WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith, and today you will be listening in on conversations I had at the recent Evangelicals for Life conference, including one with the man who convened at that conference, Dr. Russell Moore.
Later in the program, we’ll hear from Lauren Green McAfee. She’s part of the third generation of Oklahoma City’s Green family, the family that owns the retail chain, Hobby Lobby. Her family took a case defending religious liberty all the way to the Supreme Court for years ago.
We’ll also hear from Kristen Waggoner, who leads the legal team at Alliance Defending Freedom. She’s argued on behalf of life and religious liberty at the Supreme Court herself. We’ll get her to talk about that experience.
But first up today is Russell Moore. As the father of two adopted sons and as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the group convening Evangelicals for Life, Russell Moore has become a leading pro-life voice in this country. He also often speaks for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, on moral and public policy matters. As a result, he was named by Politico magazine to it’s 2017 list of the top 50 influence makers in Washington.
Dr. Moore, as I’ve been here today looking at the Evangelicals for Life, I might say, and I’m wondering how you react to what I’m about to say, that this event and maybe the pro-life movement has gone from—if I could use the word merely—merely pro-life to being whole life. How do you respond to that?
RUSSELL MOORE, GUEST: Well, I think that on the ground level, the pro-life movement has always been whole life. So I think there’s a caricature sometimes in American life that would say, well, pro-life people they believe life begins at conception and ends at birth. That’s what a one politician used to say. Well, that’s not what’s going on on the ground. The people who are actually ministering to women who are pregnant and in crisis are dealing with the whole range of caring for that woman, for her baby, for their economic needs, for a whole range of things. So that’s been going on in the pro-life movement at the ground level forever.
What we are trying to do is to say we need to take people who understand what the Bible teaches about abortion and say, apply the image of God everywhere, but also to say to people who understand how the image of God applies to say, sex trafficking or adoption and foster care or other issues, and say, well, that also means that you need to be concerned about the unborn.
SMITH: Well, I don’t want to get too much in the weeds on these kinds of questions, but I’ve heard it said that the evangelical movement has got a pretty solid biblical theology but doesn’t have as solid a biblical anthropology as it needs. A robust understanding of humans being made in the image of God. Is that kinda what you’re getting at?
MOORE: Yes, because I think that’s how we got into the situation we were in right before and right after Roe vs. Wade.
I mean, we look back and we can see some really heroic evangelical figures on abortion—Francis Shaffer, C. Everett Koop, some others. But we also saw a lot of evangelicals who either accepted sort of the pro-choice rendering of abortion or who just didn’t care about it and saw it as a Catholic issue. If you look back and say, well, why? It’s not because they were supportive of abortion. It’s because they said, I don’t find abortion in the concordance, therefore, it’s not an important issue. Our Catholic friends had an understanding of the human being and what it means to be a human person and brought that to the table in a way that really helped to educate many evangelicals on what the Bible actually teaches about what it means to be a human being created in the image of God. And that’s one of the reasons why we have to have a strong sense of that. Otherwise, when we start moving into these really complex issues of gene editing and human cloning and the whole variety of situations that were going to be facing in the years to come, if we’re not aware of what it really means to be created in the image of God, we’re going to be in the same place we were in in 1973.
SMITH: Well, I take your point and think it is an extraordinarily valid point. But I also hear that within the pro-life movement, this understanding that you’ve done a great job of articulating has the potential for, they’re concerned that the pro-life movement will become too diverse. There we’ll be too concerned about too many different issues and we’ll stop keeping the main thing the main thing. I mean, even for example, today, you know, we’ve got someone from Prison Fellowship Ministries here. We’ve got folks that are involved and, I mean, as someone who works for the Colson Center, I am not denigrating that at all, but I’m simply pointing that out as an example that might give some credence to the idea that the pro-life movement needs to stay focused on the pro-life movement or it’s going to lose the battle there.
