It's hard to find anyone who openly questions the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. In fact, the right to free speech is perhaps the most beloved of all the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. But freedom of speech is not the only First Amendment right. Equally fundamental is the right of religious freedom and the right to free religious exercise.
It’s hard not to think that the reason these rights are outlined in the First Amendment is because the founders thought them most important.
Recent court decisions have eroded these rights and states have had to take the issue into their own hands by passing laws that protect the rights that should already be protected.
In 2013, Kentucky passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which raised the standard by which religious freedoms could be abridged after a major court decision had lowered it. Now, however, some religious freedoms are being threatened again.
Since Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that authorized same-sex marriage, some religious organizations are once again worrying about whether their Constitutional freedoms will be honored. Some LGBT activists are demanding that churches participate and honor the court’s newfound definition of marriage. These demands are unwelcomed by those whose faith tradition says “no” to same-sex intimacy.
Making these issues more ominous is what Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said during the oral arguments for Obergefell. He was asked whether “a ruling that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right” would require a religious college to open married housing to same-sex couples and whether a college’s tax-exempt status was at stake. Verilli responded: “It’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that.”
Legislation that has been introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly could be helpful.
House Bill 372, which is being called “The Pastor, Church and Religious School Protection Act,” is intended to protect religious organizations from anti-religious discrimination on the basis of their beliefs about marriage and sexuality.
The bill also would protect the LGBT community’s understanding of marriage. In fact, you could say that House Bill 372 would create a “traffic light” where these super highways of traditional marriage and same-sex marriage intersect. In some sense, it is a live and let live bill because the state is saying that it is not going to prosecute either definition or practice of marriage. It is a government non-discrimination act.
The need for House Bill 372 was underscored on March 7 when the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Kentucky, ruled that the Christian owner of a funeral home had violated the civil rights of a transgender employee whom he fired because he did not desire someone in gender transition being the face of comfort for his mourning families.
House Bill 372 DOES NOT address secular businesses, but clearly, the same question is not far behind for churches and religious school situations.
How can a religious organization believe one thing about marriage and sexuality but do the exact opposite? That sounds like government-imposed hypocrisy.
Will religious organizations be required to conduct same-sex marriages? Will they be required to let visitors use a restroom other than the one designated for a particular sex? If they elect not to do these things, will religious organizations lose their tax-exempt status? Will a religious school lose its tax-exempt status or its accreditation if they choose to teach traditional marriage? House Bill 372 says “no” to all of these questions.
Martin Cothran is senior analyst for The Family Foundation.
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