Article  Human Dignity  Life  Marriage and Family  Religious Liberty  Politics

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

human dignity

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.


Russell Moore
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

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

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

Penny Nance
CEO & President
Concerned Women for America

Brian S. Brown
National Organization for Marriage

Carl A. Anderson
Supreme Knight
Knights of Columbus

Dr. Keith Wiebe
The American Association of Christian Schools

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

Daniel L. Akin
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

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

Dr. Jeff Iorg
Golden Gate Seminary

Chuck Kelley, ThD

Steve Lemke
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

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

Paige Patterson
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Dr. Richard Land
Southern Evangelical Seminary, Charlotte, NC

Thomas White
Cedarville University

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

Barry Creamer, Ph.D.
Criswell College

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

Valerie Huber
National Abstinence Education Association

Terry Schilling
Executive Director
American Principles in Action

William J. Murray
Religious Freedom Coalition

Andrea Lafferty

Rev. Lou Sheldon
Traditional Values Coalition

Maurine Proctor
Meridian Magazine

Dr. Carl Herbster

Jim Backlin
Christian Coalition of America

human dignity

Related Content

born alive act

ERLC urges U.S. Senate to Oppose Right to Contraception Act

POLICY STATEMENT: Nashville, Tenn. —The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is urging the Senate...

Read More

Report reveals Southern Baptists’ views on political theology

Lifeway Research recently released a report on Southern Baptists’ views on political theology. The...

Read More

ERLC Opposes VA’s Expansion of IVF Coverage

Using taxpayer resources to fund actions that undermine this biblical understanding of marriage transgresses...

Read More

What’s in the 2024 Public Policy Agenda?

Public policy advocacy is one of the primary ways that the ERLC fulfills its...

Read More

Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel

In the wake of the evil and indefensible atrocities now committed against the people...

Read More
303 Creative Case

Explainer: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Free Speech in 303 Creative Case

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision in the 303 Creative...

Read More