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.
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
CEO & President
Concerned Women for America
Brian S. Brown
National Organization for Marriage
Carl A. Anderson
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
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Richard Land
Southern Evangelical Seminary, Charlotte, NC
C. Ben Mitchell, PhD
Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs
Barry Creamer, Ph.D.
Dr. Tony Beam
Vice-President for Student Services and Christian Worldview
North Greenville University
National Abstinence Education Association
American Principles in Action
William J. Murray
Religious Freedom Coalition
Rev. Lou Sheldon
Traditional Values Coalition
Dr. Carl Herbster
Christian Coalition of America