Sunday Sermon

Today, I will be delivering a talk–shared below– to Danville’s UU Congregation, addressing our legislature’s assault on trans children.

Let me begin this talk by quoting from the introduction of a recent article in the New York Times:

When the Supreme Court declared a constitutional right to same-sex marriage nearly eight years ago, social conservatives were set adrift.\

The ruling stripped them of an issue they had used to galvanize rank-and-file supporters and big donors. And it left them searching for a cause that — like opposing gay marriage — would rally the base and raise the movement’s profile on the national stage.

“We knew we needed to find an issue that the candidates were comfortable talking about,” said Terry Schilling, the president of American Principles Project, a social conservative advocacy group. “And we threw everything at the wall.”

What stuck to that wall was the issue of transgender identity, particularly that of young people. As the article went on to detail, the effort to restrict transgender rights has supplanted same-sex marriage as an animating issue for social conservatives. It has reinvigorated a network of conservative groups, increased rightwing fund-raising and set the Right’s agenda in school boards and state legislatures, including Indiana’s.

Nothing like fear of a demonized “Other” to gin up the troops….

I was asked to address the legal issues triggered by the Indiana General Assembly’s efforts to keep trans children from receiving appropriate medical care. I will do that—but before I do, I think it is critically important to point out that what we are experiencing in the U.S. right now, not just in Indiana, isn’t just an attack on the autonomy of women and the existence of trans people; it’s a political calculation that is also part of a wholesale attack by MAGA partisans on the Bill of Rights and long-settled principles of American jurisprudence.

The purpose of the Bill of Rights was—in Justice Jackson’s immortal words—”to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.” Or, less eloquently, as I used to tell my students, the Bill of Rights answers a deceptively simple question: who decides? Who decides what book you read, what God you worship (or if you do), what politics you endorse, who you choose to marry, whether you choose to procreate…who gets to dictate what philosophers call your telos—the ultimate aims and objectives that you have chosen and that shape your life?

From 1967 to last year, America’s Courts answered that question by upholding a doctrine called substantive due process—often called the individual’s right to privacy or personal autonomy. That doctrine recognizes the existence of an intimate “zone” that governments have no right to enter— a set of personal decisions that must be left up to the individuals involved.  That doctrine, first enunciated in Griswold v. Connecticut, recognized the libertarian principle embraced by the nation’s founders.

Those who crafted America’s constituent documents were significantly influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, and its then-new approach to the proper role of the state. That approach rejected notions of monarchy and the “divine right” of kings (in other words, the overwhelming authority of the state) in favor of the principle that Individuals should be free to pursue their own ends–their own life goals–so long as they did not thereby harm the person or property of someone else, and so long as they were willing to accord an equal liberty to their fellow citizens.

When I was much younger, that principle, and the importance of limiting government to areas where collective action was appropriate—keeping the state out of the decisions that individuals and families have the right to make for themselves– was a Republican article of faith. It was basic conservative doctrine. Ironically, the MAGA folks who inaccurately call themselves conservative today insist that government has the right—indeed, the duty– to invade that zone of privacy in order to impose rules reflecting their own particular beliefs and prejudices.

That process requires the use of other inaccurate labels. We’re hearing a lot about “parental rights,” for example—but we sure aren’t hearing about the rights of parents who want to treat their children’s gender dysmorphia or who want their children to have access to a wide range of books, or to be taught accurate history. In MAGA world, parental rights extend only to parents who agree with them. (A more accurate label would be “parental privileges.”)

Indiana’s legislature has now gone home, but before they left, the culture warriors who dominate that legislature passed measures doing irreparable harm to trans children. That same gerrymandered legislature was first in the nation to pass an almost complete ban on abortion after Dobbs was handed down. It was the same legislature that ignored law enforcement warnings and passed “permit-less carry,” and the same legislature that has conducted a years-long effort to destroy public education in Indiana.

