Thursday Keynote Session: Emma Green

by Diana Flores, 2018 ICLRS Student Fellow

In the 21 June 2018 keynote session, W. Cole Durham Jr., Founding Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, welcomed participants to the second day of the Religious Freedom Review. Emma Green, religion specialist writer for the Atlantic and recipient of the 2017 Religion News Association’s award for excellence in religion-news analysis, gave the keynote address on the legal and political landscape of religious liberty.  

Emma Green began by stating that an era of fracture has developed during the Trump administration and this current political climate. She believes that the biggest legacy to come from this time is a legacy of division, of internal grappling over identity. She explained that this is relevant to religious freedom because the way communities define and think about themselves is changing. The issues that communities agree are core or fundamental to their identity and worthy of advocacy shape our legal landscape from the ground up and ultimately, the cultural mood and the political will of voters in the United States. 

Green shared multiple examples of recent infighting among religious groups. Recently the Presbyterian Church USA voted to approve a new resolution against using religious freedom to justify exclusion and discrimination while the Catholic faith is experiencing a gap in positions taken by leaders and members in the pews. She also mentioned that the Utah Legislature and LDS Church are grappling with pluralism and religious freedom. Green explained that politics is downstream of culture and she believes that the legacy of the Trump era will be one of “breakage” as different demographic groups remap and think about their own religious identities, and how those identities relate to political advocacy, presence, and voice. She thinks that ultimately there may even be a formal or informal splitting and fracturing in different groups and religious communities. She is interested to watch what will happen to religious communities as they grapple with their own sense of identities and priorities.

Green concluded by explaining that conflict does not need to mean collapse. She stated that ultimately the United States is a country of differences and diversity. The greatest characteristic of the U.S. is that of difference, but difference that comes with struggle and hard boundaries and not easy answers or platitudes.