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Religious liberty as a two-way street – A response to the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act

By Aaron Weaver

Religious liberty is a two-way street.

This is a point that far too many conservative Christian leaders can’t seem to grasp.

Rep. Raul Labrador – a Republican who has represented the 1st Congressional District of Idaho since 2011 – recently introduced a bill called the “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act” to protect individuals and organizations “from discrimination by the federal government” when it comes to viewpoints about same-sex marriage and homosexuality.

Labrador’s bill, which he deceptively calls a “narrowly-tailored piece of legislation” is a response to the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision earlier this year, striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional per the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. This latest conservative attempt to safeguard the religious liberty has the support of more than 60 House Republicans and even several Democrats, including Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Dan Lipinski of Indiana.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act has the backing of the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, National Organization for Marriage, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation writes in a column endorsing the bill: “Policy should prohibit the government from discriminating against any individual or group, whether nonprofit or for-profit, based on their beliefs that marriage is the union of a man and woman or that sexual relations are reserved for marriage. Policy should prohibit the government from discriminating in tax policy, employment, licensing, accreditation, or contracting against such groups and individuals.”

This quote from Anderson sums up the rationale behind the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act. Public policy should protect opponents of same-sex marriage from discrimination, with discrimination being defined as the opponents of same-sex marriage perceive it.

I’ve long believed that we should put a face to public policy. Academic-speak should be shelved. Public policy discussions should be real.

So, I’ll be personal.

My best friend of many years is gay. She’s an awesome, smart, creative person and completely devoted to her partner and their life together.  She’s an ordained Baptist minister too.  More specifically, she’s part of a faith tradition that affirms same-sex relationships and champions marriage equality.

Why does her religious freedom as a progressive Baptist not matter as much as the conservative Baptist?

Let’s revisit the rationale for the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act and flip things.

Why shouldn’t public policy also prohibit the government from discriminating against any individual or group, whether nonprofit or for-profit, based on their beliefs that marriage can be a same-sex union?

Should I make a list of all the ways that my best friend’s government currently discriminates against her and her partner at the local, state and federal levels?

Why do religious liberty arguments not extend to gays and lesbians? Do conservative Christians think that gays and lesbians have no religious conscience?

If  these Christian leaders are really serious about religious freedom, why not acknowledge that both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage have legitimate conscience claims? Why not concede the obvious – that religious freedom is a two-way street?

Conservative friends, consideration the implications of the truth that religious freedom is for all.

The religious conscience of my conservative Christian friends is not superior to the religious conscience of my gay best friend.

At his inauguration as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore called for a shift in conservative Christian political engagement approach away from the “moral majoritarianism” of the Religious Right to a “moral communitarianism.”

I’m not entirely sure what Moore meant by “moral communitarianism” – but a moral communitarianism would necessarily need to respect and safeguard the religious liberty of the entire community, specifically the individuals that comprise that community.

How can a “moral communitarianism” be achieved when both sides of the same-sex marriage debate continue to talk past one another, refusing to recognize that religious liberty cuts both ways.

Religious freedom for me AND thee.

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Discussion

  1. Erin McGahuey says:

    You are right that religious liberty is a 2-way street.
    Government, at all levels, should not be involved in marriage. The only reason government is involved is to collect taxes by forcing us to get marriage licenses.
    Marriage is of God. Natural law is of God. Marriage is one man and one woman. That is the law of nature and God. Marriage is the foundation of the family. Two women or two men can not conceive children and make a family.
    I have gay friends. I love them. But I can not condone acting upon their homosexual feelings. Those who are gay are called to the celibate lifestyle. Homosexual acts are Sin. Just because one FEELS like doing something doesn’t mean they SHOULD do it.
    Please read Humanae Vitae.

  2. What makes you think that I haven’t read Humane Vitae?

    This post is not about the morality of homosexual behavior. It’s about religious liberty and whether we’re truly willing to extend the freedom that we want for ourselves to all individuals, those with whom we agree and disagree with.