I think it’s really important to understand that denying medical care to defenseless trans children isn’t a “stand-alone” position. It’s part of an entire worldview that is anti-choice, pro-gun, anti-immigration, racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic, a worldview that is autocratic and profoundly anti-American. The good news is that it’s a worldview held by a distinct minority of Americans—and that minority has gotten substantially smaller since the recent judicial and legislative assaults on women and LGBTQ+ people. The bad news, of course, is that—thanks to gerrymandering– that minority controls far too many legislative bodies, very much including Indiana’s.)

What is my evidence for the assertion that these are minority positions?

According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2021, before Dobbs, 59% of Americans believed that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 39% believed it should be illegal in all or most cases. In a Gallup poll earlier this year—after Dobbs— 35% of Americans said abortion should be legal under anycircumstances, and another 50% said the procedure should be mostly legal, but with some restrictions. Only 13% responded that it should always be illegal. (What’s that old saying? You don’t know what you have until you lose it…)

It isn’t just abortion.

In a 2021 Gallup poll, 56% of Americans said they believe gun laws should be stricter, while 43% said they should remain as they are or be less strict.

In a Pew poll from 2021, 60% of Americans said that immigrants strengthen the country, while 37% said that they burden the country.

In another poll that year, 70% of Americans supported same-sex marriage while only 28% said it should be illegal. That level of support explains why the GOP has shifted its main focus from same-sex marriage to transgender people; the public is less familiar with transgender people, so they can more easily be demonized.

With that background, let me turn to the legal issues. On April 5th, Indiana’s ACLU– joined by the national organization– filed a 47-page complaint challenging the discriminatory and cruel anti-trans measure signed by Governor Holcomb. Let me just read the opening paragraph of that Complaint:

Over the sustained objection and concern of medical professionals, Indiana passed Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 480, effective July 1, 2023, which prohibits transgender minors from receiving what the law labels as “gender transition procedures.” These prohibited interventions are evidence-based and medically necessary medical care essential to the health and well-being of transgender minors who are suffering from gender dysphoria, a serious condition that can lead to depression, anxiety and other serious health consequences when untreated. By denying this medically necessary treatment to minors, the State of Indiana has displaced the judgment of parents, doctors, and adolescents with that of the government. In so doing, the State has intruded on the fundamental rights of parents to care for their minor children by consenting to their receipt of doctor-recommended and necessary care and treatment. This violates due process. Additionally, by singling out for prohibition the care related to “gender transition,” the law creates a facial classification based on sex and transgender status, violating the equal protection rights of transgender adolescents. It also violates their bodily integrity and is fundamentally irrational, which violates due process. And, to the extent that it prohibits the provision of essential services that would otherwise be authorized and reimbursed by Medicaid, the law violates the federal requirements of the Medicaid Act and the Affordable Care Act. It also intrudes on the First Amendment rights of doctors and other practitioners.
Speaking of intrusions on Constitutional rights, the ACLU has also filed two cases challenging Indiana’s abortion ban. The first case argues that the ban violates Indiana’s constitution. In my view, the second case is the really important challenge—it’s based upon religious liberty. Your Unitarian Church—along with several other Christian denominations, the Jewish community, and an assortment of other minority religions– has an extremely important interest in both its argument and outcome.

I’m one of many people who are convinced that abortion bans are prompted by a desire to return women to a subservient status– but those bans are publicly justified by equating a fertilized egg with a human person. As doctors will confirm, that is a religious precept, not a medical one. It’s a belief held by some Christian sects, but it is at odds with doctrinal beliefs held by other Christian denominations and by adherents of other religions. In Judaism, the health of the pregnant woman takes priority over that of the fetus throughout pregnancy, and the fetus does not have equal moral status with the mother until the head emerges from the womb.

If the Indiana Supreme Court upholds the ban, it would be favoring one part of one religion over others—a violation of the First Amendment, and ironically, a violation of Indiana’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act., or RFRA. As you will all recall, that act was passed in order to justify discrimination against LGBTQ+ citizens. (What’s that saying about karma??) I’m relatively optimistic about Indiana’s Supreme Court, since none of its justices appear to be clones of Clarence Thomas or Samuel Alito.

So here we are.

