The Corner

Jay Sekulow: The Defense of Religious Liberty Is ‘Personal’

In the midst of the hysteria over Christian presidential candidates, it’s worth remembering the intellectual and personal foundations of the modern Christian legal movement. Yesterday, the Daily Caller published an interview with Jay Sekulow (chief counsel of the ACLJ, where I work). It’s notable a notable interview, not just for presenting the actual legal arguments Christian conservatives make in the Supreme Court, but also for presenting how thoroughly mainstream and respectful of liberty these arguments are. Here’s a key portion (Matt Lewis conducted the interview):

Matt Lewis: So, your first case before the Supreme Court in 1987, Board of Airport Commissioners v. Jews for Jesus, tell us, if you would, about that case.

Jay Sekulow: Well, it was a straightforward case. The City of Los Angeles, in light of the 1988 Olympic Games, passed a resolution prohibiting free speech activities at the airport. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld our position. The concern was that the Supreme Court took the case to reverse. Rather than arguing it as a religion case, we presented the case as a classic free speech case. We received wide support from political parties, labor unions, civil liberties groups, and others. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in our favor, and Justice O’Connor wrote that there was no conceivable governmental interest justifying such a sweeping prohibition of free speech.

It’s easy to forget that just a generation or two ago, there was a real question about whether Christian student groups even had a right to meet in public schools or on public university campuses. It’s also easy to forget that America was and is a beacon of religious liberty in the world, and we should never allow the ignorance and prejudices of, among others, the secular Left (especially when manifested through government action) drive religion from the public square. Here’s Jay on the personal roots of his own advocacy:

My grandfather faced [religious] persecution at the time of the Russian Revolution, as a lot of Jewish people did in 1914, ’15, ’16 and ’17; and he came to the United States as a 14 year old . . . When I argue those cases at the Supreme Court of the United States—and I say this with deep admiration for living in this country—when they call my name and they say, “Mr. Sekulow, we will now hear from you,” . . .  I always think about that. Here I am, Mr. Sekulow, the grandson of a Russian immigrant who came through Ellis Island, and his grandson is arguing cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.

The battle for religious liberty is not a battle for legal supremacy but instead for legal equality, for the chance — the opportunity — for citizens to make their voices heard and make a way for themselves and their descendants. Simply put, religious liberty grants the freedom to persuade, not coerce.

If the Left is secure in the power of its ideas, why should it fear our words?

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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