Episcopal Seminary Dean Claims Religious Liberty ‘Weaponized’ 

Giovanni Del Piero on July 8, 2022

New York City’s liberal Union Theological Seminary continues to espouse and promote heterodox views on Christian morals and ethics amidst fallout from the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Union hosted a live interview between Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary Dean Kelly Brown Douglas and Katherine Franke, the James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University and the Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. Douglas introduced Franke as a one of the nation’s leading scholars writing on law related to sexuality, religion and race, adding that she draws “from feminist, queer, and critical race theory”.

Franke described the recent Dobbs v. Jackson court decision overturning Roe as feeling like an “assault” and compared the reversal to the recent passing of her father.

“Even though as much as you prepare yourself for the loss of someone you love, you are still not prepared for it, it’s still devastating, and that’s how I felt with the death of Roe,” Franke described. She lamented that her daughter would have fewer rights as a result of the decision and reduced status as a citizen in the United States.

Later, Douglas claimed that religious liberty is being “weaponized” by an “Evangelical, Christian nationalist” minority that she believes is in control of the public square and the dominant American political narrative. Franke also added to this that the court is in favor of not just Christian nationalism, but particularly “white Christian nationalists”.

Douglas asked Franke how the Dobbs decision could be handed down despite citizenship protections guaranteed under the equal protection 14th and anti-slavery 13th amendments. Franke discussed efforts to revive the Equal Rights Amendment, which she claimed is supported by a Congressional majority. An addition of the words “sex equality” to the U.S. Constitution, would establish as “fundamental rights” access to various services such as abortion, Franke argued. The Columbia professor found to be “appalling” the Supreme Court majority view of abortion and “sex discrimination” as entirely separate issues, and called it a “horror” to have that mentality reaffirmed with Dobbs.

Douglas added that the decision paved a way for potential court reversals on issues related to “racial equality” and marriage issues. Franke concurred, claiming it was ironic that Associate Justice Clarence Thomas would potentially do away with laws related to interracial marriage and segregation because “he’s married to a white woman”.

Following this, Douglas enquired about the relationship between Dobbs and a “white supremacist agenda”, adding that her thoughts when Roe was initially handed down went back to a speech by President Theodore Roosevelt emphasizing the duty of mothers to have children. Franke agreed and claimed that pregnancy was a “dangerous medical condition” for African American women, and referred back to a statute initially held by the state of Mississippi that mandated unmarried African American women be sterilized after having a second child. Franke added that though reproductive rights allowed for one’s “liberty” to end a pregnancy, it also should be a freedom due to “reproductive justice” to have children as well. She then suggested that a potential end goal of the Supreme Court could be to put some of these laws back into effect, arguing that the court will use appeals of “tradition” to essentially turn the clock back on previously passed laws.

“Women’s wombs are being criminalized,” Douglas charged, claiming that a similar fate was befalling transgender people and children to make their own choices about certain medical treatments. Franke connects this back to the Supreme Court gun control case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association V. Bruen decided shortly before Dobbs, claiming it was a symptom of “white male vulnerability” to feel the need to walk around in public armed. Douglas believes that “transgender vulnerability” is not as visible to the Supreme Court as that of white males. The Episcopal seminary dean pointed to the recent Kennedy V. Bremerton case with a football coach praying on a public school field, claiming later on in the interview that the case would be different if it had a been Muslim or Sikh that had been praying instead. According to Franke, there is a “top tier of rights” according to the Supreme Court: those being religious liberty, gun, and property rights-followed by others on lower tiers.

Asked what the way is going forward, Franke argues that voting and local politicians are the best approach, claiming that this strategy was used by the political Right to gain power and that it should be replicated for Left-wing causes. She also claimed she was working with lawyers to push religious liberty lawsuits against restrictions on abortions, claiming that she could use the Right’s religious liberty challenges against them in court.

  1. Comment by Rick Plasterer on July 8, 2022 at 12:44 pm

    The only credible religious liberty claim that there would be for abortion would be the need for human sacrifice. That involves material harm (the ultimate material harm) to another human being. Medical science is definite that a new human individual exists from the moment conception, and continues to be the same individual until he or she dies. That is how we know the divine command “thou shalt not kill” applies to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses.


