TFAS alumna and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Lori Windham ’00, led the TFAS Public Policy Fellows in a discussion on the relationship between the Constitution, religious freedom and public policy for the final academic discussion of their Fellowship on April 9.
To kick off the discussion, Windham provided examples of the complex history of religious liberty in the U.S. She cited the early tensions between the government and Quakers, Puritans, Catholics and other religious groups and gave examples of those who led the charge to protect religious liberty in early America.
“In a way, George Washington was one of the early unsung heroes of religious freedom,” Windham said.
She commented on the significance of Washington quoting the now-famous, ‘every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid’ verse, arguing that he believed “conscientious objectors” should be allocated a religious exemption under the law.
Windham also related these early battles to ones that are being waged today and challenged Fellows to consider what policies should be implemented.
The discussion ultimately led the Fellows to consider why religious liberty was considered to be so fundamental that it was listed as a first freedom in the Bill of Rights.
TFAS Public Policy Fellow Melanie Benit ’14, ’15, PPF ’18, who works with the civil liberties law firm, the Institute for Justice, found this to be an intriguing question.
“I had not given thought to why freedom of religion is listed first, and Lori Windham’s lecture shed new light for me in understanding how our forefathers thought about religious liberty,” she said. “It’s listed first not by accident but because religious liberty is at the core of human consciousness.”
I had not given thought to why freedom of religion is listed first, and Lori Windham’s lecture shed new light for me in understanding how our forefathers thought about religious liberty.” – Melanie Benit ’14, ’15, PPF ’18
Benit said the Fellowship has afforded her the opportunity to pause and focus on the “bigger picture” while connecting with a fantastic group of passionate peers.
“Engaging in discussions like the ones the TFAS Public Policy Fellowship provides gives me time every month to put all of my responsibilities aside and let my brain really think about important issues – it’s freeing and enlightening,” Benit said. “I was able to meet a group of people with different backgrounds but equal passion to make the world a better, freer place.”
To learn more about the TFAS Public Policy Fellowship, please visit TFAS.org/PPF.