By / Apr 6

Recently, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This widely supported bill provided some assurances to Georgians that their government would respect their faith and not discriminate against them because they hold biblical views of marriage. It was non-threatening, despite the media and big business firestorm that raged against it. A significant part of the bill simply applied the language of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to Georgia’s state government.

One has to wonder if we could even pass the 1993 federal RFRA if it were brought up for a vote today. But what the Georgia experience, and similar experiences in states like Arkansas and Indiana, tells us is that the problem with passing these First Amendment-sensitive laws is not due to a lack of public support. The vast majority of citizens in these states support the conviction that religious belief should be protected from governmental discrimination.

Yet, until people insist on protecting religious belief, we will find it increasingly difficult to enact any more religious freedom laws except in the most favorable of environments. If the governor of a state like Georgia, acting out of pressure from political interest groups, big media and big business, will veto a bill that had garnered support among a significant majority of the people, then there is little chance for religious freedom bills becoming law in areas where they might most be needed, like Washington state, for example.

Enter the ongoing failure in Washington, D.C., for Congress to take up a religious freedom bill supported by more than 160 members of Congress.

What is the bill?

The bill, known as the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), is also a very straightforward First Amendment-sensitive bill. It prevents the federal government from punishing a faith-based business or individual because they cannot in good conscience accommodate same-sex marriage in certain situations.

FADA protects individuals and organizations, like Christian colleges and human-needs ministries, from federal discrimination. It prevents the federal government from denying them things like tax-exempt status or government contracts because their faith convictions will not allow them to treat same-sex marriage like biblical marriage.

Here’s the heart of the bill:

(a) In General- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Federal Government shall not take 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.

(b) Discriminatory Action Defined- As used in subsection (a), a discriminatory action means any action taken by the Federal Government to–

(1) alter in any way the Federal tax treatment of, or cause any tax, penalty, or payment to be assessed against, or deny, delay, or revoke an exemption from taxation under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 of, any person referred to in subsection (a);

(2) disallow a deduction for Federal tax purposes of any charitable contribution made to or by such person;

(3) withhold, reduce, exclude, terminate, or otherwise deny any Federal grant, contract, subcontract, cooperative agreement, loan, license, certification, accreditation, employment, or other similar position or status from or to such person;

(4) withhold, reduce, exclude, terminate, or otherwise deny any benefit under a Federal benefit program from or to such person; or

(5) otherwise discriminate against such person.

(c) Accreditation; Licensure; Certification- The Federal Government shall consider accredited, licensed, or certified for purposes of Federal law any person that would be accredited, licensed, or certified, respectively, for such purposes but for a determination against such person wholly or partially on the basis that the 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.

Clearly, this bill does not threaten anyone. Indeed, all it does is ensure that the federal government will not discriminate against those who seek to live according to the biblical teaching that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman. This is obviously First Amendment territory. Yet, despite repeated efforts, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is unwilling to even take up this bill.

Given that Gov. Deal and other governors could not withstand the threats and bullying they received over constitutionally valid religious freedom bills, we shouldn’t be totally surprised that members of Congress are nervous about taking up FADA. The opposition is organized and hostile.

What is at stake?

But much is at stake. During the oral arguments in the Obergefell same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court, Justice Alito asked DOJ Solicitor General Donald Verrilli if a university or college could lose its nonprofit tax status because of its conviction that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Verrilli responded: “It’s certainly going to be an issue.” He acknowledged this because he recognized that same-sex marriage is quickly becoming a civil rights issue in the minds of many people. Except for a very narrow exemption, people of faith and their institutions are not protected from federal action when a civil right is involved.

We’re not talking only about tax exemptions. We’re also looking at the likelihood that a federal government determined to enforce its view that same-sex marriage is a civil right could deny loans for students who want to attend a school that holds to the biblical view of marriage. Businesses with this view could be denied access to government contracts. Adoption and foster care organizations could be put out of business because they can’t in good conscience place children in same-sex settings. These are just a few examples of what is at stake.

What can you do?

FADA will prevent this. However, unless members of Congress know they will be supported by the vast majority of people in their districts, they will not take up this crucial bill. We should not let the tactics of fear and intimidation to prevent the passage of such an important bill. Already, people of faith are being punished by some state and local governments for their beliefs about marriage. If we do not act, and act soon, we will certainly see this happen at the federal level as well.

Contacting your congressman is as simple as finding his or her phone number here, and making a two minute phone call. All you would need to do is say you support the First Amendment Defense Act and you want your congressman to insist that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee pass it without further delay. You may discover that he or she supports the bill. That would be great! But unless we get that bill passed, it will not help to protect people of faith or our institutions.

God defined marriage. It is the union of one man and one woman. No one should be subjected to discrimination because he or she holds this belief and seeks to live in accordance with it. Certainly, no one should be threatened by the federal government, which is supposed to be bound by the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. FADA will help ensure this. It needs our help to become law.