MOORE: Yeah, well, the problem with that is very similar to what would happen in a local church where you have someone saying, well, why should we be concerned about global missions when we have people in our own community who need to be reached for Christ? Or people who would say, well, why are we spending time in our backyard when we have people who are across the seas, who have never heard of Christ? No. It’s both-and. So you have a variety of callings and gifts that actually needed to be integrated together. So you have some people, for instance, that God has called, working on dealing with women in crisis who are persuadable by the abortion industry and pointing them to a different way. You have other people who are working to place children who need families into homes where they can be cared for. You have other people working in a whole variety of ways. They actually need to be integrated together to teach one another about the things that they’ve learned that are going to be effective. I think the problem is not that we’ve lacked focus. I think the problem is we’ve been siloed and we haven’t — All of these things that God is doing haven’t been actually working together.
SMITH: I wanted to ask you to sort of broaden your perspective just a little bit, even though we’ve been talking somewhat broadly, but to talk about the state of the pro-life movement generally. We still have a whole lot of abortions in this country. A lot of great activities going on: pregnancy care centers, the efforts that you are leading, many, many other efforts. And yet the number of abortions while it has fallen some is still tragically high. I think you’d agree with that. So the question is, should we just be doing more? In other words, we’re doing the right things, we just need to enroll more people and get more people involved in the movement, change more hearts and minds? Or, in the back of your mind, does it gnaw at you that maybe we’re not doing the right things, that there’s something missing in what we’re doing?
MOORE: Yeah. Well, I think there is something missing but, to start with, I think there’s a wrong sense of despair that can come in. Because sometimes people will say, hey, we’re almost 50 years out from Roe vs. Wade and we still have legal abortion in America.
That’s true. But the very fact that we have a pro-life movement that is still vibrant and functioning and speaking to conscience is itself something that very few people on the other side would have predicted in 1973. He would have assemble history is going to simply absorb this and move forward. So, that’s a reason for hope. I think we do have reasons to be really worried though, especially when we’re looking at technology, because abortion is increasingly becoming less clinical, more chemical. And I think if we’re not careful, we could end up with the same situation with abortion that we had with pornography where many gains were being made when it came to pornography in print, medium or in video medium. And then what comes right after that? The Internet. We’re in a very similar sort of situation globally right now. That’s a reason to take a good deal of pause. I think the danger that we could have, could be either to be in despair and say, well, we’re going to lose this. We’re never going win this. I think it’s a wrong perspective, but it’s also wrong to have a triumphalistic view and say, well, look at these polls and we have this many people who are pro-life because as you and I both know, there are many people who would call themselves pro-life, would vote pro-life, but when it comes to their own situations are often preyed upon by the abortion industry. So we have to have, I think, an Augustinian understanding of both God’s working common grace around us right now and take hope from that, but also a deep sense of fallenness around us and continue to press forward.
SMITH: Well, a couple of times you’ve mentioned medical technology. You’ve mentioned advances in science that—maybe advances isn’t exactly the right word—that are going to be the great challenges of the future. And I do take your point because I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was pretty actively involved 25 years ago in getting some zoning laws changed so that sexually oriented businesses basically disappeared from the city of Charlotte. And then the internet came along and rendered all of those gains more or less irrelevant. And I hear that that’s what you’re saying could happen to the pro-life movement. So given that, what do we do?
MOORE: Well, I think what we have to do is to continue to work in the political and legal arenas, but as we’re doing so use every effort in order to sort of show our work, in terms of a homework analogy here, in order to show our own people, here’s why we care about this. And also to say to the outside culture, here are the principles that are at work here that are translatable in whatever the potential situation is. And also to have a sense of training our people to be able to win well, which is when we have advances not to see those things as permanent. But also to be able to lose well, to say even when we don’t succeed, we’re explaining to the next generation why we cared about these things. Because often that then becomes the seed ground for things that God does much later on.
SMITH: So, final question: Net net, and you’ve already kind of suggested where you stand on this, net net, you’re hopeful? You’re positive about the future of the pro-life movement and the future of this country? Or not?
MOORE: I always a quote to the old radical environmentalist, Edward Abbey, who when asked if he was an optimist or a pessimist, says, “I’m a pessimist in the short term, I’m an optimist in the long term. And by long term, I mean the next 5,000 years.” That’s pretty well where I am, I don’t think we can know what’s around the corner from us. And so I think there have been, if you look at movements in the past, there have been people who seemed as though they were permanently winning, who suddenly collapsed. And there were people who seemed to be advocating for causes that were hopelessly gone, who then succeeded. So I don’t think we know necessarily what’s in the future. What I do think we know is that we’re going to be dealing with human conscience consciousnesses who actually know at a deep level what’s wrong here, and to be able to speak to those with a more excellent way.
