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Where the action is

Kristen Waggoner | The battles for our freedom are increasingly occurring at the state level


Donna Boyer of Smyrna, Ga., and Brian Lawton of Atlanta listen to a speaker during a pro-life rally inside the Georgia Capitol on Friday. Associated Press/Photo by John Bazemore

Where the action is

It has long been said that lawmakers in Washington can’t get much of anything done—and the sentiment is understandable. Congress is frequently plagued by razor-thin majorities, partisan bickering, and distracted politicians campaigning for reelection or higher offices. Gallup polling reveals a decadeslong trend of strong disapproval of Congress. For example, the results from this March alone showed that 76 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.

Given this environment, it’s dangerous for Christians and Americans of other faiths to rely solely on Congress to pass legislation that will protect our fundamental freedoms from the growing attacks of far-left-wing interest groups (to say nothing of the all-but-certain veto from the current president of the United States). But where Congress continues to falter, state legislatures are taking up the charge. Arguably, the work to protect freedoms doesn’t happen primarily in Congress—much of the most important action happens at the state level.

After the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, when overreaching state and federal bureaucrats implemented regulations that kept the doors of churches and synagogues closed yet left other establishments open, states passed legislation to protect churches from this discrimination in future states of emergency. When athletic associations began allowing male athletes to compete on female teams, robbing women and girls of podium spots and national titles, states started enacting legislation codifying the fundamental, scientific truth about biological differences between the two sexes for athletic competition. And when U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI to investigate parents for voicing concerns about their children’s education at school board meetings, states stepped up to give power back to parents and to protect children from the encroachment of harmful critical theory indoctrination.

The increasing importance of state legislatures can be further demonstrated by state-level reactions to the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Depending on the scope of the court’s opinion, states could be free to enact laws that truly protect the dignity of the unborn and the health of pregnant women for the first time in almost 50 years. But we must not forget that this opportunity would also leave far-left states with the ability to enact radical pro-abortion laws.

In preparation for a decision overturning Roe, several of those states have preemptively passed pro-abortion policies to codify a right to abortion in state law. With such extreme policies already being enacted, we must be prepared to combat more aggressive attacks on women and the sanctity of life in the wake of Dobbs.

The growing intensity of the role states play in defending our most cherished and fundamental freedoms should inspire us as Christians to advocate for state-level policies that protect truth and keep the doors open for the gospel.

This preparation, though, cannot be limited only to the pro-life arena. The examples I have provided are merely a small selection of an expansive list of legislative battles for the heart of our nation occurring in all 50 states. The growing intensity of the role states play in defending our most cherished and fundamental freedoms should inspire us as Christians to advocate for state-level policies that protect truth and keep the doors open for the gospel.

While that may seem like a daunting charge, the reality is that state legislatures are much more accessible and responsive to constituent influences than Congress. State legislators represent far fewer people than their federal counterparts, and in most states, legislators are part-time. This gives them ample opportunity to be directly engaged in their communities—and for their communities to engage with them. State legislative committees hold regular hearings that are open to public comment, giving concerned citizens a forum for voicing support or opposition to legislation and sharing personal stories about the direct effects of these policies. In this way, state legislatures provide citizens abundant opportunities to have a tangible effect on laws concerning the most pressing issues facing our culture and country.

That’s why it’s hard to see many Christians stand idly by, simply watching policymaking happen instead of taking an active or even supportive role in its creation and enactment. We are blessed to live in a country that allows all its citizens to have a say in what happens in their government—a blessing believers in some parts of the world long for. And if Christians don’t show up, rest assured that those hostile to the gospel and the freedoms that flow from it will. Part of what it means to love our neighbors is to support laws and policies that will benefit our communities and stand against the ones that will truly harm them.

I hope that, as we look to the prospect of legislating in a post-Roe era, we’ll not only actively use the states as a vessel for protecting life, but we’ll have a greater understanding of the significant part states play in protecting all of our most precious freedoms. I implore my fellow Christians to engage and become passionate, vocal advocates for truth on the front lines of these consequential legislative battles, state by state.


Kristen Waggoner

Kristen Waggoner is general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, the largest legal organization that protects religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the right to life.

@KWaggonerADF

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