Themes on the importance of faith in the public square and optimism about the future in the face of adversity highlighted the NC Faith and Freedom Coalition’s 5th annual Salt & Light conference, held at Freedom House Church in Charlotte on Sept. 23 and 24. 

N.C. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson; current and former members of Congress, including Ted Budd, Richard Hudson, Lauren Boebert, and Trey Gowdy; journalist James O’Keefe; and pro-life Catholic priest Fr. Frank Pavone were among the many public figures and faith leaders featured at the two-day policy conference.

The North Carolina Faith and Freedom Coalition is led by executive director Jason Williams. Williams started the organization with the help of the National Faith and Freedom Coalition and its chairman Ralph Reed in order to engage and educate people of faith in the political process. Williams told Carolina Journal that the event was a success and that he was grateful to Freedom House Church for hosting the conference. 

“It was great to hear from a diverse group of speakers that included faith leaders, elected officials and other conservative influencers from across the nation,” Williams said. “Regardless of how much the left tries to intimidate believers, we don’t compartmentalize our faith or check our values at the door when it comes to our engagement in the political arena. Pro-faith, pro-family, and pro-freedom policies are good for our nation.

“Our goal of the conference is to educate, equip, and encourage attendees to stand up and become part of the cultural conversation and follow the biblical mandate of being salt and light,” Williams continued. “We’ve gotten feedback from attendees that describe the conference as a political camp meeting. There are those who talk about being encouraged spiritually and challenged to be involved. We hope to carry that enthusiasm into the election on Nov. 8.”

Speaking to a capacity crowd, current congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd discussed his background and faith story about trusting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, which he described as the most important factor in his life. Budd also referenced a mission trip to the Soviet Union while an undergraduate at Appalachian State in August of 1991 in order to contrast the experience with the freedoms provided in the United States. Budd said he learned a valuable lesson about the United States while on the trip. 

“It taught me something profound about this country here,” Budd said. “The Soviet Union built walls to keep its people trapped inside, while in America, last year we let over 850,000 to a million legal people into this country,” he said, emphasizing the word legal. “Our country is blessed by God, and we embody the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And we are endowed by our creator with equal rights that no man or government can take away.”

Bremerton, Washington, High School football coach Joe Kennedy also spoke at the conference on his faith journey and the events surrounding his removal as head coach of the Bremerton High football team for praying on the field after games. Upon being fired, the First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the school district on Kennedy’s behalf, arguing that his firing violated the Constitution. The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a 6-3 majority ruled that the coach’s prayers were a form of private speech, protected by the First Amendment. 

According to the court’s 6-3 decision, the free-exercise and free-speech clauses of the First Amendment protect an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal. The Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression. Kennedy told CJ at the conference that he was grateful for the opportunity to speak. 

“The Faith and Freedom coalition promotes everything I stand for, so they’ve been behind me 100 percent,” Kennedy said. “I had the opportunity to come here and thank everybody who’s been in this fight with us. This is my chance to be able to step in, look them in the eyes and say thank you, and that God heard our prayers and that they’ve been answered.”

Kennedy was also grateful for the support of the First Liberty Institute. “The Constitution doesn’t always mean what we think it means, and there’s a lot of ignorance out there. I was ignorant to what it meant and how the whole system works, but because of the First Liberty institute, I received a crash course on not just the Constitution, but how the law and courts work. You get to see how an average American would absolutely get crushed if it weren’t for organizations out there backing us up and looking out for us.”

Educational freedom and school choice were also topics of discussion. CJ spoke with Corey DeAngelis, executive director of the Educational Freedom Institute and senior fellow at the American Federation for Children about the conference and his efforts in promoting school choice and educational freedom across the country. 

“The event was put on really well and the crowd was super energized, which gives me optimism about promoting school choice in North Carolina,” DeAngelis said. “The fact that I was invited to speak also gives me optimism about the importance of advancing school choice in North Carolina. The state already has the opportunity scholarship program, but it’s about time every single state goes all in on educational freedom. And what that means is allowing all families to take their children’s state funded education dollars to the education provider of their choosing whether that’s a public school, private school, charter school, or homeschool option.”

Many local political officials were also present at the conference. N.C. House Rep. David Willis, R-Union, spoke to CJ and praised the NC Faith and Freedom Coalition for its efforts. 

“The NC Faith and Freedom coalition does such a great job bringing folks together from across the state on a number of different issues and it’s important to highlight the value and the need for our churches and for our fellow believers to get involved and to come out and vote,” Willis said. “They do such a good job of helping everybody understand the issues we are facing every election cycle, and we are appreciative of them and their work.”

CJ also talked with N.C. Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley, who expressed his admiration for the Faith and Freedom Coalition. 

“I’m very excited to work with the Faith and Freedom Coalition,” Whatley said. “These guys have been such great partners. All the work that Ralph [Reed] and Jason [Williams] have done to make sure that we have evangelicals participating is extremely important. I believe so strongly that we’ve got to have more men and women of faith involved in the public square and involved in politics. The Republican Party needs to be the party of faith, and we need to be a place where God can use the party as an instrument to be able to further his designs. When we are looking at building a winning political coalition that will win campaigns, evangelicals are absolutely an essential part of it.”