SMITH: I’m Warren Smith and today you’re listening in on conversations I had at the recent Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, D.C. Next, Lauren Green McAfee. Lauren McAfee is a speaker and a writer and she’s also a corporate ambassador for her family’s business, Hobby Lobby, as well as actively engaged in the work of her family in the founding of the Museum of the Bible. Lauren is pursuing a PhD in ethics and public policy and she and her husband Michael live in Oklahoma City.
Lauren, welcome to the program and first of all, can you just tell me why you’re here and why you wanted to come. What did you want to share with the folks here at Evangelicals for Life?
LAUREN MCAFEE, GUEST: Yeah, I love coming to this conference every year. A number of years back, I came whenever Evangelicals for Life was getting started and came to the first conference and that was also my first year to get to be around the March for Life. I had heard about it all growing up and it was my first time to get to participate and it was just an amazing experience and this week is so special to get to see so many pro-life leaders showing up here in Washington D.C., attending conferences like Evangelicals for Life and hearing just wonderful speakers who are highlighting the importance and the sacredness of life and valuing life and human dignity at every stage of life. And, of course, with the March for Life happening this week, that also includes the most vulnerable, those in the womb. And so it’s always been — kind of the cause for life has always been an important issue for me as well as my family. And so I’ve loved coming to this every year. It’s always a special week.
SMITH: So what are you saying to the group? What are you going to tell them?
MCAFEE: Yeah, so I get to speak on a breakout panel and talking about pro-women and pro-life, being both of those things. And I that the opposite side has done a good job of saying that we are not pro-women for those of us that are pro-life and I think that that is a great misunderstanding. So, getting to highlight the importance of the fact that yes, we’re pro-life, we’re pro for that baby in the womb and we are also for that woman who is in a difficult situation or an unplanned pregnancy, whatever it is that’s causing her to not know what to do with that pregnancy. And so the church has been, I think, had a significant role in loving on women who are trying to decide what they’re going to do whenever they’re in that situation and with that they have been very pro-woman and caring for that mom, caring for that woman and supporting women and telling them that, hey, we’re going to be here beside you. We’re going to walk alongside you with this. We’re going to be the hands and feet of Christ and support you. And that is very pro-woman. We’re loving on that woman and that’s a huge part of what the heart is behind, I mean, all of the individuals that I know that are pro-life. So it is both. They’re not an opposite dichotomy. They are actually very much in unison within the pro-life movement.
SMITH: Well, when we started the conversation a couple of minutes ago, Lauren, you mentioned that the life issue was very important to you and your family. You said, just in case people don’t know, you’re a part of the Green family that founded Hobby Lobby and also the Museum of the Bible. Do you mind saying specifically what you and your family are doing in the pro-life movement? Because I know some of that activism is significant.
MCAFEE: Yes, so I grew up and my family always valued life and human dignity. My mom served on the board of a pregnancy center and I got to be involved as well in the pregnancy center near where we were locally in Oklahoma City. And then most people have heard about the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case. So if they have heard of that, but they’re not familiar, that was a Supreme Court case where our family was because of the Obamacare mandate, we were being forced to pay for abortifacient drugs and devices that could end a life. And we were being told as a privately owned company that we had to pay for those personally for any employee that wanted them. And that went against our deeply held convictions. And we have a great healthcare plan. We care for our employees. We have a high minimum wage for our company, for anyone that works in our business, and we want to care well for our employees. But that crossed the line into going against something that’s a deeply held conviction and actually is ending a life.
And so the Supreme Court argument was over that, of not forcing us to go against our convictions. And so we did end up winning a 5-4 decision back in 2014. And going through that whole season towards the Supreme Court was an opportunity to hear from so many people that are on the front lines within the pro-life movement that were reaching out to us and praying for us and supporting us. And that gave me just a great window into the good work that is being done. Could have been a bigger picture across the country, whereas I had been involved in my community and now I was getting to see that kind of on a national level and have just been so inspired and amazed by the good work being done around the country and the leaders that are truly just making a difference through with the great work within the movement. And so that has just kind of propelled me to be even more passionate about this issue from that experience we had.
