cases. I hope to be able to speak readily in writing and in broadcast opportunities to deliver our message of faith and freedom in support of our president Troy Miller and along with my colleague, Noelle Garnier.

Q: Your decades of First Amendment advocacy leadership have covered a range of topics and issue areas. Can you highlight a few aspects of interest to the NRB audience of Christian communicators?

MF: My first job in Washington was as General Counsel for Concerned Women for America (CWA) where I litigated cases on religious freedom, right to life, freedom of speech, and moral issues of the day. I worked for Beverly LaHaye and with her husband, Tim, in these very formative years of my career and the developing years of our movement. Then, with the blessings of the LaHayes, I left to start the Home School Legal Defense Association. Our family was brought into that movement by two Christian broadcasts—one on Focus on the Family and the other on a television show hosted by Tim and Beverly. I served as President of that organization for nearly two decades and still am the Chairman of the Board—a position I have held for 40 years.

In 2000, I was the founding president of Patrick Henry College, eventually transitioning to the position of Chancellor for a total of 16 years. In late 2016, I was hired to become the second President and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom—a position I held until just a couple months ago. I felt called to hand the reins of that unparalleled organization to my longtime General Counsel, Kristen Waggoner. I retain a role as a part-time consultant for ADF in support of Kristen’s efforts.

In the process, I have successfully argued two cases in the Supreme Court of the United States and dozens of appellate cases in a number of federal and state appellate courts. My most recent case in the Supreme Court was in 2018 on behalf of California’s prolife pregnancy centers. It was a major free speech case which we won 5 to 4.

Q: You’ve devoted significant time to teaching Christians about the Bible and the Constitution. What is the most important thing that Christian communicators should understand about the First Amendment?

MF: There is a long-standing rule that the content of one’s speech or the viewpoint from which one speaks can never be the ground for government punishment or restriction. To say it simply and in an applied manner, religious speech is not second-class speech. And the case I won in the Supreme Court in 2018, settles the nonsense that commercial speech is not fully protected by the First Amendment.

Q: What do you see as the biggest concerns facing Christian communicators?

MF: The Big Tech woke cancel culture together with their secretive government collaborators want to silence anyone who dares to disagree with their woke orthodoxy. This is the existential threat not just of this industry, or of religious freedom, this is a threat on what it means to be an American.

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