Article  Human Dignity  Life  Marriage and Family  Religious Liberty  Politics

Letter to Boehner, McConnell Urging Passage of First Amendment Defense Act

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Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, led other religious leaders and educators in signing the following open letter on the defense of religious liberty. The letter, addressed to Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urged the passage of the First Amendment Defense Act.


Dear Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner:

The Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges has shaken millions of people of faith in our nation. As a result of this ruling, the very meaning of religious freedom is under scrutiny in many circles today. In order to ensure the protection of religious freedom, we urge immediate passage of the First Amendment Defense Act (H.R. 2802/S. 1598).

We were made keenly aware of the potential threat to people of faith and faith-based institutions during the oral arguments in Obergefell. When Justice Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli if a university or college would lose its tax exempt status if it opposed same-sex marriage, the Solicitor General responded, “. . .it’s certainly going to be an issue.”

It should not be “an issue” for any individual or institution to be discriminated against by the federal government for deciding to honor the dictates of their faith regarding marriage. Many of the Supreme Court justices have acknowledged the ancient roots of heterosexual marriage. Indeed, until only very recently, it was the only acceptable form of marriage in practically every society on the planet. It would then seem arbitrary and capricious to marginalize or punish persons and institutions whose definition of marriage the government shared up until last month.

In their opinion in Obergefell, the majority affirmed that people of faith should be able to continue to teach and advocate for their religious beliefs about marriage. However, this is not the totality of what our forefathers intended when they ratified the First Amendment to our Constitution. The freedom to believe, but not to act on that belief, is not religious freedom. Our forefathers intended to honor practice as well as belief. What else can be meant by “free exercise”?

Unanimous affirmation of the redefinition of civil marriage is unnecessary for the wellbeing of those who partake in same-sex relationships. Our nation allows for religious dissent in many instances without exercising governmental discrimination against dissenters. The Catholic Church will not officiate at a marriage in which one (or both) of the persons is validly married but civilly divorced, and yet the Church’s tax exempt status is not in jeopardy over its sincerely held religious belief regarding such divorce and remarriage. Religious schools hire and fire faculty based on adherence to core beliefs of their faith, yet their freedom as tax exempt institutions has been affirmed.

Regrettably, respect for religious belief and practice regarding the nature of marriage is not as secure today. Some are already calling for governmental discrimination against those who hold to their religiously informed belief that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman. This must not be allowed to happen.

The First Amendment Defense Act will help to ensure the protection of the core American value of religious freedom. The bill bars the federal government from taking “any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” Such adverse action includes federal government discrimination in such areas as programs, grants, contracts, and tax treatment against individuals and organizations that believe on religious grounds that marriage is between a man and a woman. The bill also provides crucial protections for our nation’s faith-based institutions.

Governmental discrimination on the basis of religious belief and practice about marriage will have devastating effects on people of faith, their institutions, and the communities they serve. Millions of law-abiding, faithful people are likely to be suddenly deemed bigots and social outcasts. Their institutions will be crippled and many may cease to exist. Most distressing, millions of people will lose the safety net and affirming services they depend on each and every day, from daycare to meals to job training to adoption.

No one in this country should face the discriminatory power of the federal government over a matter so fundamental to the religious teachings of most of the world’s faiths as marriage. The undersigned fully support the First Amendment Defense Act, and we urge Congress to pass it without delay in order to demonstrate its commitment to the protections of faith and conscience promised the people of the United States in the Constitution.

Sincerely,

Russell Moore
President
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Bishop Richard J. Malone
Chairman, Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez
President
NHCLC/CONELA

Hispanic Evangelical Association
Jerry A. Johnson, Ph.D.
President and CEO
National Religious Broadcasters

David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)
CEO
Christian Medical Association

Penny Nance
CEO & President
Concerned Women for America

Brian S. Brown
President
National Organization for Marriage

Carl A. Anderson
Supreme Knight
Knights of Columbus

Dr. Keith Wiebe
President
The American Association of Christian Schools

Thomas J. Cathey, Ed.D.
Director for Legal Legislative Issues
Association of Christian Schools International

Daniel L. Akin
President
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Jason K. Allen, Ph.D.
President
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Dr. Jeff Iorg
President
Golden Gate Seminary

Chuck Kelley, ThD
President

Steve Lemke
Provost
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
President
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Paige Patterson
President
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Dr. Richard Land
President
Southern Evangelical Seminary, Charlotte, NC

Thomas White
President
Cedarville University

C. Ben Mitchell, PhD
Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs
Union University

Barry Creamer, Ph.D.
President
Criswell College

Dr. Tony Beam
Vice-President for Student Services and Christian Worldview
North Greenville University

Valerie Huber
President/CEO
National Abstinence Education Association

Terry Schilling
Executive Director
American Principles in Action

William J. Murray
Chairman
Religious Freedom Coalition

Andrea Lafferty
President

Rev. Lou Sheldon
Founder
Traditional Values Coalition

Maurine Proctor
Editor-in-chief
Meridian Magazine

Dr. Carl Herbster
AdvanceUSA

Jim Backlin
Christian Coalition of America

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