Episode 99: Former federal Judge Thomas B. Griffith on the importance of religious liberty and political civility
Quoting President Dallin H. Oaks, Judge Griffith says: ‘On contested issues, we seek to moderate and to unify’
Episode 99: Former federal Judge Thomas B. Griffith on the importance of religious liberty and political civility
Quoting President Dallin H. Oaks, Judge Griffith says: ‘On contested issues, we seek to moderate and to unify’
On July 20, President Dallin H Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offered a keynote address at the 2022 Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit — calling for a global effort to “defend and advance” religious freedom. President Oaks’ address followed other historic remarks on religious freedom and the United States Constitution.
This episode of the Church News podcast features Judge Thomas B. Griffith, a former federal judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In addition, Judge Griffith served as Senate legal counsel and then as general counsel for Brigham Young University.
A Latter-day Saint, he talks about religious liberty, the powerful possibilities of the United States Constitution and civilly engaging in an increasingly polarized political climate.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: I don’t believe that I’ve ever heard a more articulate statement of what it means to defend and support the Constitution than the one President Oaks gave in that talk when he said, “On contested issues, we seek to moderate and to unify” and that’s something that Latter-day Saints ought to be really good at doing, right? Our ward structure. We know how to see somebody who’s different than us and learn to work with them and get along with them. Now, can we take that skill that we’ve developed in our wards in our stakes and can we take it out to our community? Can we be the ones in our community who are agents of reconciliation? I think we have, as Latter-day Saints, we have a distinctive and unique role to play at this moment.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Judge Thomas B. Griffith joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about religious liberty, the United States Constitution and engaging in an increasingly polarized political climate. Judge Griffith is a former federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Before his appointment to the bench, he worked in private practice in North Carolina and Washington, D.C., served as Senate legal counsel and then as general counsel for Brigham Young University. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he graduated from BYU in 1978 and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1985. Between his graduation from BYU and a study of the law, he worked in the Church educational system where he directed Seminary and Institute programs in Baltimore, Maryland. Judge Griffith, we’re so grateful that you would join us today.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: Thank you, I’m happy to be here.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you were just in Rome, where President Dallin H. Oaks gave a historic address on religious liberty. His address was titled “Religious Liberty Worldwide.” So, I think we can start today and talk about that topic. Why should the average person care about religious liberty?
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: Because it goes to the heart of what it means to be a human being. To be a human being is to be a child of God who is free to think, to say and to do as he or she believes, and religious liberty preserves that for those who are people of faith. So, it’s really part of a larger idea and that is to protect freedom of conscience of humans. Some people’s conscience will lead them away from faith. Other people’s conscience will lead them to faith, and we want to protect that, because following one’s conscience, having the freedom to follow conscience, gets the heart and soul of what it means to be a human being, and with the perspective we have of Latter-day Saints have and Christians have of the role of God and His relationship to us, we know that we are created in His image and likeness. So, when we pursue our freedom of conscience, we are simply exercising the freedom that He’s given us in the first place.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, we talked with President Oaks about this topic in Rome and one of the things he said that was so interesting to me is, if someone wants to understand why religious liberty is important, he said, just ask them to contemplate their life without it. What would a world without religious liberty look like?
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: It’d be a pretty dreary place, right? I mean, you know, just a brief review of world history shows that most people, in most places, in most times worship, and the need to worship God is deeply ingrained in all of us. Now, again, some people choose not to, and they’re free to do that, but for most people in the world, and most places, most times, religion has been an integral part of what it means to be human, to have a sense that you’re part of a grand design, that live in a universe that has purpose and meaning and created by a beneficent God. That’s the very stuff of human life. That’s what gives people of faith, it gives them meaning and purpose to every activity of their life. Take that away from them – it’s like taking air away from someone and not letting them breathe. For people of faith, the exercise of their faith, their freedom to worship, is as important to who they are as an individual, as breathing is to the body of all of us.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and we’re having this conversation at a time when society is so polarized, especially in the United States. I think we all have so many political opinions. There’s so many places to share those opinions. How do our opinions and getting along intersect when we think about the right to share the feelings of our heart, when it comes to our religion, and even when it comes to our rights and abilities to champion any political cause that we want to?