SMITH: Well, I know in addition to those experiences that we’ve already talked about, specifically your family and also your involvement here at Evangelicals for Life. I also know that there’s sort of another part of your life where you study deeply religion and ethics and theology. And my understanding is that you’re pretty close to a doctoral degree.
MCAFEE: I’m working on it, yes. I’m in the PhD program, working towards finishing that.
SMITH: Yeah, so I know you thought deeply about these issues and not just superficially and studied them over a long period of time. So, from where you sit, what do you think the state of the pro-life movement is right now? I mean, is it in a good spot? Despite all of the wonderful organizations and activities that you’ve mentioned, we still have hundreds of thousands of abortions in this country every year. Is it that we are doing the right things and we just need to do more or is it maybe that we need to be doing something else?
MCAFEE: Yeah, that’s a good question. And there’s not one answer to it. So this is a complex–and I think that people have thought about this question a lot over the years. And so when you’re looking at the pro-life movement, we’re talking about a movement that has been around for 40 years, well longer than 40 years. And back when 40 plus years ago, Roe vs. Wade was decided, there was already a pro-life movement before that, but that really did ignite kind of the dissension that we now see kind of between these two opposing sides. And many thought that by the time we were 40 years later, this would be kind of a done issue. This wouldn’t still be a significant public debate that still goes on in our culture and it is. So this is an issue that is still very significant and very important and people would like to say that they’ve seen more progress within the success of the pro-life movement.
But the abortion rates are going down, but you’re right, there are still many, many abortions that are happening. So there’s great opportunity for the pro-life movement to continue seeing great success. And I do have a positive outlook for the future. There have been incredible laborers for the past 40 plus years that have saved lives and done amazing work. And when I look at the landscape across the movement today and just the friends that I see working on the front lines, I’m very hopeful because the next generation I do see being very pro-life. Polls will show that the next generation, I mean, it’s still, you know, it can be really close to a 50/50 between worldview on whether people are pro-life or pro-choice. But young people are really getting excited through good work of live action and Lila Rose and what she’s doing with social media and getting media out there and Students for Life getting on campuses and encouraging these students that they do have a voice if they are pro-life because often they can feel like they’re ostracized if they have this view.
And we’re just not seeing that on many campuses. People are standing up and using their voice to stand for the most vulnerable in our country. And so that’s very exciting. So I think that we have–obviously there’s a lot of work still to be done in the movement and many would agree that we’ve still got our work cut out for us, but there is a lot of hope out there. And with the march coming up, it’s always incredible to see the thousands of people that come out for the march. There are a lot of people that see this issue as very near and dear to their heart. And the church, you know, I know many churches who are getting even more involved in just loving on women and there’s ministries that I know of that are represented at this conference where they are creating care boxes and getting discipleship groups from churches to kind of wrap their arms around women who are in a situation where they don’t know how they’re going to care for a life. And just loving on them and discipling them and, you know, just walking step by step with them in this journey. So there’s a lot of great, beautiful things happening and I’m so grateful to get to experience the hands and feet of Christ and watch that within the Church and the body of Christ through this movement and to try and do my part in my own context as well.
SMITH: Lauren, if you’ll allow me to pivot in our conversation just a little bit. And if you’re comfortable answering this question. As you mentioned, your family and the company you own, Hobby Lobby, went all the way to the Supreme Court and won a case. I think that not only brought your family and your company to national and international attention, but especially among evangelicals, among Christians, you became heroes and I think a lot of folks are– a lot of Christians, probably a lot of my listeners, you know, feel a certain kinship to you, to your family, to your company. So how you doing? How’s the company doing? How’s Hobby Lobby doing? I mean, are you all doing well?