  3. Erin McGahuey says:

    Religious liberty is the freedom to worship as one will. It has nothing to do with marriage. Same-sex unions and religious liberty are two separate issues.
    If two persons of the same or different genders want to enter into a legal contract with each other for purposes of inheritance or powers of attorney there are no laws to prevent that.
    Any and all laws governing marriage should be abolished as marriage is a religious institution, a sacrament. Laws and taxes regarding marriage are no different than if the state were to tax or require licenses for baptism/confirmation/dedication/confession. Marriage licenses are a recent development designed to strip away our freedoms little by little.

  4. [...] Religious liberty as a two-way street—A response to the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act (9/23) [...]

  5. I agree with you that marriage is a religious institution. It has, however, become much more than just a religious institution over the course of U.S. history.

    While certainly sympathetic, I see the “get government out of the marriage business” as much more of a utopian fantasy than a practical reality.

    It’s not happening.

    And since government does not intend (and truthfully can’t) leave the marriage business, it seems to me that same-sex couples of faith have legitimate religious liberty arguments in favor of having their religious commitments recognized as a marriage under the law–equal with opposite-sex couples of faith.

  6. K Gray says:

    Advocating governmental recognition of same-sex marriage now seems to be progressive Baptist cause. But it seems more rooted in politics (political freedom, the constitution) and philosophy than in the Christian religion as traditionally understood and as expressed in the Bible.

  7. K Gray says:

    Can there always be a true two-way street here?

    Taking a hypothetical example: a Muslim cultural center – open to the public – and attached to a mosque. Say private funds from Muslim believers and others paid for the cultural center. The center’s purpose is to glorify Allah and to serve and educate the community. It has a small staff which meets in prayer every morning. The center decides to hire a new director, and to add a family counselor to the staff.

    Can the Muslim cultural center discriminate in hiring a director and counselor? Let’s say your friend was Muslim, a wonderful person well suited in almost every way for the directorship, except she is female and openly gay, perhaps married in the state in which the cultural center is located.

    Where is the religious liberty two-way street in this situation? Either the cultural center is free to discriminate or your friend is free from discrimination.

  8. BDW says:

    The cultural center is a religious institutions since, as you noted, it’s connected to the mosque and also privately funded.

    So, sure the cultural center is free to discriminate in who it hires.

    Religious institutions are sacred spaces, set apart and historically have been granted – per the First Amendment – religious liberty.

    (Of course, the acceptance of public monies does complex matters, but in this example, the center is privately funded as you noted)

    But, my contention is that Moore’s idea of “moral communitarianism” ought to respect the conscience claims of individuals outside of those sacred spaces, individuals who are just trying to live their lives, individuals working employed by for-profit corporations, individuals attempting to engage in commerce. The First Amendment and Civil Rights legislation has long protected these individuals.

    I just think a “moral communitarianism” that gives religious liberty rights to those in the for-profit business is misguided and fails to respect the conscience claims of individuals.

  9. K Gray says:

    Is the distinction you are making -in your last 2 paragraphs – one between for-profit employers (no religious liberty rights) and employees (religious liberty rights)?

    Can business have principles rooted in religious conscience?

    Many individuals have sole proprietorships, e.g., in the wedding business: small florist, photographer, facility owner, decorator, planner, cake maker, small caterer, etc. In sole proprietorships and small businesses, for-profit simply means earning a living and “just rying to live their lives.” If they — or only family members — are the sole owners and employees would their individual religious liberty right allow them to refuse business based on religious conscience? Can those small business individuals earn their living and retain religious conscience rights? I don’t know. Could a Muslim-owned for-profit caterer decide only to serve at Muslim-approved marriages, thereby excluding same-sex and perhaps “mixed religion” marriages, or marriages of persons who have left the Muslim faith?

    Once a sole proprietorship succeeds – more business, more income, more employees – maybe they face a decision (as perhaps Hobby Lobby did) whether to risk such growth.

    Vexing questions! Some of these are real cases – and IMO plainly not simple ones. In Great Britain an older couple lost their longtime B&B business – in their own home – by following a consistent policy not rent to unmarried couples, based on Christian conscience. That was their income. As Christians, we certainly need to prepare to give up income – God provides – in order to live by conscience.

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