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: Well, let’s start with it. It’s a good thing that we argue. It’s a good thing that we have views. What was really unique about the creation of the United States of America was that the founders of our Constitution decided that they wanted to have a different type of government and it was going to be a government based on what “We the people” decided through their elected representatives. Now, their view of “We the people” was much more narrow than our view is today and we’ve gotten better at that, that “We the people” means more today than it did to them, but the fundamental idea is that “We the people” would decide the rules by which society would be governed, not a Church leader, not 52 wise people, not a king, not a monarch. It was going to be “We the people” that made that decisions and so, when the framers created a system of government based on “We the people” they invited, they actually required, “We the people,” to be informed, right? “We the people” that have ideas, “We the people” to discuss the laws that would create the best society. So, that’s all good and it’s all good that we have a government in which we are encouraged to think, to study and to debate.
Here’s the problem, if people lose sight of the grand project of the Constitution, which is not just to create a country where we have the freedom to debate, but it’s also to create, remember the words of the Constitution, the preamble, “a more perfect union.” We’re here to create community. We’re here to create a union and that means that you need to compromise. That means, when you got a country as large as ours with as many viewpoints as exist, if you want to create a union, some people don’t anymore, but if you want to create a union, that means you need to not only develop the skills of argument, you need to develop the skills of listening, because the idea is you might learn something from your fellow citizen and the premise of our system of government is that through arguing with one another, that each of us, you and I, if we’re arguing over an issue, Sarah, that each of us, if we listen to each other, we may learn things that will get us in a better place. The clash of ideas, and out of that will emerge better ideas, but that doesn’t happen, unless I’m willing to learn from you and you’re willing to learn from me, and so, the Constitution requires a citizenry that is willing to compromise and the only way, as far as I can tell, that you can be willing to compromise is if you develop some humility, on your own part, and some respect for those with whom you disagree.
I’m a big fan of Abraham Lincoln, I mean, who isn’t, but I remember the moment in his first inaugural address, while the union is falling apart, states are seceding, the greatest constitutional crisis our country has ever faced and he, in his inaugural address, makes the point that we are not enemies, but friends. “We must not be enemies.” Now, Lincoln pled for the country to not be enemies with one another. That plea went unheeded, right, and the Union fell apart and we’re still living with the consequences of that, but Lincoln was right. “We must not be enemies. We must be friends.” He called upon the bonds of affection. He says, we have “bonds of affection,” one for another, and we need to call upon those “bonds of affection” to create the unity that the Constitution seeks and so, we need to vigorously disagree with one another, but we need to do so in a way that keeps in mind that we’re not enemies. We’re fellow citizens and we’re trying to create a more perfect union. That means I’m going to compromise that means you’re going to compromise. That’s the most fundamental principle of the Constitution. The Constitution created a system of government that compels compromise. It requires compromise. It’s the fundamental ethos. Just to add a little bit abstract or academic here, but it is the fundamental characteristic that’s required of a citizen in a republic, is you need to be willing to listen to your fellow citizens and you need to be willing to compromise.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and this unity and respect that you’re speaking of has been championed at the highest levels of Church leadership. In April of 2021, President Oaks asked all of us to defend, and he called it the “divinely inspired Constitution,” and in that talk, he also asked us to be unified.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: Yeah, I’ve told many people, this. As student of the Constitution, as a federal judge, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. I don’t believe that I’ve ever heard a more articulate statement of what it means to defend and support the Constitution than the one President Oaks gave in that talk when he said, “On contested issues, we [should] seek to moderate and to unify.” If you want a template to measure your support for the Constitution, whether you are supporting and defending the Constitution, there it is. We need to ask ourselves, “Does that describe me?”
On contested issues am I seeking to moderate and to unify? And if I’m not, I’m undermining the Constitution. I may think I’m defending the Constitution. I’ve got my Second Amendment here. I’ve got my First Amendment here. I’ve got my 14th Amendment here and those are all critical parts of the Constitution - freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, equal protection of law.