MCAFEE: Yeah, doing really well. And, you know, one of the most powerful things that my family has experienced through the years—while we were in the Supreme Court case and since then—is just the encouragement we received by individuals who said they were praying for us in the midst of all that. I remember spending some time with my grandpa while we were in that season and him just reflecting and saying, I think were the most prayed for a family in the world right now. That’s just how it felt. We felt the prayer support of everyone. So, you know, people, you just use the word heroes. We do not see ourselves as the heroes, we just happened to be the ones that were on kind of the headlines and in the frontlines of this. But we had a whole army of people supporting us as well as legal teams that were supporting us that were just fantastic and all kinds of prayer support that we will never know that were just lifting us up. And so we’re so grateful for that. And many others that were a part of this journey with us.
And so since then, you know, that’s been over four years ago now an things are good. During that season people would often ask about, you know, how are you doing, what’s this like? And for the most part it was business as usual. Whenever you’re in a two-year legal battle, you just, you know, it’s a lot of stuff is going on in courts and then waiting to go to courts. And so we tried to just stay focused on our task at hand and be faithful and obedient to the work that God had placed in front of us and that we still had the opportunity for, with the business. And once we had that victory, we, you know, continue to praise him and thank him for that and keep trying to work to honor his kingdom and bring glory to his name.
SMITH: You know, if I could maybe go down this path a little bit more, you mentioned your grandfather David Green, who founded the Hobby Lobby. And then, of course, the next generation, which would be I guess Steve Green and Mark Green. And then now you’re the third generation. There’s an old saying in the world of philanthropy and entrepreneurship—shirtsleeve to shirtsleeve in three generations. That the first generation, hardworking, maybe they didn’t have much and they built something. The second generation maybe saw their parents and you know, so they kind of understood what it took and if they embrace it, they know at least know what they do because they watched it firsthand. So the third generation sometimes gets a bad rap.
MCAFEE: Yeah, hey, you’re right in saying that. Yeah. I mean, if you look at the research and the statistics of family-owned companies that make it past the third generation, it’s very small. I want to say it’s less than a couple percentage points.
SMITH: Which leads me to this question: I talked to you and I see, you know, a woman who is very mature spiritually, very strategic in the way she thinks. That didn’t happen by accident. What does your family do to make sure that those values that your grandfather had are transmitted to the second and third and hopefully beyond?
MCAFEE: Yeah, so, I think that one of the most important things that our family has done is to be very intentional about verbally telling the stories of what God has done and talking about the values and the convictions that we have as a family. Our family, the Green family, there are now four generations. So some of my siblings and cousins have children. And so the fourth generation is now growing up. And so we as a family have family vision, mission, and values statements that we all talk about in our daily conversations. We have a set aside time every year for what we call a family celebration where we all come together on a specific day and just look at our family vision, mission, and value statements and reaffirm this is what we believe in and all of is comes from scripture. So, we spent time in looking at God’s word and saying, what should we as a family valuing based on what scripture teaches us. And just through the intentionality of continuing to give God the credit and want to steward well what he has given us and having that mindset of wanting to steward everything that we have in light of serving the kingdom has, I feel like, really made an impact in our family.
And my grandparents are incredible individuals. They are incredibly humble and generous and they’ve just authentically live their faith in a way that they talk about it. That’s the most important thing for them to see passed down and so they’ve put their kind of words to that and wanted to speak often about their faith. And so that has authentically transitioned through the generations. And, you know, praise God we get to serve alongside each other as a family in kingdom purposes and we pray that continues for many more generations.
SMITH: Up next is Kristen Waggoner. Kristen Waggoner serves as senior vice president of the U.S. legal division with Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, Waggoner oversees a team of 60 attorneys and staff who engage in litigation, public advocacy, and legislative support in behalf of life, marriage, and religious liberty. Since she assumed this role, ADF has prevailed as lead counsel in six U.S. Supreme Court victories. Waggoner personally argued before the Supreme Court in one of those cases. She was the lead counsel in the Masterpiece Cake Shop vs. the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. That case went before the Supreme Court in the fall of 2017.
Kristen Waggoner, welcome to the program and, you know, you’ve been well known over the last year or two for handling religious liberty cases with Alliance Defending Freedom. The ones that I’m most aware of that you’ve been a part of though, have not really been about abortion per se. They’ve been more related to gender issues. Why are you here? What are you saying to this group?
