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

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July 28, 2015

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

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24