These are bedrock, the fundamental principles that need to be protected and defended, but in many ways, they’re the trees and the forest of the Constitution is what President Oaks identified. The Constitution creates a system of government that will only succeed when people, when citizens, on contested issues, seek to moderate and to unify. That’s the big picture and that’s something that Latter-day Saints ought to be really good at doing, right?
I mean, think about our ward structure, right? Eugene England, a BYU English professor, used to make this point a lot where he said, “You know, there’s something really unique about a Latter-day Saint ward. There are two features in particular that when combined, when they work in tandem, create something really extraordinary.” And here they are. The first one is, we don’t get to decide where we go to church, right? You live in this part of town, you go to that Ward and that may not be a word that you’d like. The people there may have different political views than you. They may have different tastes and music. They just may see the world very differently, but guess what, you’re going to go to church with them and not only you’re going to sit in the pew with them, you’re probably going to serve with them the Primary or the, the Mutual or at the other organizations, and so, you’re going to church with them, you’re working with them and they’re not people that you might have chosen to ever ask out to lunch before you started working with them, but here’s the miracle, as you work with them at the Primary, the Mutual, wherever you’re working with them, you discover over time, that the Lord loves them every bit as much as he loves you and that’s the beginning of wisdom.
Now we do that really well, I think, every Sunday, and throughout the week, so we know how to do this. We know how to see somebody who’s different than us and learn to work with them, and get along with them. Now, can we take that skill that we’ve developed in our wards in our stakes and can we take it out to our community? Can we be the ones in our community who are agents of reconciliation? Can we be the “builders of bridges” in President Nelson’s terminology and tear down walls of separation? Can that be us? I think that’s, I don’t mean to speak for President Oaks right now, but I think that’s exactly what he was saying. I think we have, as Latter-day Saints, we have a distinctive and unique role to play at this moment.
We’ve long had a sense that we have a special stewardship with respect to the Constitution and so we teach the importance of the Constitution and we study the Constitution and that’s good. That’s all good, but I think the highest and best way of supporting and defending the Constitution goes well beyond learning its individual provisions and learning its history. It goes to what President Oaks was saying on contested issues we seek to moderate and to unify. That’s the living spirit of the Constitution and if it is going to survive, and I hope and pray that it will, it’s going through a tough, tough time right now, because of the polarization, but if it is going to survive, I believe it will survive, because people decide that they are going to work for reconciliation. People decide, to use President Oaks’ words, that, “on contested issues, [they’re going to] seek to moderate and to unify.” I’d like to think that that’s something that we can give to our country at this time, that we, as a people, do not fall into the traps that you get on the media and that, frankly, you get from the political parties of being divisive, but instead that we would be agents of reconciliation to use the skills that we’ve developed in our church lives and bring them into the lives of our communities and the life of our nation.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’m so glad that you mentioned President Russell M. Nelson and his invitation for all of us to be bridge-builders. I’ve seen him pull people in. I’ve seen him work with people of all different kinds of walks of life. It is amazing to me that someone of his caliber can meet with the president of a nation and then just a few hours later reach out to a child and he grabs associates, and he links arms with them, and he pulls them close to him and so, how do we model that? I love the analogy of the ward. I love the idea that as we serve with people, we actually, at some point, begin to love them.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: Well, and I think that’s how we do it, and we do it, and this needs to take place at a local level, right? It needs to take place, obviously, in our homes, in our wards, but then in our towns and in our counties. First of all, we need to see ourselves as, “My calling, my responsibility, my duty, with respect to the Constitution, is to become an agent of reconciliation. Now, how do I do that?” Well, there are plenty examples around the country of people doing that.