  2. Comment by Sandy K on July 8, 2022 at 7:10 pm

    Why are Christian institutions insistent on holding onto these anti-Biblical zealots that are intentionally polluting the faith and compromising the structures Christians once relied on for security and instruction? If these new thought “leaders” don’t believe the Word and claim the Good Book is “outdated” and “anti-progressive” then why don’t they set it down and leave it for others to learn from and enjoy? Walking away from the houses of the Holy isn’t going to be sufficient for these wolves in sheep’s clothing as there is still the promise of cash and prizes on their way out the door and their ultimate goal: enacting personal vengeance and the smug satisfaction of stepping over the burning embers of what remains.

    Matthew 18:8, ESV: And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.

    The time to act is Now.

  3. Comment by td on July 8, 2022 at 9:54 pm

    While i think it can be christian to advocate for legal abortion in certain circumstances, these folks seem to be in denial that abortion actually kills something. The idea that women have a right, God given or constitutional, to kill their children is beyond belief.

    It is one thing to argue that there should be legal abortion given parameters, but it is quite another to say that abortion is a right. And these supposed believers in “trust the science” refuse to accept that science has detected a human child in the womb- a human child that is being killed by an abortion.

  4. Comment by Loren J Golden on July 8, 2022 at 10:06 pm

    “‘Even though as much as you prepare yourself for the loss of someone you love, you are still not prepared for it, it’s still devastating, and that’s how I felt with the death of Roe,’ Franke described.  She lamented that her daughter would have fewer rights as a result of the decision and reduced status as a citizen in the United States.”
    What a melodramatic sentiment!  To compare the ruling of the Court against a previous judgment with the death of a loved one?  Outrageous!  And a “reduced status as a citizen,” all because the Court ruled that the Constitution can no longer be “weaponized” against defenseless unborn children, whereas the vast majority of states still have laws that permit their legalized murder at any time and for any reason (or none at all) during their mothers’ pregnancies?  Preposterous!  Prof. Franke should be ashamed of herself!

  5. Comment by David on July 9, 2022 at 7:52 am

    “All of these laws [i.e. the ancient Near Eastern law collections], including that of Exodus, regulate a pecuniary settlement for the loss of the fetus. Though compensation for homicide is a regular feature of cuneiform corpora, the acceptance of a sum of money for the loss of a fetus in Exodus shows that according to biblical law, at least, a fetus is not considered to be a human being. Hence, this case does not fall within the law of homicide—else a monetary settlement would be prohibited.” —Shalom Paul

    Many of the Old Testament laws were copied from other sources such as the Code of Hammurabi which is less ambiguous.

    209. If a man has struck a free woman with child, and has caused her to miscarry, he shall pay ten shekels for her miscarriage
    210. If that woman die, his daughter shall be killed.

    To this day, most in the Jewish tradition do not consider a fetus to be a child until it has breathed air (is born). Apparently, Bible publishers have been pressured to change their texts to “premature birth” from “miscarriage” in Exodus.

