Religious Freedom Under Attack

Sometime this summer, possibly in late June, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. To quote a former Secretary of State, what difference does it make, if the Justices rule that it is?

If you’re a Christian business owner like the Kleins in Oregon, the answer is $135,000 worth of difference and financial ruin. They made the decision to turn down a lesbian couple’s request for a wedding cake because they believed, as Christians, that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. For the Kleins, making a gay wedding cake went against their faith. They were forced out of business for that belief and found guilty of discrimination by an Oregon court.

Individuals like Brendon Eich, the high-tech prodigy who invented the programming language, Javascript, might be worried at a pro-gay ruling from the Supreme Court, too. Eich was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla, which he co-founded, when an internet campaign on the popular dating site,, revealed he had donated $1000 to Proposition 8. Proposition 8 denied gay couples in California the right to marry, and Eich’s donation provoked the following message on the interestingly named

“Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.”

The threat of a gay boycott was apparently too much for Mozilla, and Klein was forced to pay the consequences of being an “opponent of equal rights,” or in other words, a discriminatory bigot. It’s hard to see how a Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage wouldn’t work to further stifle Christian expression in the public square. To coin a phrase, bake a gay cake or get out of the kitchen, and as that version of “equality” gains ground, expect fewer and fewer Christians to stick their heads above the parapet of our new cultural orthodoxy.

Still, it’s argued, Christians will be free to worship and believe as they please in their churches and religious institutions. Not so fast; the oral arguments heard by the Supreme Court this April imply a different story.

When Justice Samuel Alito asked U.S. Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, if religious institutions would be able to maintain tax-exempt status if they opposed gay marriage, Virilli replied:

“You know, I — I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I — I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is — it is going to be an issue.”

An issue? That’s putting it lightly. The loss of tax-exempt status would cripple churches and religious institutions, forcing them to close through loss of charitable contributions and the burden of property taxes. Seemingly, and to no lesser figure than the Solicitor General, this doomsday scenario is conceivable, why? Because of the precedent bound up with Alito’s question. This centers on Bob Jones University, which lost its tax-exempt status for disallowing interracial dating and marriage. “Would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?” asked the Justice, and we can add the unspoken words, “if not, why not,” when both practices apparently fall under the same crime of discrimination. 

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. also asked a telling question of the Solicitor General. “Would a religious school that has married housing be required to afford such housing to same-sex couples?” 

Virilli answered by saying that the Federal government did not, at the present time, have a law banning discrimination on the grounds of gender identity or sexual orientation. He also referred the matter to the States, many of which do have such legislation. According to Virilli, the requirement in question “is going to depend on how the States work out the balance between their civil rights laws, whether they decide there’s going to be civil rights enforcement of discrimination based on sexual orientation or not, and how they decide what kinds of accommodations they are going to allow under State law.” 

There you have it, religious schools might, or might not, be allowed to practice discrimination depending on what individual states decide, to say nothing of the very real possibility of a Federal law banning such behavior. Presumably that too would become a matter of “accommodation,” of tolerance, or not. Again we have to ask, if not, why not?

This brings us to the point. The fulcrum, or pivot on which the argument for gay marriage stands is discrimination, that it is unjust to deny a class of people the same rights as everyone else, merely because of “who they are” as people. To do so, it’s argued, is nothing less than bigotry and hatred. In the same way, we’re told, that it is wrong to discriminate against people because of the color of their skin, so too is it wrong to do so because of sexual orientation or identity. 

If this argument is right, that being opposed to gay marriage and refusing to offer married on-campus accommodation to same-sex couples, for example, is bigotry, then there is no reason why it should not be stamped out with the full force of the law. Schools, churches, charities, hospitals, in sum, anyone or anything at all, should not be allowed to practice discrimination; it’s wrong, pure and simple, across the board, regardless of religious belief. Where does this leave Christianity, or any other faith that upholds what everyone has always known until now, that sexual relations properly take place between a man and a woman, and that anything else is disordered and wrong? Nowhere good, I’m afraid.

Regardless of its merits, the discrimination argument has won the day in the popular mind and has the potential to be used as an anvil on which to beat the churches into submission. It is already, as we’ve seen in Oregon and elsewhere, and if it applies to bakers and CEOs, then why not to everyone else, churches included? Good question, and the secular left, which is the standard-bearer of our new sexual politics, has no answer, other than thin hints of “balance” and “accommodation.” How could they, when their own reasoning argues otherwise? With that in mind, don’t expect tolerance to last for any length of time, as the logic of “marriage equality” marches to its conclusion. 

For now, Christianity in the U.S. is perhaps too big to assault directly; there are too many Christians with too many votes, to attack head-on. It wouldn’t look good to campaign for public office on a platform of putting pastors in jail for anti-gay “hate speech.” Likewise, shutting down religious schools and churches because they refuse to burn incense on the altar of our new gay orthodoxy isn’t a vote winner, yet. But there is nothing in the language of the gay rights movement that suggests it shouldn’t be, and that language is in the ascendant, not its reverse. This does not, to put it mildly, bode well for long-term religious freedom.

To return to the question, where does this leave Christianity? For faithful Christians who believe in the divinely ordered nature of sexuality and stand against anything that contradicts it, there are several choices. 

It might be possible, for a time, to ignore the world and pretend that religious enclaves of what the culture believes to be discrimination and hatred will be allowed to exist. Who knows, the ostrich that trustingly buries its head in the sand might never wake up to find its neck severed. That’s one possibility, that a society which has learned to hate and despise a religion they believe hateful will tolerate it. Or to put it another way, perhaps a compromise can be reached between two totally opposed points of view. Perhaps our Constitution and the principles behind it have sufficient genius to make this happen. I hope they do, but it appears another, less comfortable option is fast taking center stage.

Laws can be disobeyed, and a coalition of Christian leaders from across America have promised to do just that, sending an unyielding message to the Supreme Court in their Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage. In it, the signers state:

“Our highest respect for the rule of law requires that we not respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with higher law. A decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order. As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.”

So what difference will it make if that line is crossed? This remains to be seen. In the meanwhile, the Supreme Court of the United States has been put on notice. There are Christians, in this nation, who will not bow to the false gods of our age.

Forward in Christ

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