Let me tell you just one that happens to be from my neck of the woods in the Washington, D.C. area. I live in a place called Loudoun County, Virginia. It’s an excerpt about an hour away from D.C. For those who follow these things, they may recognize the name of Loudoun County, Virginia. It’s been ground zero in the culture wars over public schools and what takes place in public schools, and it has been a battle that has divided our otherwise close knit community and there have been school board meetings that have people yelling and screaming, police brought in, just really ugly sort of stuff. And yet, in the midst of this, there are two members of the Church and that area who decided, “We can do this a better way.” And they worked real hard to bring together various competing factions to establish trust between them in small group dynamics. They got everyone together in the same room, got to know each other’s names, birth dates, who their grandchildren were, just got to know each other as human beings first. Then from there, once that trust was built amongst people on competing factions, had serious discussions about, “What can we agree upon? Are there things that we can agree upon? We all care about our children. Are there things that we can agree upon?” And they did. They came up with, I think they had a list of 10 contentious issues, and they were able to come to agreement on eight of them. It was really a remarkable experience. It’s actually gotten a fair amount of attention lately, but it came, because, in this instance, a couple of Latter-day Saints, who looked at the division that was happening in their community and their key goal was to overcome that division on highly contentious issues. And they’re not finished yet, but it’s a pretty inspiring example, I think, to all of us. And these weren’t people with special skills and politics. These were just ordinary, good people who were worried about the polarization that was taking place in their community and decided that maybe they had some experience and skill that could help people to get along.
An important element in this, and a lot of social scientists have written about this lately, is this phenomenon that in our day and age, politics and political allegiance seems to be replacing religious allegiance among so many people. In other words, people’s politics have become even more important than their faith commitments. In my mind, that’s really scary. That’s dangerous. I think we ought to have a humility about our political views that wouldn’t allow that sort of replacement of one’s religious faith with one’s political allegiances. It’s a good litmus test for each one of us. We’re Americans. We care about politics. That’s a good thing. That’s a good thing, but has our commitment to politics, has it replaced our commitment to our faith? Is our commitment to our political views and our presence on social media or wherever, is it causing division in our ward? Is it causing difficulty in our homes? And if it is, that’s a warning sign.
You know, one of the scriptures that when I was a missionary many years ago, one of the scriptures that we would frequently use to share with people, restoration insights into the nature of the relationship between Heavenly Father and the Savior was in John chapter 17. It’s the Savior’s prayer after the last supper where He prays that his disciples would be unified and He compares the unity, He seeks among them with the unity that He and His Father have. And we always point that out to see “Oh, see, they’re not the same person, but they’re unified, right?” And so that’s how we generally use the Scripture and that’s good. But we may be missing something even more fundamental about this scripture, because in John chapter 17, I think it’s verses 21 and 22 the Savior says why He prays for the unity of His believers, of His disciples, and here’s why – so “that the world may know that thou, [Father,] hast sent me.” Wait, what? What did He just say? He just said that the unity of the Church is the primary witness we offer the world of the divinity of Christ. If that’s the case and I’m being divisive in my ward, if I’m a source of division in my ward over politics, yet the politics are not that important. I’m a political junkie. I’ve been in the political world, my life, yeah, yeah, they’re important, but they’re not that important, because my primary allegiance is to help build Zion, right? That’s number one and if my political views are getting in the way of that, that’s a big red flag. That’s a time for me to reevaluate and to pull back. That’s a time for me to reevaluate and to pull back.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And in addition to political agendas that are certainly amplified, as we’ve been talking about, by people whose motives maybe are not always pure, this has been a hard several years that we’ve all undergone. Many of us have been isolated by a pandemic. We’ve seen a world that dealt with racial tensions and economic stresses and certainly LGBTQ issues have risen to the forefront in ways they have not in previous decades and so, how do we put this all in context?
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: Yeah. Is it too simple to say, let’s go back to Primary and what’s the first song we teach our children in Primary? “I am a child of God.” Maybe that’s so familiar to us that we lose sight of the impact of it, but it truly, if we acted that way, if we saw that somebody who has a different view about marginal tax rates or pick whatever the issue is, is actually a child of God, we would do two things – we would listen to them more, with more respect, and we would speak to them with more respect. So, one of my favorite writers is C.S. Lewis, and in his greatest sermon, called “The Weight of Glory,” he says this, he says, “Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Now, I would like to claim that I live my life that way, that every person I see I think of in that way. I’m trying, but I think that’s the goal. I think that as a Christian, if as a Latter-day Saint, I took the lessons that we teach our Primary children and I combined it with this great insight from C.S. Lewis, I wouldn’t be writing snarky things about people. I wouldn’t be writing disrespectful things about political figures, whether it’s President Biden or President Trump. I just wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t be maligning the character of people with whom I disagree, because I would see them differently. So, because I’m in public life, I’m frequently the recipient of fan mail. I’m saying that as a joke, and I got some recent fan mail.