MAGA Republicans are waging culture war against a fundamental premise of American governance—what Justice Brandeis once called “the right to be left alone”—a premise that animates the Bill of Rights and for the past 56 years has been protected by the explicit doctrine of substantive due process—the premise that there are decisions government doesn’t get to make.

I may disagree with your choice of religion or politics or life partner, but my disapproval is irrelevant. Even if a majority of Americans disagree with your choices, in our system, they are yours to make. Absent harm to others, government must “butt out.”

The Indiana legislature’s assaults aren’t just against women or trans people—these assaults should be seen for what they are: an effort to overturn a fundamental principle of American government.  And if that effort is successful, it won’t just be trans children who suffer. None of us will have rights that government will be obliged to respect.


  1. Well I have to admit, it’s an interesting thread this morning.

    One of scriptures fundamental positions is, freedom of thought, freedom of decision, freedom in life! In other words, you are free to make your own decisions and lead your life as you see fit. Every single human lives under the right of free moral agency.

    Nowhere in scripture does it tell you to force your conscience on someone else! The apostle Paul actually stated this very issue! He Said that “who’s conscience should one live under? Live under your conscience? Or live under someone else’s?”

    Our conscience tells us what we believe in most, where our values lay, where our passions or compassions lead us. What does our faith dictate? What and where does our hope lead? Do we have love for our neighbor, do we have empathy for their chosen path? Do they have empathy for ours?

    The whole point of having freedom is living your life as you see fit without the interference of your neighbor. I believe King Solomon actually stated, “stay out of your neighbor’s house, that they might not grow weary of you!”

    So the theme of this particular scriptural dogmatic path is to live and let live as long as you are not forcibly trying to change a person’s thought process. Thought process has to change naturally. That way if a person changes their reasoning, it’s their own choice! Attempting to force someone to change their belief is going to lead to tremendous resistance. And, it’s not just one side of the aisle so to speak, both sides that need to chill.

    There’s nothing wrong with being a secularist, and there is nothing wrong with person being a theocrat as such. Everyone should have that freedom of belief.

    Personally, I appreciate being able to believe what I wish, to express my faith with those who believe the same thing, and to love my neighbors no matter what they believe. Because to change one’s way of thinking, is done by example and kindness and love, and not by trying to dominate and persecute and demonize.

    Being judgmental towards your neighbor is way above anyone’s pay grade. Scripturally, we are not to judge our neighbors, which is our fellow man. Or woman! Scripturally, you are taught that there is only one judge, and in the end, that judge will Make decisions that a God would make. And since we are not God, we don’t have the right to make those decisions.

    Unfortunately, throughout history, humanity has been unable to conduct itself appropriately. Unable to express unyielding love, compassion, and empathy!

    I mean, look at the money being spent on war! The billions upon billions of dollars flowing into Ukraine for a proxy war. Would compassion and empathy really make a difference? Would loving your neighbor make a difference? Well if it was practiced, absolutely!

    Unfortunately, as with everything else, there is very little compassion and empathy being shown anywhere today. People with mental health issues are being murdered on subway trains, people are being gunned down en-masse every single day! Children dying in the streets, every single day. And yet, the grind, or, I should say the meat grinder keeps cranking without let up. Actually, the cranking becomes more feverish. And still, not enough compassion or empathy or love stop continuing slaughter.

    These are the things that will be judged in the long run, if one actually believes that will happen. Through the millennia, humanity has shown itself to be incapable of correcting its course. Civilizations have been wiped out, specific races have been targeted for elimination, other races have been relegated towards servitude. It’s always been that way, but it wasn’t always meant to be that way. And, that’s where Faith, hope, love, compassion and empathy enter in towards an eventual time of judgment!

    Whether or not one believes, that is a personal choice, is there a God? Or, will this planet basically eliminate the human virus that’s killing it!

    Live your life as you see fit, respect those who you share this planet with, and hope you are doing the right thing, express some faith, even if it’s just in your own conscience. Somewhere down the road, everyone will be responsible for their choices. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be

  2. Bravo, Sheila! It’s substantive due process that undergirds it all.

  3. John; your final paragraph reads as the JOHN PETER SORG version of “The Prophet”, sounds good but how do we make it happen in the real world?