By / Jul 28

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

By / Apr 7

In the sincere hope, dear reader, that soon we may speak of other things, let me linger just a while longer on religious freedom, liberalism, and public conscience. I’m compelled to do so now by Conor Friedersdorf, who writes with insight and clarity about the differences of perceptions in two cultural communities: The LGBT community and the religious traditionalists.

Friedersdorf perceives that in each camp there are particular fears and motivations that stem from two different historical contexts. The LGBT community, advocating national same-sex marriage and the demise of RFRA laws, speaks from a vantage point of historical isolation and discrimination that continues in some degree today, specifically among gay youths. On the other hand, the traditional religious community feels genuinely vulnerable to coercive law and cultural orthodoxy, a feeling accelerated recently by multiple court cases in which Christian businesses were told to pay “the price of citizenship” by offering service to gay and lesbian weddings. Both the gay and religious communities have real narratives, historical and contemporary, that color their perspectives and provide the sense of urgency often felt on either side of the culture war.

Friedersdorf’s main point is that this narrative disparity–which makes true empathy difficult–is part and parcel of the American experiment. “What everyone ought to be able to understand,” he writes, “is why some members of both groups feel under siege—and why members of both groups understandably don’t always empathize with one another.”

It is due to the fact that there is no such thing as a fully shared American culture: Life here is an amalgam of lots of subcultures that only partially overlap. People pay disproportionate attention to what affects them personally.

Americans receive different upbringings in different families of different faiths, while living in different neighborhoods of different cities in different regions, and are then thrown onto the same social-media platforms. These platforms afford an illusion of a single culture, as if public controversies are grounded in common experiences and assumptions. But Americans have never understood one another…

Were you a manager at a tech firm in San Francisco or San Jose, it would be much easier to be gay, out, and post photos from a pride rally than it would be to openly practice orthodox Christianity and post photos from a pro-life rally…Were you gay, driving cross-country, and stopping for the night in Walkerton, Indiana, you might be unsure about the local vibe and nervous about openly holding your partner’s hand. “Will that get us harassed by the cops or beat up by a local in this neighborhood?” There are lots of neighborhoods in America where you’d be at risk of being insulted or even assaulted, something the typical straight person never considers before holding their partner’s hand.

This argument is of course a kind of obvious, Atticus Finch “Walk in Another Man’s Shoes” one, but it still strikes me as poignant. Maybe that fact actually proves his larger point. Empathy is so difficult for us now that we need to be reminded it even exists.

Empathy is indeed a crucial part of relationships. It is the foundation of good faith, which I’ve previously   argued is what makes authentic debate possible. Friedersdorf is right to remind both sides of this culture war of this. But what I think is missing from Friedersdforf’s piece is a contextually wide perspective. Without establishing why social conservatives in particular see their public security threatened, we can only produce a half-hearted empathy, a reactive faux-therapy that loses its luster as soon as the Supreme Court docket is announced again.

The first thing we need to acknowledge is that same-sex marriage advocates and the traditional religious community don’t just disagree on policy and they don’t just misunderstand each other; rather, they have entirely different interpretations of our current political backdrop. Friedersdorf perhaps illustrates this point in the way he contrasts the narratives of the LGBT and Christian communities. Whereas, as Friedersdorf says, the latter is concerned mainly about their livelihoods and public liberty, the former group is asking questions about physical safety and legal persecution. That’s not an unfair summary, but it is incomplete.

The physical, emotional, and communal hardships of gay Americans are certainly  realities, but they’re not realities that comfortably comport with either the collective American conscience or the current legal landscape. Almost all of the nation’s influential media companies are explicitly pro-LGBT and pro same-sex marriage. I know of no public school curriculum that refers to homosexuality as anything other than an honorable expression of identity. Friedersdorf mentions that coming out as a traditional Christian would be difficult in southern California and that coming out as gay would be difficult in Walkerton, Indiana. Both statements are probably true, of course, but the difference is that Walkerton is consuming the culture of southern California, not vice versa. The only way one can honestly wonder which ideas are steering American thought and which are not is to tune out.

Traditionalist Christians find themselves in a much different situation. To understand this, you must comprehend what it meant for the CEO of the world’s most profitable and most famous technology company to publicly accuse state lawmakers in Indiana of hiding homophobia behind a religious liberty bill, a bill that was modeled after a federal law that liberals created. The Indiana RFRA has, like both its religious advocates and its LGBT dissidents, a significant historical context. Several recent court cases have resulted in Christian business owners being forced out of their livelihoods because they did not believe that participating in a same-sex ceremony was right. When Tim Cook compared the motivations behind the RFRA to the Jim Crow South, traditionalist Christians heard the point loud and clear: You must choose between religious convictions and a place in the American public.

The reason empathy between the same-sex marriage community and traditional Christians is so difficult is that they define the conversation so differently. LGBT citizens see Elaine Photography and Barronelle Stutzman as institutions of discrimination that need to be hurdled, both legally and culturally. Religious conservatives see the results of those cases as clarion signs that government is demanding public demonstration of conformity on homosexuality. Impasse. What can we do?