KRISTEN WAGGONER, GUEST: Well, I oversee all the work that ADF does and we have an entire team devoted to the sanctity of human life. So we’ve had a number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in the past and we’re continuing to work on cases before the lower courts right now. This group and why I love this conference so much is that it really promotes a concept of whole life, which I believe is a Biblical concept that those who are Christians understand that all life has inherent value and that we’re created in the image of God. Whether that life starts at conception and all the way through natural death and regardless of your income level, what walk of life you’re from, God values you and so should we.
SMITH: So is that what you’re telling the group today is at your core message here?
WAGGONER: Well, it would be if that was completely my topic, but actually because I’m a lawyer and because of my job, we talked a little bit more about the jurisprudence, in other words, court decisions on abortion and on that issue in particular.
SMITH: Well, so fill me in. What are some of the relevant issues that especially those of us in the pews and maybe even in some cases in the pulpits need to be concerned about, need to care about?
WAGGONER: Sure. Well, I think the obvious one is everyone’s talking about, will Roe v. Wade be overturned. So we talked a little bit about that and what it takes to get a case before the Supreme Court. There are three cases right now that are moving up in that direction, that are actually at the court and that are asking to be heard. There are cases in the lower courts as well on that subject.
But I think something else we talked about was kind of the unprecedented attack we’re seeing on pro-life advocates, whether it’s a college student on a campus that just wants to speak freely or have a pro-life group, healthcare providers that want to be able to serve patients in a way that they believe is ethical and consistent with their convictions, to even we’ve represented the March for Life itself where the prior administration has been forcing them to try to cover abortion inducing drugs in their health insurance coverage. There are a lot of issues we can talk about in the life arena.
SMITH: Well, so, one of the things that is an implication of what you just said is that these are not really separate issues, right? I mean, we talk about the life issue as an issue or maybe religious liberty as an issue, but in fact what you just said suggests that they’re intimately intertwined. They’re intimately related. You can’t separate them.
WAGGONER: Well, absolutely. And I have been involved in cases at the Supreme Court about religious freedom, but we also just won a victory that I was involved in with NIFLA. That’s the National Institutes of Family and Life Advocates and really it was on behalf of the 2,000 pregnancy centers that are religious, pro-life pregnancy centers across the nation who exists to serve women, to provide practical resources and support to them and help them in their choice to choose life and also provide a post-abortive care as well. That case went before the Supreme Court and the issue there was about whether you could be forced to speak a message that violates your core convictions. The government was trying to force these pro-life groups that are motivated by their religious convictions to post signs referring for abortion and pointing the way to free or low cost abortions.
The Supreme Court said no. So our civil liberties traveled together. If we believe in protecting life and being able to protect unborn as well as to help women, then we also need to protect the right of religious freedom, the right of free speech, and the right to petition our government.
SMITH: Well, you mentioned that there were three cases that are sort of winding their way up that would have an impact on Roe v. Wade. Can you say a little bit more about those cases individually and also just, I know you know Yogi Berra once said that it’s dangerous to make predictions, especially predictions about the future. And I’m guessing that you do not want to predict the future, but can you give us your best sense of what you think is gonna happen to Roe in the next year or two or three? Or what’s going to happen with these cases and whether that would have maybe an impact of of chipping away at Roe?
WAGGONER: Well, Roe has led to tremendous confusion and great tragedy in our nation. 60 million children have died at the hands of that decision since 1973. The legal analysis in it also is faulty and scholars on both sides of the issue agree on that and 46 years have passed since that decision. We know a whole lot more about life and how that life grows in the womb than we did in 1973. So I think the consensus is at some point Roe will fall. The question is what does that look like and then what do we do next? And what we know is when Roe does fall, we will then look to the states and that battle will shift to the states. But it will return the power to the people and their elected representatives to work on this issue and to decide it.
SMITH: So are the cases that are coming up through the courts now, do they have the potential to overturn Roe?
WAGGONER: Potentially. I mean, we know the court works in gradual steps, right? It’s an incremental process and the court takes its time to make those decisions. So, we don’t know the timing, but the three decisions that are before the court, one involves an abortion dismemberment law that says that you can’t dismember a child in the womb that is a live child. And that has implications as far as Roe. Another is a ban on sex selectives and also discriminatory abortions that say you can’t abort a child because they may have Down syndrome. And so those also have implications to the Roe holding. And lastly, informed consent laws also have implications for the Roe holding. And there’s another case out of Indiana that the court is being asked to consider that requires providers to give women an option to have an ultrasound at least 18 hours before they abort their children.
