She’s a mom, Sunday school teacher, and prominent religious freedom advocate.

FAIRFAX, Va. – As the Fairfax Christ Church stand up to sing “Upside down” on a recent Sunday, Lori Windham stepped forward to perform the Anthem for Deaf Members.

Windham, a 42-year-old wife, mother, and lawyer, learned American Sign Language so she could help with the congregation’s ministry to the deaf in suburban Washington, DC.

“Maybe because of her experience as a lawyer, she’s so good with the language. She’s a smart woman, very humble.

“Really, his learning speed was amazing,” said Cindi Cesone, the wife of a Fairfax senior who, like her husband, Dennis, was born deaf. “Maybe because of her experience as a lawyer, she’s so good with the language. She’s a smart woman, very humble.

As well as providing ASL interpretation, Windham – mother to Thomas, 6, and Bonnie, 11 – teaches children’s Sunday School classes at the church in Fairfax.

Windham’s deep faith can be seen not only in his active participation in the church, but also in his highly publicized work at religious liberty law firm Becket.

“She manages to balance piety and technique,” ​​said Montse Alvarado, vice president and chief operating officer of Becket, praising the love, grace and respect Windham displays even when litigate major cases. .

Lori Windham is an American Sign Language interpreter at the Fairfax Church of Christ in Virginia.

just an amazing time

A senior attorney at Becket, Windham has represented clients in religious freedom lawsuits since 2005, including as lead plaintiff counsel in Fulton versus Philadelphia.

The Fulton case, which Windham argued before the U.S. Supreme Court (albeit by telephone due to the covid19 pandemic), wondered if the city of Philadelphia could refuse to certify a Catholic foster care agency unless the charity agreed to place children in foster care with same-sex married couples.

Last year the judges ruled 9-0 in favor of Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, the Catholic adoptive mothers portrayed by Windham.

Related: Fostering and Adoption Departments Praise Fulton v. Philadelphia

In an interview after worship in Fairfax, Windham recalled quickly going through the June 17, 2021 decision — over 100 pages — and trying to figure out who won.

“I was like, ‘This doesn’t look good,'” she said The Christian Chronicle. “I was looking for a dissent, and there was no dissent because it was unanimous.

“And it was just – after three years of fighting this case – it was just an incredible moment to know that we had won, and we had won convincingly.”

Windham’s Supreme Court victory marked the latest – and most significant – career milestone for the Texas native.

Previously, she was part of Becket’s legal team in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. In that 2014 case, the court ruled 5-4 that private companies — including those owned by a family with religious beliefs — cannot be required to pay to cover certain types of contraceptives for their employees.

Related: Putting “Exercise” in Free Exercise

Beckett characterizes its mission as protecting “the expression of all faiths, from A to Z – Anglican to Zoroastrian”. The company has eight Supreme Court victories in the last decade.

“All the Supreme Court victories wouldn’t exist without her,” Alvarado said of Windham. “She’s been there for all of them.”

Montse Alvarado is Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Becket.

Montse Alvarado is Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Becket.

“Driven by his conviction”

Windham grew up in the North Side Christ Church, a San Antonio congregation where his parents—Allen and Glenda Halstead—remain founding members.

His parents instilled in him from an early age a deep appreciation for religious freedom.

They taught him, Windham said, “that’s how we protect our way of believing and how we pass things on to our children.

Lori Windham attends the Fairfax Church of Christ in Virginia.

Lori Windham attends the Fairfax Church of Christ in Virginia.

“And now, as a wife and a mother, I feel that even more,” she added. “I want my beliefs to be protected. I want to be able to experience this. I want to be able to pass that on to my children. »

A 1997 graduate of a Christian high school, Windham won a scholarship to attend Abilene Christian University, a West Texas university associated with the Churches of Christ. She majored in political science.

Windham credits ACU political science professors Mel Hailey and Neal Coates with helping him develop his interest in church-state issues and constitutional law.

“Lori has always been driven by her belief that religious freedom is fundamental to the United States,” Coates said.

Regarding the unanimous decision in Fulton, the professor said: “There are very few lawyers who have earned this honor. … But all she was trying to do was what was right in the eyes of God. We are proud of his accomplishments.