Actually, we can pass RFRAs.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was signed by President Clinton emerged out of a legal context of deep empathy. You can read the details of the actual Supreme Court case yourself, but in brief, the law was the creation of Congressional Democrats who saw a need to grant empathy and good faith to those whose religious beliefs collided with laws. The main principle of RFRA and its statewide counterparts is simple: Empathy with religious beliefs should characterize enforcement of laws, and only a demonstrated “compelling interest,” established in a court, can override it.

RFRA is the kind of legislation that a culture struggling to empathize needs. That’s why it has sat so comfortably in federal code for over 20 years. By placing the compelling interest test on government–ALL government, not just government created in a particular season of culture–RFRA creates a balanced “crossroads” where religious conviction and jurisprudence meet. Further, the language of RFRA does not prevent the evolution of public opinion or the legal manifestation of such evolution. As the spoils of the culture war are distributed to the victors through legislation, RFRA is a good faith measure to ensure that unpopular does not become synonymous with illegal.

Empathy is not an autonomous thing. It belongs to Love. We empathize out of love for neighbor and a desire to do, as best we are able, the right thing by them. Friedersdorf is exactly correct: What the debate over sexuality, marriage, and religious liberty needs is empathy. LGBT and same-sex marriage advocacy have considerable legal, political, commercial and cultural momentum. Many conservatives accept it. As the power and influence in American life is redistributed, will we still try to understand one another? Will we still grant good faith even in our deepest disagreements? If nothing else, RFRA is accountability that our government needs to endure in that task.

This was originally published at

By / Sep 9

Derek Rishmaway and Aaron Armstrong discuss how Christians should approach using social media and online conversations in a Christlike way.

Rishmaway works with college students and young Adults at Trinity United Presbyterian Church. He is a staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture and a regular contributor for The Gospel Coalition. He also blogs frequently at

Armstrong is the author of Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. He blogs regularly at and is an occassional contributor to The Gospel Coalition.

By / Jul 2

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Here are five facts about the Act:

1. On June 11, 1963 two black students, Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood, arrived at the campus of the University of Alabama with the intention to enroll.  Waiting for them was Governor George Wallace, who was accompanied by a group of Alabama state troopers. When Wallace blocked the entryway to proven the students from entering, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach called upon the assistance of President John F. Kennedy who, later that same day, federalized the Alabama National Guard. One hundred guardsmen escorted Malone and Hood from their dorms to the university’s auditorium, where they registered as students.

Later that evening, Kennedy delivered a radio and television address on civil rights in which he called on Congress to act and "to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law" and "to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public — hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments."

2. On June 19 President Kennedy submitted his bill on civil right to Congress. The bill was referred first to the Judiciary Committee and then, in November 1963, to the Rules Committee. The chairman or the rules committee was Howard W. Smith, a Democrat and avid segregationist from Virginia. Smith indicated his intention to keep the legislation from coming to a vote on the House floor.

Later that month, President Kennedy was assassinated, but President Lyndon Johnson immediately began putting pressure on the Rules Committee to release the stalled legislation. Smith reluctantly allowed the bill to be sent to the full House on January 30, 1964. Although Rep. Smith was opposed to racial integration, he was a supporter of woman’s rights. Two days before the House vote, Smith offered an amendment to insert "sex" after the word "religion," sex as a protected class of Title VII of the Act.

3. The legislation passed the House on February 10, 1964 by a vote of 290–130. When the bill came before the full Senate for debate on March 30, 1964, the "Southern Bloc" of 18 senators (17 Democrats and one Republican) launched a filibuster to prevent its passage. Senate rules permit the tactic called filibuster which allows a senator, or series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII.

The filibuster by the Southern Bloc lasted for 54 days, during which no other Senate business could be conducted. Never in history had the Senate been able to muster enough votes to cut off a filibuster on a civil rights bill, but on June 19 the filibuster was broken and a version of the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 73–27.

4. The stated purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is:

(1) To enforce the constitutional right to vote.

(2) To give U.S. District Courts jurisdiction to issues injunctions, requiring an individual to do or not do a specific action, to curtail discrimination in places of public accommodation.

(3) To authorize the U.S. Attorney General to institute lawsuits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education.

(4) To extend the Commission on Civil Rights.

(5) To prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs.

(6) To established a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity.

5. At the time, there were questions about whether the Act was even constitutional since it prevented discrimination by the private sector. Several lawsuits immediately challenged the new law. In December 1964, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case of Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc. v. United States that the U.S. Congress could use the power granted to it by the Constitution's Commerce Clause to force private businesses to abide by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A related ruling, issued that same day, in Katzenbach v. McClung forbid racial discrimination in restaurants offering to serve interstate travelers or serving food that has moved in interstate commerce.

Other Articles in the 5 Facts Series:

Supreme Court’s contraceptive mandate decision • Fathers and Fathers Day • Euthanasia in Europe • Marriage in America • March for Life • Abortion in America • ‘War on Poverty’