Sarah Jane Weaver: We all get a little fan mail.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: Yeah, we all get a little fan mail, and I try to respond to them. I say, “Look, thank you so much for reaching out to me. Isn’t it great that we live in a country, obviously, you and I disagree about this, but isn’t it great that we live in a country where we can disagree?” But then I add a note, I say, “You know, your tone is a little offensive. You really don’t know me. I don’t believe we know each other. And you’ve accused me of being corrupt and,” you know, fill in, fill in the blank. “You don’t really know me well enough to make that judgment and that doesn’t make me want to listen to what you have to say. So, can we carry on this discussion, but let’s carry on with the assumption that I’m acting in good faith. I think I am and I’ll carry on with the assumption that you’re acting in good faith, because I hope that you are.”
And you know, what, on occasions, not too many, but on occasions, I’ve gotten responses to that and they’ve been very positive. I had one, I think it was after I, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson did me the honor of asking me if I would introduce her to the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearings, after President Biden had nominated her to be on the Supreme Court, and I was happy. I was honored that she invited me and I was happy to accept. It was newsworthy among some, because I’m a political conservative. I was appointed to the D.C. Circuit by President George Bush, a Republican, and so some people thought it unusual that I would do that. There was a time when there would be nothing unusual about what I had done, but I guess in today’s day, it is a little unusual and I got a fair amount of attention and so, therefore, I got a fair amount of fan mail. And one of them was from a member of the Church who just ripped into me and accused me of being corrupt and faithless. I mean, it was really, really harsh, really, really harsh. I didn’t know this person, but I wrote back along the lines of, you know, “Glad we can disagree, but boy, do you really have to, do you really have to say I’m corrupt here? Can’t we have a discussion?” And to his credit, he wrote back, he said, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” He said, “but here’s why I think Justice Jackson would not be a good fit for the Supreme Court,” and then we had a discussion along those lines about why I thought that she would be fine and so my point is, that those sorts of discussions need to be heard. These are big issues, let’s have discussions about them, but those discussions will be much more fruitful, if we just remember that’s a child of God we’re talking to and if C.S. Lewis is right, that’s the holiest object presented to our senses, other than the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. So, how do you do that? I’m afraid that’s the answer to how you do it. I’m afraid it takes place on an individual level, individual transformation and just being nice. Let me add one more story to that. So, in the wake of President Oaks’ General Conference address that you mentioned about “The Divinely Inspired Constitution,” I witnessed a Sunday School lesson in my ward, it was done by Zoom, then, a Sunday School lesson in my ward that I thought was particularly effective. At least in my world, after President Oaks gave that talk, I noticed many people were assuming that he was addressing people other than them.
Sarah Jane Weaver: The opposite end of the spectrum.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: Exactly, people on the left were saying to people on the right, “Hey, he’s talking to you. Are you listening? Why don’t you change?” And people on the right were saying to their friends on the left, “Hey, he’s talking to you.” And that was pretty common in the world in which I inhabit, but this teacher did something surprising and different. The assignment was to talk about his talk, “The Divinely Inspired Constitution,” and the teacher began the lesson by saying, “I’d like our discussion to be about what are the things that you’re going to change about your approach to these issues based on his talk?” and it was a wonderful discussion. The very first person raised his hand and said, you know, said, “I’m really interested politics and I blog a lot and when I heard President Oaks say what he said, I realized that a lot of my blogging was angry and mean-spirited and harmful.” So he said, “I’m going to change my tone. In fact, I’m going to reach out to a number of people to whom I had written about who must have been offended by what I said and I’m going to apologize to them,” and I thought, “Woah, there you go.” And the rest of the discussion followed along those lines. I think that’s what President Oaks was asking us to do – look inward, look inward. “Am I an agent of reconciliation?” I think that’s what a Christian is supposed to be, not an agent of division.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I really loved that there is a part in this talk where he talks about how we should trust in the Lord and because we trust in the Lord, we can be positive about the nation’s future. Now, that was interesting to me. I had not contemplated that before, but are you positive about the nation’s future?