Lori Windham talks about the US Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case in 2014.

Lori Windham talks about the US Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case in 2014.

“A Gift from the ACU”

After graduating summa cum laude from ACU in 2001, Windham was accepted to Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass.

At the elite institution, which she attended from 2002 to 2005, she discovered that not all of her classmates had struggled with the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause as she had done.

“It was like a gift from the ACU,” she said of her undergraduate prep.

“I think what was unusual was that so many people there identified with one religion, but it was more like a cultural thing.”

Attending a non-Christian school for the first time was also an adjustment.

“I think what was unusual was that so many people there identified with a religion, but it felt more like a cultural thing,” Windham said of his Harvard classmates. “They were a little perplexed to meet people for whom their faith made a big difference in their life and was part of thinking about how you live.

“And so I remember,” she added, “having really good conversations with some of my Orthodox Jewish or Muslim classmates because they got this idea that my faith makes a difference.” .

These conversations helped her understand the importance of protecting religious freedom for everyone, not just those who share her beliefs, she said.

For this reason, Windham has litigated cases ranging from a Muslim inmate who sued for the right to wear a beard to a Santeria priest forbidden to make animal sacrifices in Jewish synagogues prevented from building on their own land.

“The American way of doing things,” Windham told the The Chronicle, “realize that we have people with a lot of different beliefs, but we can protect everyone and let them seek the truth and hope that they will find the real truth. It’s the best way to do it.

Attorney Lori Windham, a graduate of Abilene Christian University and a member of the Church of Christ, represented the plaintiffs in the Fulton case.

Attorney Lori Windham stands in front of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, DC

“It’s been a lot of fun”

Between his law school years, Windham worked in the nation’s capital – for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice one summer and Becket Founder Kevin J. “Seamus” Hasson the other summer.

After graduating from Harvard, both former employers offered him a job.

“I thought about it a lot and prayed a lot, and I said to myself, ‘The federal government will always be there; I can do it another time,” she said. “I decided, ‘I’m really interested in religious liberty work; I want to do this for this part of my career and see where it takes me. And it was a lot of fun, so I never stopped doing that.

“I thought, ‘The federal government will always be there; I can do that another time. I decided, ‘I’m really interested in religious freedom work.’

While in Washington during his summers as an intern, Windham had his first introduction to the church in Fairfax.

A friend from ACU had told her about the congregation and she decided to check it out.

She immediately found a home away from home.

“I had a place to go and make friends,” she said.

While studying to take the bar exam, she joined a Fairfax group on a service project at a children’s home. During this project, she met her future husband, Matt Windham, who has a master’s degree in mathematics and works in data analysis.

They exchanged their wedding vows 15 years ago and Fairfax remained their church.

“Lori is amazing,” said Phil McKinney, church leader and discipleship minister. “It’s not just the fact that she’s a lawyer and has had these huge cases, but she’s incredibly involved in ministry here.

“Whenever we need help with anything, she’s always there,” he added. “It’s just his mind. And you know she brings that into the courtroom on behalf of the people she represents.

“Lori is amazing. It’s not just the fact that she’s a lawyer and has had these huge cases, but she’s incredibly involved in ministry here.

Windham does his best to distract.

When asked about learning sign language, she replied, “I’m not as skilled as I should be.”

But she is happy to praise her fellow Christians, praising the diversity of the Fairfax church and the congregation’s ability to maintain close fellowship in a transient and dispersed community.

“It’s unusual because there are so many people who are in DC for a short time, so people pass by here and bring their gifts to the congregation, then they leave and go somewhere else,” he said. she stated. “This congregation is great at welcoming people…and understanding that people are going to come and go.”

For its part, Windham has no plans to rent a U-Haul anytime soon.

She loves her church, her job and her life on the Beltway.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is editor-in-chief of The Christian Chronicle. Join it at [email protected].

Filed Under: Becket Fairfax Church of Christ Fulton c. Philadelphia Hobby Lobby Lori Windham National News People Religious Liberty Religious Freedom Top News United States Supreme Court Washington DC

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