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With a film and a community conversation, these Idaho faith leaders hope to turn the abortion debate on its head.

Although Idaho’s near-total abortion ban — which continues to drive midwives out of the state for fear of prosecution — remains in place, polls show that a growing number of Idahoans view the restrictions as too draconian. In most polls, Idahoans find themselves in a growing middle ground in a debate where, until recently, citizens chose a hard yes or a hard no.

“I try not to judge those whose religious beliefs are different than mine,” said the Rev. Sara LaWall, faith leader of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. “And I want the freedom to believe it and put it into practice. Sometimes these practices and beliefs need to be kept entirely in the religious sphere, and not in the governmental sphere. And that is the conversation I would like to have.”

LaWall has joined a growing chorus of faith leaders from across Idaho who say that while some Idaho lawmakers have used their religious faith to express their opposition to abortion, a host of other faiths have been left out.

“The challenge that the government is imposing is a narrow version of Christianity as a kind of state religion in this area,” said Rabbi Dan Fink, faith leader at Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel. of freely exercising what our tradition tells us to do.”

Fink and LaWall joined Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the conversation they hope to have after a screening of the film “Under G_D,” Thursday, June 20, at The Flicks in Boise.

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It’s the morning edition. Good morning. I’m George Prentice. This morning we’re going to talk about a movie. And since we singled it out, we think it deserves your attention. The film will be shown at The Flicks later this week, Thursday the 20th, and the film is titled Under G_D. The word is indeed ‘God’, but the letter ‘O’ is missing from the title. But something is still missing from the debate over abortion restrictions in Idaho and other states. We’ll get to that missing piece in a moment, but first let’s bring in our guests. Here is Pastor Sara LaWall of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Good morning, Rev. Sara.

REV. SARA LAWALL: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: And here comes Rabbi Dan Fink from Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel. Good morning, Rabbi Dan.

RABBI DAN FINK: Good morning, George. Happy to be here.

PRENTICE: I have to say that I was lucky enough to see this film when it was appearing at film festivals and picking up a boatload of jury awards. The film lasts about half an hour. It’s a great short documentary; so that will allow for plenty of conversations after the movie at Thursday’s event and what conversation there should be. So here we are now: we know that most abortions are banned in Idaho and a number of other states. But if you see this film you will learn a lot more about RFRA. That’s RFRA, an acronym for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows some lawmakers to bypass constitutional law and model laws around “believers in the faith.” But which faith? Reverend Sara, jump in here. This is a major disparity because many of these restrictions are based on religious beliefs. But to be fair, it’s not just about religions.

LAWALL: That’s right. And that’s actually what drew me to this film. But I have also followed this trial. It is truly disheartening when our legislators use faith as the basis for the legislation they pass, without any recognition that there are such a multitude of faith traditions and beliefs, especially around this issue. And it’s actually about very, very narrow interpretations – theological interpretations and a range of religious beliefs – and doctrines that don’t apply to all religions. And so I’m really invested in wanting to have a conversation about how we govern. What does religious freedom actually mean? What does the separation of church and state actually mean? Because it really excludes and frankly oppresses a number of faith traditions and faith communities in relation to this particular abortion rights and access legislation, but also others.

PRENTICE: Rabbi Dan Fink, in this film we hear from a contemporary of yours. He is Rabbi Barry Silver from Florida. And, well, let me just play a clip here.

RABBI BARRY SILVER: “It is a Jewish value to stand up to authority. Jews have never hesitated to stand on the edge of society when it is necessary to fight against oppression.”

PRENTICE: Rabbi Dan, can you add anything to that? Can you bring this to our house here in Idaho?

FINK: Yes. Rabbi Silver participates in this trial and appears in the film because he recognizes, as Rev. LaWall noted, that faiths are divided in very different places on the issue of choice. in Idaho and elsewhere, the anti-abortion movement has chosen to give authority to a very small, very narrow strain of conservative Christianity, essentially turning it into a kind of state religion. And Jewish tradition has always resisted this. Not only is abortion permitted in Jewish tradition, but if a woman’s life and health are at risk, Jewish law requires it. So the point is that anti-abortion restrictions prevent devout Jewish people from living in accordance with our tradition on this issue.

PRENTICE: Tell me a little more about that tradition, because I’ve been learning something about Jewish law, using old rules or old principles, but they apply to contemporary circumstances. In other words, they are based on reality.

FINK: That’s right. So, George, Jews are known to like to disagree among themselves. There is an old saying that says, “For every two Jews, there are at least three opinions.” And so when you ask Jews about abortion, when is abortion justified and who chooses it, you get different answers from different parts of the Jewish world. Among the Orthodox, the more traditional…more conservative tendency is there, but this is one of the few things. And there really aren’t that many Jews across the board. From the very traditional to the very progressive, there is agreement that human life begins at birth. Jews all agree that a fetus is not a human being. A fetus is a potential human being. And that until the coronation the life of the mother, carrying the fetus, takes precedence over the life of the fetus. It’s really one of the few things that Jews agree on… and that Idaho law is in direct opposition to.

PRENTICE: Reverend Sara, help me with this. We have noticed that more and more people are conflicted about this. They are somewhere in this rather large middle of this debate, if you will. And I assume that’s where you want to start this conversation.

LAWALL: I think that’s right. I think it’s meant to remind people of the kind of fundamental beliefs of this country, which is to exercise one’s own religious freedom apart from the state. And part of what that says to me is that there is a deep power in one’s religious beliefs and convictions, and I consider that to be very sacred. And so I try not to judge those whose religious beliefs are different from mine, and I want them to have the freedom to believe and practice them. But I want exactly the same freedom for myself and for other communities that practice and believe differently, which means that sometimes those practices and beliefs must be kept entirely in the religious sphere, and not in the public or governmental sphere. And that’s the conversation I’m interested in.

PRENTICE: And I’d like you both to think about this. Rabbi Dan, let me first ask you this: The First Amendment to the United States Constitution says that the government cannot establish religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof. In other words, Jews, Muslims and even many Christians are left out of these restrictive new laws.

FINK: The challenges that the government is imposing as a narrow version of Christianity as a kind of state religion in this area. And Idaho’s law, as it currently stands on abortion, prevents Jews from freely practicing what our tradition tells us to do.

LAW: There are many Christians who come from liberal Christianity and Protestant Reformation and Unitarian Universalists who believe in choice, who actually also believe that when it comes to abortion, it is a very special, very personal, very spiritual decision that is made must be. by the patient in consultation with his doctor. And if the patient chooses, in consultation with his spiritual leader or others who are important in his life. And the government should really be outside that decision-making and outside that space.

PRENTICE: The Rev. Sara LaWall is the faith leader of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. And of course Rabbi Dan Fink is from Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel. And the event is next Thursday the 20th. The event is free, but you will want to reserve a ticket. Thank you to both of you. Good luck for Thursday, and thanks for giving me some time this morning.

LAWALL: Thanks George,

FINKE: Thank you.