    “One of scriptures fundamental positions is, freedom of thought, freedom of decision, freedom in life! In other words, you are free to make your own decisions and lead your life as you see fit. Every single human lives under the right of free moral agency.” What part of scripture led Christians to commit genocide on Jews to end the Black Plague Pandemic?

    I hope this paragraph of Sheila’s “Sunday Sermon” reaches beyond the choir and we find the way to democracy for all; “I may disagree with your choice of religion or politics or life partner, but my disapproval is irrelevant. Even if a majority of Americans disagree with your choices, in our system, they are yours to make. Absent harm to others, government must “butt out.”

  4. What are the sociological impacts of homosexual marriage? Does it limit the number of partners and does it have any sociological benefits? When we pose questions like this are we being hateful? Not if you use the socisl constructs to inform those involved thru educating thst base, correct?
    Articles like this show how far we are from making changes that effect our society at large as laws change.
    Gender dysphoria and the sudden onset of such is a totally different matter. Shilling as a fund raiser certainly made a faux pas in his statement may have found the next issue to raise funds upon, but does that issue correspond to the changes being pushed in our society within our borders. We have seen retractions from physical gender translation to counseling and broad based psychological evaluations for such dysphoria or certainly what is most compelling the sudden onset.
    We see from other countries a reversal of teen gender transformation afforded by laws to counseling instead until they pass thru puberty. Physiologically , according to studies, transformation should occur after such said time.
    Adults do have tge right under law and under conscience to make any decisions they wish to make.
    Triggernometry gives a great discussion on this issue.
    After listening to concerns of those that have transitioned and their influence on this issues understanding, apparently we need to be more cautious as we understand the issue.

  5. Unfortunately, public statements in favor of “freedom” are all too often purely tactical and hypocritical. Lots of people who howl for “freedom” when they feel impinged upon are only too happy to oppress others when they get the opportunity. As Nat Hentoff put it in his great book title, it’s “Free Speech For Me But Not For Thee.” Baptists in colonial America were adamant about the need for Soul Liberty, because they were a potential oppressed minority. Nowadays, where they have political dominance, suddenly Soul Liberty isn’t a thing anymore. Same for Catholics, Mormons, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, whatever. And of course it’s not just religion. Political, ethnic groups, any kind of group, given a position of power, will happily outlaw and oppress “others”. That’s why the Bill of Rights had to be made part of the overarching framework of the law, above local control, not left to the discretion and “tender mercies” of local majorities in each state, county, city or village.

  6. Contrarian Sunday: If we can’t even get close to FDR’s four freedoms in 82 years…why the “fuss” over “micro-freedoms”? About .6% of US folks 13+ identify as trans. WADR, I would prefer to put energy into freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear…

  7. Feeding people’s dreams to prevail over rather than coexist is a powerful drug.

  8. JoAnn,

    Remember the old adage, how does a mouse eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

    There has been much bloodletting in human history. Most of it, albeit probably all of it was related to religious beliefs. Look at the Catholic Church and the Church of England, The complete unethical nincompoopory of the archbishop of Canterbury, look at the coronation of King Charles, would you give your allegiance to that guy? How many times throughout history has the archbishop of Canterbury Been killed by kings of England? Twice that I’m aware of, and this third one with King Charles is working on it.

    As far as Christianity goes, the example is there. The example of Jesus Christ and his conduct. If people choose not to believe, well, that’s their prerogative. Nowhere does it say that one has to be a believer, that’s where faith enters into the equation. Does one have faith? Does one have hope? Or does one continue to do the same things over and over to try and concoct a different outcome?

    Sheila has a great thread this morning, and I’m sure her oratory is going to be outstanding! You have to admire someone who has given many decades of their life trying to make things better. But has it succeeded?

    But, as the rabbit hole gets deeper, the hatred is more desperate, The desire to subjugate becomes more intense.