SMITH: Kristen, there was so much made of Neil Gorsuch being named to the court and then of course later even more made really of Brett Kavanaugh being named to the court. That’s two relatively conservative justices. I think the conventional wisdom was that Gorsuch didn’t change the complexion of the court very much because he was a conservative replacing a conservative, but Brett Kavanaugh did or at least has the potential to. And now we’re hearing news about, you know, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health and you know, and the possibility of perhaps even another Supreme Court justice in the next couple of years. Does it matter? Does the changing of one or two justices really make a big difference over the long haul? Or is it such an incremental process and there is such respect on the court among all the justices for the precedents that have already been established, that it doesn’t matter?
WAGGONER: It absolutely matters. Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh can be described as originalist. It’s important that we have originalists on the courts, in the courts. Not just at the Supreme Court, but the lower levels as well. An originalist is one who interprets the Constitution, applies the facts in a way that is consistent with how the Constitution is written. They don’t create new rights and they resist attempts to narrow fundamental rights, like right of religious freedom, in ways that are inconsistent with what the founders intended. So it matters a great deal who sits on the court.
SMITH: And from where you sit, do you think that we’re going to get another justice here in the next couple of years?
WAGGONER: [Laughter] I have no idea. But what I do know is we talked about the NIFLA decision, which is a very basic decision that should apply to both sides of these debates, meaning that the government shouldn’t be able to tell us or force us to say things that violate our core convictions. That applies to both sides. We won that case this term 5-4. That should not have been a controversial decision. So what we know is these issues right now are at the high point of our culture, in some sense, in the conflict. We’ve got to learn to engage civilly to make our case and also ensure that we have originalists on the court.
SMITH: Kristen, you’ve already kind of suggested that all of our rights travel together. I mean, of course we’ve seen in the first amendment that it’s not just, you know, freedom of religion, but speech and assembly and the right to redress government. They’re all there together. I mean, is it fair to say that our rights either hang together or fall together?
WAGGONER: Absolutely. I mean, we can see that from looking at what happens in other countries that don’t have a religious freedom, for example. They don’t have robust freedoms and other areas either, whether it’s economic or otherwise. But I think it is important to make the point that our jurisprudence, our laws, our court decisions are built one step at a time. And so we might hear about a report that we think has nothing to do with us. Nothing to do with our rights or our faith or what we’re trying to do. But if it’s involving the right of someone to be able to speak a message or to live consistent with their beliefs, it will affect us, which is why we should support decisions and laws that allow freedom. Because freedom is important to be able to share the gospel and to again be able to speak the message that pro-life is whole life, right? We want to protect the rights of everyone and from all walks of life, regardless of where they happen to come from or their economic status, their race, their culture, all of it has inherent value to God.
SMITH: Kristen, before I let you go, I just can’t resist asking you as a lawyer, you know, as somebody who’s devoted your life to the practice of law, you finally get to be in front of the Supreme Court. I mean, I think for most lawyers that would be, in some ways, that’d be like a baseball player saying, you know, they’re hitting with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, in the seventh game of the World Series. I mean, you know, that’s like the capstone experience. That’s the one you dream about when you’re a kid or maybe a young adult thinking about being a lawyer. When you were actually there, what was it really like?
WAGGONER: [Laughter] Well, you know, I was able to be there twice this year and one I argued, one I was co-counsel on. In terms of the one I argued, it was very controversial. So there was a lot of pressure and you would think I would have been nervous, but I wasn’t. Once you get to that podium, unlike many other courtrooms, it feels like you’re eye to eye with those justices and you’re having a conversation. And you do know that one end of the bench or the other—depending on what side you’re on—is sort of coming after you. And it was a hostile argument, but there was great joy in it. It did feel like that moment that you may have been created for and that you were really advocating for clients. It was just a privilege to be able to stand for them knowing all they had at risk and knowing what was at risk for believers and nonbelievers alike, the right to be able to live consistent with our convictions. So it was an honor.