In January, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear arguments on expanding the definition of secular marriage. One issue before the court will determine whether states without same-sex marriage may prohibit them, but be required to recognize such unions for residents who had them legally performed elsewhere. The other is more encompassing and pertains to whether states still opposed to them should be required to allow same-sex couples to marry within the jurisdiction.
Regardless of the “legal” outcome, issues surrounding marriage are far from over. There will be more court cases clarifying religious rights of business owners not wanting to serve same-sex couples. There will be government officials, like clerks, unwilling to provide marriage licenses.
As highlighted in my 2008 book “Crucifying Jesus and Secularizing America: The Republic of Faith Without Wisdom,” religious liberty is not under threat, evidenced by generous tax breaks, the number of Christian colleges, and numerous Christian radio and television stations, among other examples. Drama aside, there is no proof of religious freedom under assault. When people stopped believing the sun circled around a flat earth and women flew on broom sticks, no one forced these changing attitudes onto God. Instead, people embraced truths that always existed. People changed, God didn’t. [pullquote]When people stopped believing the sun circled around a flat earth and women flew on broom sticks, no one forced these changing attitudes onto God. Instead, people embraced truths that always existed. People changed, God didn’t. [/pullquote]
Recently, Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta dismissed his fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, for distributing copies of his book with anti-gay language. Cochran, who managed a 750 person department, alleged he was terminated “for no reason other than my Christian faith.” Georgia’s legislature will soon consider a bill to protect the religious liberty of people like Cochran and businesses that don’t want to serve same-sex couples or persons identified as LGBTQ.
An appointed official does not have a right to morally condemn people, whether they are employees or residents paying his salary, whether they are divorced, have a child out of wedlock, or are unmarried and living together. Suppose Cochran, instead of vilifying LGBTQ individuals, said Jews would go to hell unless they accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior? Should Jews in the fire department be subjected to this perverted notion of religious liberty? What about Atlanta’s Jewish residents whose taxes help pay his salary? What if Atlanta’s fire chief had been Muslim and announced Christians were wrong for believing Jesus was the son of God rather than just a prophet? “Public service” and being a business “open to the public” comes with certain duties to serve everyone with respect. Otherwise, allowing someone in business to discriminate or allowing an appointed public servant to judge victimizes and compromises the human dignity of others. [pullquote]“Public service” and being a business “open to the public” comes with certain duties to serve everyone with respect. Otherwise, allowing someone in business to discriminate or allowing an appointed public servant to judge victimizes and compromises the human dignity of others.[/pullquote]
In addition, if someone like a government official or business owner refuses service to someone because of deeply held religious views, should he or she be expected to discriminate against an unmarried heterosexual couple living together? Should a Southern Baptist baker be permitted to say no to a Catholic couple needing a wedding cake because he sincerely believes papists will usher in the era of the anti-Christ? Imagine a sign reading, “No Catholics served here.” Should an evangelical restaurant owner be permitted to refuse service to a Muslim?
America is on the verge of religious madness. There are national implications if misguided laws permit government officials or business owners to selectively discriminate based on the false premise of religious liberty. The LGBTQ community and its allies need to be pragmatic and strategic in how they fight against these proposed laws.
*Paul is an attorney, seminary-trained priest and founder of CorporateChaplaincy.biz, a firm committed to the spiritual wellness of professionals. He also is author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically.”