    I’ve read your comments intently over the years and I can feel your agitation and disappointment, Your pain and grief. Trying to express compassion and love for one’s neighbor can be extremely difficult. Because usually people will do something that actually makes you feel completely opposite of compassion and love.

    Jesus Christ was a good example for those who claim to be Christians, unfortunately there are individuals claiming to be followers of Christ but are not following his example. Or, what does scripture say? Having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power? Well, we see that everyday.

    There are so many gods to divide our attention, the gods of money, celebrity, sex, power, war, all those things are worshiped. This is part of what scripture calls idolatry. These gods demand sacrifice. And humanity willingly sacrifices in more and more deviant ways.

    I’m not a prophet JoAnn, I’m probably a bit younger than you, but I’ve seen a lot. I’ve experienced a lot. My great uncles experienced a lot, my great grandmother and grandfather on my maternal side experienced probably every rotten dastardly thing you can imagine including losing many children to murder and bigotry. Somewhere down the line, the cycle needs to be broken. They were successful, my uncles became ministers. They forgave. But they never forgot! Unfortunately every generation brings its own badness, I dealt with the same issues, and eventually I had to decide to either seek, or continue to seek vengeance, or to forgive but not to forget. A voice of reason is never a bad thing. I chose to try and be reasonable. I was able to help many during the pandemic, and by example, it made a difference in the way people related to me personally.

    But there is no panacea in this world. So we have to work at change constantly and diligently. I really don’t have faith in men whatsoever, and I like to do my own research. I’ve come to my own conclusions, and, chose another way. You can’t go wrong with compassion and empathy! You can’t go wrong with engagement, to express a better way, to use whatever resources are available to feed the hungry, to give hope to the hopeless and faith to the faithless. It does make a better life! But to have faith in men, or mankind, is a fool’s errand, because they haven’t proven they deserve faith. They’ve been doing the same thing for many millenia, and they’ll be doing it till the day there’s no one left.

  9. In the real world today can we have faith to assert our rights against years of prejudice?
    It’s wonderful to hear there are religions who regard the health of a woman as vital. Also to know that a UU congregation exists in Danville is encouraging. UU premise is search for truth.
    I hear that it’s trendy with teens to be trans right now, but government needs to back off and let them work it out. Time and research will show the way.

  10. if the demos said nothing ever again,the republicans would fold up and die.
    seems every thing we say or ,want to do,is totally 180 from any republican holding office. talking with most blue collars here in NoDak, seems many relize the shortcomings of their previous ideals. if the republicans,er, whatever they are now, keep up the cheap rethoric until election time,Biden will have saved the world and the demons of hate will be cast to the corner they painted themselves into.

    im back at work, lets see how its changed over the winter..

  11. Here’s a thought, stop calling it “substantive due process” and start calling it “the right to privacy as established in Amendment IX.” It’s easily understood by even the densest among us, even the MAGATS.

  12. Wonderful, Sheila, and here’s my hope that it has a positive impact.
    May I suggest that you consider writing it as a letter to the editor; you will know
    where it might not be accepted.

  13. Mutilating children on behalf of the medical and big pharma lobby..

    My 5 year old niece says she identifies as a mermaid. Next weekend,we’re going to the east coast and tossing her into the Atlantic,we’ll see if she adapts. To deny her identity would be most cruel,no?

  14. Thank you for your sermon today! We need more of these!

  15. Ian. Your argument is akin to that made by people who opposed same-sex because they said it would lead people being allowed to marry animals. Totally illogical, irrelevant and disingenuous.

  16. Not at all. Why do you want to sexualise children?

    Btw,this is going to destroy the Democrats.

  17. Old Proverb: A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still!

    I believe that it was a theologian named Dietrich Bonhoffer who said during WWII that he didn’t object when the Nazis went after the homosexuals because there weren’t very many of them, and then he didn’t object when the Nazis went after the next minority because there weren’t very many of them, and then he didn’t object when the Nazis went after the next because…, and then the Nazis came after him and there wasn’t anyone left to object (and I think that he died at the hands of the Nazis). Take notice and govern yourselves accordingly!

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