  6. Comment by Loren J Golden on July 9, 2022 at 3:52 pm

    Yeled yatsa is misinterpreted, if it is translated as either “miscarriage” or “premature birth.”  It literally means, “child(ren) depart.”  To quote from my blog:
    “The unborn child’s life was protected under the Law, which regarded the taking of his or her life as murder.  In Exodus 21.22-24 it was written, ‘When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm,’ that is, that there is no harm to the mother or to her child who was birthed prematurely, ‘the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.  But if there is harm,’ again, to the mother or the child, ‘then you shall pay life for life,’ etc.  In other words, if striking a pregnant woman results in a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or the birth of a child so injured that he or she dies shortly thereafter, the one who struck her would be guilty of the unborn child’s murder and would face a murderer’s punishment.
    “The Hebrew phrase translated as “children come out” here is yeled yatsa, which literally interpreted means ‘child (or children) depart’, obviously intended to say that the child (yeled) is departing (yatsa) from the mother’s body, irrespective as to whether that departure is via birth, stillbirth, or miscarriage. Some translations of the Bible (e.g., RSV, NASB) translate yeled yatsa as ‘there is (or she has) a miscarriage,’ and are worded so as to state that only further (italicized in the NASB to indicate that this word does not appear in the Hebrew text) injury (i.e., to the mother only) is subject to the penalties stipulated in vv. 23-24, and that the only penalty that the miscarriage itself carries a fine to be levied against the one who struck the mother, such ‘as the woman’s husband shall impose on him.’  However, there is no linguistic reason to believe that yeled yatsa could not refer to a premature birth or stillbirth as well.  Had Moses specifically meant, ‘there is a miscarriage,’ he would have used the specific Hebrew word that means that, namely shakol (which has a more general meaning of ‘bereave’), as he did just two chapters later (Ex. 23.26; cf. Gen. 31.38, II Kg. 2.21, Job 21.10, Hos. 9.14).  The Hebrew word yatsa is a general word, commonly used in the Old Testament, that means to depart, to come out, or to go forth, and is nowhere in Scripture translated as ‘miscarriage’.  In fact, in Genesis 25.26 & 38.28-30, it is used of live births.  The context of the use of the word yatsa in Exodus 21.22 militates against restricting its meaning to ‘miscarriage .
    Exodus 21.22-24 is evaluating whether or not lasting harm (Heb. ason) has occurred when a pregnant woman has been struck.  Ason only appears in three other verses in Scripture (Gen. 42.4,38, 44.29), where it is used to describe the lasting harm that Jacob fears that his youngest son Benjamin might suffer, were he to accompany his brothers down to Egypt.  Further, the text of Exodus 21.22-24 omits any specific reference to the recipient of the lasting harm—whether to the mother or to the child who proceeds from her after she has been struck—leading logically to the conclusion that the condition of the law is whether either the mother or the child has received lasting harm from the injury.  If the pregnant woman’s child is born alive without having received injury from the blow that she had received, then no lasting harm has been done to the child.  On the other hand, if she miscarries, lasting harm has, in fact, been done, terminating the life of the child, and the one who struck her is legally culpable for the child’s death and subject to the law’s penalty, namely, ‘life for life’.”

  7. Comment by Rick Plasterer on July 9, 2022 at 4:41 pm

    I would like to add that from the New Testament, it’s very evident that an unborn child is a new human being. John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb at the arrival of Mary (Lk. 1:39-45).

    For people who are non-religious, or don’t regard the Bible as an authority, the biological reality that human life begins at conception should be quite sufficient to establish that abortion is homicide.

    More generally, with respect to the article being commented on, it is ludicrous and extremely unseemly for these faculty members at New York elite institutions to refer to heartland conservatives as a dominant minority. The Left controls all major American institutions – colleges and universities, the news media, social media, the entertainment industry, large corporations, labor unions, professional associations, and the executive branch of government. Franke and Douglas are part of the dominant minority which has imposed its will on the country for the last fifty years.


  8. Comment by David on July 10, 2022 at 6:48 am

    Biblical Hebrew is less precise than modern English. If you imagine Eve was created from Adam’s “rib,” think again. The story is actually more X-rated.

  9. Comment by Loren J Golden on July 10, 2022 at 11:30 am

    And you, of course, are a Hebrew scholar?

  10. Comment by Rev. Dr. Lee D Cary (ret. UM clergy) on July 14, 2022 at 11:14 am

    What’s next? – you ask.

    When a well-known retired UM minister I knew conducted one of the earliest same-sex marriages in the SW, I asked him, via email, this question: “If two men are free to marry each other, why can’t three men, or two women, or two men and one woman, or two women and one man, or three women be wedded together in the church?”

    No response.

    About the same time, I posed the very same question to a prominent Florida-based newspaper reporter after reading his article supporting same-sex marriage.

    His response was quick and candid. He wrote back, “I guess there’s no reason why they should not have that right.”

    That’s the next move in the progressive agenda ref. marriage. Wait for it.

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