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: So, I’m glad you mentioned that, because I’ve really struggled with that part of his talk and I’ve had to remind myself, constantly, “Tom, President Oaks says be positive. Be positive,” because I haven’t been positive and I’ll tell you why, but I’ll tell you that I need to repent of this, right? Now, I’m deeply concerned about the state of the Republic right now. I really am. Look, it’s not 1859. It’s not 1860, OK? But I’ve been following politics closely all my life. I’m 68 years old. I grew up in Washington, D.C. I listened to C-SPAN radio, you know, I’m a political junkie, right? So, I’ve followed this stuff for a long time and, at least in my life, I’ve never seen anything as toxic, or as divisive or as discouraging as we’re experiencing right now for a number of reasons. The polarization that you’ve talked about, that we’re all familiar with, is just a cancer on the body politic. Unless we address that and get it back, it will ruin the Constitution.
The other thing that gives me a great deal of concern, I’m going to come back to positive, okay? I’m going to go through that what worries me then I’m going to tell you why, how I’m trying to follow President Oaks’ council on this, but the greatest source of concern I have right now is the lack of trust in our fundamental institutions that seems so common. Jonathan Haidt, the social psychologist from New York University, who wrote, he’s probably done more studies about this tribalism than anybody, wrote a fabulous book called “The Righteous Mind” talking about why people disagree with one another and spoiler alert, it’s not because they’re evil. Good disagreements come, honestly. Anyway, Jonathan Haidt said recently, in looking at the American political landscape today, he said, “I believe that in the next few years, we will suffer a catastrophic failure of American democracy.” Why? He said, because we just don’t know what happens to a democracy when you drain all trust from the system.
Well, I think we do know what happens to democracy when you drain all trusts from a system. You have people who are so incensed that they pursue violence, right, because they’re angry, and they’re upset, and they’re scared, because something they love is being taken away from them, because they think the institution is corrupted. I’m really concerned about how many people believe that our election system is corrupt.
For the last year and a half or so I led an effort that was comprised of two other former federal judges, some election law experts, two former United State senators, and others, where we took a deep dive into the election results in each of the contested states, we call them the states where people have claimed that there was fraud that affected the outcome of the election, and we went into this project, saying, if there is fraud there, we want to find it out. We want to discover this, because this would be an awful situation for our country to be in. So, we went in, we spent a year and a half, we studied all the evidence, we talked to all the experts and we came up with the result. There’s just not evidence of widespread fraud to affect the outcome of the election.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, in that research, that learning for yourself, it’s core to what it means to not only be a Latter-day Saint, we’re all asked to research and discover and gain our own testimonies or our own witness of truth, wherever it is. As we close, I want to shift a little and talk a little bit about something Elder Quentin L. Cook has said recently, because he says in this world where we’re trying to work through some of these things and defend the Constitution and support religious liberty, one place we can turn is by working with other people who feel accountable to God. So, this is a unity within the Church, but with all others who in any way feel an accountability to a higher being than anything on the earth, any political party, any organization.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: I think there’s a hope that people of faith are, that do have allegiance to something higher than party or an individual leader that they have faith in and allegiance to a loving God, right, and I think that’s something we share with a lot of folks and I have seen that work with people. I was there at the Rome summit and it was just a wonderful experience to see Catholics, Latter-day Saints, Orthodox Christians, Coptic Christians, Muslims, Native American indigenous people of faith, very different views about fundamental issues regarding religion, but all united in the idea that religious worship, religious expression, free exercise of religion is the constitution calls it is just central to what our country is about and what it means to be a human being. And so, I think those efforts are necessary and they’re happening, which is really good news.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And we have written a lot about a group called CORL in New York City, the commission of religious leaders that actually have done exactly what we’ve been talking about today. They’ve linked arms and said, “How can we support and strengthen society? How can we weigh in when it matters? And how can we preserve and protect faith and the right to practice faith or the right to practice no faith at all?”
