Courting Religious Freedom

Courting Religious Freedom

Included in the landmark ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same­-sex marriage in the United States, were following words:

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-­sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

On December 5th the Supreme Court revisited the rights of religious persons. This time the question at hand is, is the free exercise of religion denied a religious business owner who is compelled to provide services for a gay marriage? At United Families International, we believe that the very first right, and that which serves as a basis for all other rights, is the free exercise of religion. We believe that the founding documents of the United States can and should allow for individual conscience while respecting and protecting the civil rights of homosexuals. Let’s hope the Supreme Court agrees.


Courting Religious Freedom

One and a half hours. That’s approximately the amount of time the legal counsel of Jack Phillips, Masterpiece Cakeshop, had to present its case before the U.S. Supreme Court. One and a half hours to hear both sides of the argument on one of the most important religious freedom cases of the last few decades. The court is considering whether the state of Colorado can force Jack Phillips, a Christian baker, to create a cake for a same­-sex wedding against his deeply held religious beliefs.


Some Background

In 2008, the state of Colorado added “sexual orientation” to its existing non­discrimination law. It is the “public accommodation” clause of non­discrimination laws based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) that have created significant threats to rights of conscience and freedom of belief. This is the type of law that allowed the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to prosecute Jack Phillips and force him to communicate the government of Colorado’s preferred message or lose, at a minimum, 40 percent of his business.

United Families International, for years, has worked in cities and states around the country to prevent similar bills and ordinances from becoming law – precisely because of their potential to infringe upon religious freedom. We are seeing the negative repercussions of these SOGI laws all around the country. Consider the florist, other bakers, printers, and photographers.

While the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, as well as the above­-mentioned cases in New Mexico, Kentucky, Oregon and Washington, predates the Supreme Court decision legalizing same­-sex marriage, the dissenting justices in the Obergefell case recognized that the ruling would exacerbate a brewing collision-­course between proponents of same-­sex marriage and religious adherents, and knew they would be required to address the issue of religious liberty in the future.

In his remarks, Justice John Roberts stated that the Obergefell decision “creates serious questions about religious liberty.” Before Obergefell, states that adopted same­-sex marriage through democratic means, as opposed to court rulings, made sure to protect the rights of religious practitioners. “The majority’s decision imposing same-­sex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.”

Justice Roberts rightly understood that people of faith are not content to merely “advocate” or “teach” their beliefs regarding marriage, but actually live their faith, and expressing that faith through action would at some point clash with the new law. He anticipated this conflict when he concluded that “there is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court.”

Justice Clarence Thomas also remarked on this current dispute: “In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well… Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same­-sex couples.”

The Obergefell ruling not only precipitated nationwide assault on religious liberty, it provoked it. Throughout the Obergefell decision, the justices in the majority “sully” the reputations of sincere religious practitioners by comparing traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment to African­ Americans and women. Justice Samuel Alito warned that religious adherents who failed to endorse the new definition of marriage would be labeled as bigots and that the court decision would be “used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”


While We Wait

The Supreme Court ruling on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case will more than likely come after the first of the year. UFI will continue to keep you up-­to-­date on the latest threats to religious liberty.

Below are links to some of the best commentary and information regarding the Jack Phillips case and what occurred at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, December 5. We encourage you to read and become conversant with the issues and laws that can negatively impact your religious liberty and free speech rights. You can make a difference as you defend the rights of people like Jack Phillips to not just have a faith, but to live it also.

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