As we approach the July 4 holiday weekend, the word freedom should give us pause and make us ponder. As the Supreme Court wraps up this session, we are left reeling from decisions that will unleash pain, death, and trauma to individuals and families, but will also render the country as a whole even more divided, state by state. These decisions come alongside the unfolding story of the January 6 riot at the Capital unveiling how close we have come to losing even the democracy we have. The words of Janis Joplin capture the pervasive mood: “Freedom is just another word, for nothing left to lose.”
I began as interim head of Interfaith Alliance just two weeks ago as these new realities came to the fore. Our team has been laser-focused with policy analysis and media presence on the abrogation of the separation of church and state, not only in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization but also in Carson v. Makin and Kennedy v. Bremerton. Singly and together, they represent a cruel abuse of power and reflect a court that has been influenced by a toxic white-bred nationalism in the guise of Christianity, a violation of true religious freedom.
As a Christian minister but also as a woman who wrestled with and exercised my freedom of conscience and moral choice to have an abortion, the Supreme Court’s decision this week to deny those basic rights–not only protected by the Constitution but also God-given, grieves my heart. Every pregnant person should be able to make decisions about their body and family as I was able to do.
The words “religious freedom” get thrown around a lot without examining what they really mean. But here’s a thought exercise for this holiday weekend as you gather with family and friends and talk about who we are and where we’re going. True religious freedom is: neutral, non-coercive, non-discriminatory, not absolute, democratic, and pluralistic. You can find a more detailed discussion of all of these tenets in a recent report by partners at the Law, Rights, and Religion Project at Columbia University and Auburn Seminary.
When I am brought low in times like these when panic and paralysis set in, words from a Christian text come to mind: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of sound mind.”
My hope is that we will face down the spirit of fear that gets inside us. That we will use whatever power we have well–through conversation and persuasion, donations, and the vote. That we will love one another as we build a world where all can thrive, especially those on the margins. We need each other! As the song says: “I need you to survive.” And finally, that we will be of sound mind: wisdom, clarity, moral imagination, and good enough strategy, not manipulated by fear. As my friend, renowned preacher, and wise elder, the Rev. Dr. James Forbes says: “This is no time for foolishness!”
Know that we at Interfaith Alliance–in D.C. and with affiliate partners around the country– will stay vigilant and vocal–through research, policy, advocacy, and partnership–to promote true religious freedom in a world of justice and love.
Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, Interim President and CEO
Learn more about Interfaith Alliance’s efforts to protect true religious freedom.