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: You know, I’m glad you mentioned that last one, because that’s a consistent theme I’ve heard from President Oaks and Elder Cook and others that sometimes, sometimes that surprises them, right? But for my observation, religious liberty is not going to be preserved through litigation. That’s important. Know, when your rights are bridged, we have the courts to resort to. Right now in the United States, we have a Supreme Court that has shown itself very solicitous of the claims of people of faith, right? Even having said that, I don’t think we’re going to preserve religious liberty, ultimately, through the courts. I think we’re going to preserve religious liberty, when people of faith will show that they’re generous and kind and supportive of others, including those who have no faith at all.
Years ago, I saw a cartoon that I thought summarized it best. This cartoon had St. Peter standing in front of the pearly gates and I recently deceased person was there talking to St. Peter and obviously asking for admission, right? And St. Peter looks at him and says, “Yeah, it’s true, you are a believer, but did you have to be such a jerk about it?” And I thought, “There’s some truth there.” People of faith, I think, we have an obligation, a commandment to love others, right? But to show others that we love them, and that we’re interested in them and their freedom of conscience as much as we are ours, that we’re every bit is offended by an atheist who’s being isolated or abused or denied employment, because they’re an atheist, we’re every bit as offended as that, as we are by a Latter-day Saint being discriminated against the both of those offenders, because both of those violate our understanding of the importance of human freedom and human autonomy. Now, on that score, you know, people of faith are the targets of lots of criticism. I’m afraid to admit some of it justified that we have not been as concerned about those outside the household of faith as we are those inside the house of faith. In other words, the tribalism that we so decry, in our politics have entered into our approach to freedom of religion, that we need to demonstrate that we have their best interest in mind, that we really want them to feel safe, to feel secure and to feel that they live in a land of equal opportunity. When we do that, I think we’ll go a long way to preserving our religious freedom.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And that brings us exactly full circle, right to where we started with President Oaks in Rome as he addressed religious liberty worldwide and made a call for all of us to not just protect the rights of one segment or another, but to build a society where we all have rights, where we all can pursue the dictates of our conscience. Now, we have a tradition at the Church News podcast. We always end with the same question and we always give our guests the last word. So, I’m going to turn the microphone over to you and let you answer the question, “What do you know now?” And so, Judge Griffith, what do you know now after a very prestigious career in the law and study of the Constitution and contemplating everything happening in our government at this time and we’d love to know how that intersects with your beliefs as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a disciple of the Savior.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith: What I know now is that this American experiment, and it still is an experiment, it’s ongoing, is good. It’s not perfect. It’s not perfect at all, but it’s good. And it can, when it’s doing its best, it can create a society in which human beings can flourish, and they can have an abundant life both emotionally, and spiritually and even economically. How does that intersect with my faith as a Latter-day Saint? I believe that there is a God who presides over this universe. I believe that Christ is active in the affairs of the world, today and that we are called to be His hands in the world, today, that we are called to do our best to create a just and a fair society right here, right now. We all know the Lord’s Prayer and we recite it, sometimes very quickly, but a key part of that prayer is that the Father’s will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.
The Anglican cleric and scholar N.T. Wright who points out that, that means we’re supposed to be working to create on Earth, right now, a place that will mirror heaven and he writes in Anglican, so he wouldn’t have the word that we use for it, but the word we use for it is called Zion. That, yes, the life to come hereafter’s important. I love the Plan of Salvation. I love the promise of what life will be like, but life right here and now is important, too. And Christ and His gospel, change the way we do things, right here and right now. So, I think as Christians, as Latter-day Saint Christians, I think we have a wonderful calling, to work as best we can, right here, right now, to create a fair society, to create a just society and to create a society where those who are on the margins have an opportunity to flourish. It’s Mitch Daniels, the Chancellor of Purdue University and former governor of Indiana, longtime conservative put it best, he said, “In all things, our first thought is always for those on the first rung of life’s ladder and how we might help them climb.” That’s what we’re called to do, and the American experiment provides the best opportunity to do that in the world today. And so that’s what I know, that’s what I’ve learned and that’s what excites me about trying to do our best to bring that back.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com.