This notion, if not the quote, derives from French Enlightment. Cincinnati’s Beyond Civility takes that notion – of tolerance – to another level, asking civic participants to also listen to and respect other’s viewpoints as we wrestle with the great issues of the day – to take the debate to a higher plane.
This work has first been fostered in a series of half-day discussions among community leaders of varying viewpoints and backgrounds, and advanced by Side-by-Side forums, allowing audience members to “get to know” area leaders in a personal way, and the innovative Back-to-Back forums like this one in which leaders are asked to debate a controversial topic from their opponent’s perspective rather than their own
I was both honored and challenged to be asked by Beyond Civility to debate the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, a decision with which I agree, at least in outcome. Yet, I was asked to argue the view that it was wrongly decided, against Planned Parenthood attorney Jennifer Branch, who defended the decision. Hobby Lobby was an interpretation of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), substantially the same as the controversial law recently enacted in Indiana.
This is not as difficult as it may sound for, as an appellate advocate, I must fully understand my opponents’ viewpoints – indeed occasionally argue them in practice “moot court” sessions – and sometimes I have a client whose position I disagree with, but must advance.
Still, properly articulating a position I did not hold in a debate before 250 attendees required me to research more thoroughly, and internalize more completely, the viewpoint of the left on a series of issues that are pretty easy to resolve in my own mind to the libertarian, I think tolerant, viewpoint.
The organizers of the program, my debate opponent Ms. Branch, and the attendees of all stripes could not have been kinder and more welcoming of the discussion. It was an experience that not only advances our community, but should be exported nationwide.