Churches in the ‘civil rights’ crosshairs

Religious Liberty | LGBT activists push to revoke religious exemptions to sexual orientation and gender identity laws
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 9/13/16, 11:01 am

Massachusetts has become the latest state to approve protected class status for transgender persons, and churches should not expect any exemption from the law that goes into effect Oct. 1.

According to the Gender Identity Guidance report by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, churches be can considered places of public accommodation and subjected to fines and penalties for not accommodating transgender persons in accordance with their gender identity.

The push to revoke religious liberty protections for churches and faith-based organizations that object to the new definitions of sexuality and gender extends to the federal government, which recently issued its own report about ways to enforce the new cultural order.

In the report, ironically titled Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties, U.S. Civil Rights Commission chairman Martin Castro made it clear no such coexistence could happen as long as Christians continue to use the terms religious liberty and religious freedom as “code words” for a host of hateful and discriminatory actions including “Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”

The report, issued Sept. 8, examined the balance struck by courts at all levels “in adjudicating claims for religious exemptions from otherwise applicable nondiscrimination law.” In March 2013, the commission convened a panel of 11 legal scholars to examine the collision course of religious liberties outlined in the Constitution with the growing number of pro-LGBT municipal and state nondiscrimination laws.

“Today, as in the past, religion is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others equality,” Castro wrote in his summation of the commission’s report. “In our nation’s past, religion has been used to justify slavery and later, Jim Crow laws. We now see ‘religious liberty’ arguments sneaking their way back into our political and constitutional discourse (just like the concept of ‘state rights’) in an effort to undermine the rights of some Americans.”

The recently amended Massachusetts nondiscrimination law would require churches to allow biological males or biological females to use the restroom and changing facilities that comport to their gender identity during any “secular event.” Violators could be fined up to $2,500 and face up to one year in prison—or both.

But opponents object to describing churches as places of public accommodation.

“They are places of public worship, and this distinction is critical to understand and protect the constitutional rights of churches to speak and use their buildings only in ways that are consistent with their faith,” Erik Stanley, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told me. “The public is not invited to a church to act as they please.”

Stanley said the fundamental nature of a church does not change when it opens its doors for events not associated with worship. To assume it does is to misunderstand the role of religion under the First Amendment—and that of church in society.

“Churches invite the public as a means of outreach and to evangelize,” he said. “Those outreach efforts do not translate them into places the government can regulate and thereby force churches to use their facilities or speak in ways that violate their faith.”

Government demands for compliance with laws antithetical to a faith-based ministry’s tenets threaten that organization’s ability to serve the community, according to Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Whelan, one of the 11 panelists invited to address the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, defended religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws.

In his statement to the commission, Whelan criticized President Barack Obama’s hostility to religious liberty and “moral propositions associated with traditional religious beliefs.”

The commission’s report recommends narrowly crafting any religious exemptions to civil liberties. It also calls for uniform state and federal legislation clarifying that “the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) creates First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights only for individuals and religious institutions and only to the extent that they do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based discrimination.”

States without RFRA statutes can only create exemptions deemed allowable by pre-RFRA standards “which protect religious beliefs rather than conduct.” States with RFRA laws should amend them so as not to “unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based discrimination.”

Castro’s intent is clear.

“This generation of Americans must stand up and speak out to ensure that religion never again be twisted to deny others the full promise of America,” he wrote.

Stanley said the commission’s report does not have the weight of law but “those who want to deny the free exercise of religion” can use it to their advantage.

Whelan warned the view of churches’ role in society has changed.

“Religious institutions and believers are deemed to have value, and to be tolerated, only insofar as they serve the interests of the state and conform themselves to its norms,” he wrote. “In the progressive dystopia, in the name of diversity everyone must be the same.”

Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and the University of Texas School of Journalism. Bonnie resides with her family in League City, Texas.

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  • SKK
    Posted: Tue, 09/13/2016 11:50 am

    It's unfortunate that the wrongful use of religion by some in the past is being distorted and used now against legitimate religious liberty concerns. 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Tue, 09/13/2016 01:23 pm

    That is why we need to be very, very careful for which causes we choose to fight and how we fight.

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Posted: Wed, 09/14/2016 01:01 pm

    Any particular examples of "wrongful use of religion"?? Maybe it's more selective reading of religion. It wasnt until churches and religious groups began to speak out against abortion that proLife groups were hit with RICO lawsuits. Then later laws were passed to restrict the distance protestors had to keep away from abortion facilities. Hard to imagine even the worst bigots of the 50s and 60s using such tactics against the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or other civil rights advocacy groups.

    This and other uses of and attacks on religion in the USA are fully analyzed in the book I'm recommending to one and all. It is called "The System Has a Soul" and author Hunter Baker (JD PhD) would make for a fascinating worldmag interview.

  • TxAgEngr
    Posted: Tue, 09/13/2016 01:09 pm

    That which cannot get the approval of God will demand the approval of man.  The chief aim of the gaystapo and the Leftist government is to humiliate the church and force the church to participate in their lies.  Don't look for the gaystapo or the commission to seek inforcement in the mosques.

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Tue, 09/13/2016 01:43 pm

    Maybe pastors nationwide have nothing to lose by directly addressing this issue in the coming months.  They need to teach their congregations how to respond with Biblical guidance.  Otherwise, how do we win in the marketplace of ideas?

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Posted: Wed, 09/14/2016 12:56 pm

    Brendon, I was born in 1962 and attended church for most of my adolescence. Got saved late in life. But honestly, the only time you heard much preaching about marriage was when you attended..a wedding!!  At long last the erosion of publlic consensus on so fundamental an institution has roused at least a few churchmen and women to action. It always vexed me to hear Christian parents lament the "teaching of sex education" in public schools even as they had no idea what if anything was being taught in their congregations (and I suspect little was taught or explained in many Christian homes).  When you fail to show up you forfeit the game--or in this case, the culture. We seem to be perpetually rushing to close the barn door after the horse has done escaped.

    Marriage and sanctity of life for the unborn weren't really on anyone's radar screen until the judiciary ratified or imposed same sex marriage and unrestricted abortion on the nation. The time to teach Biblical doctrine (in your church or your family) about anything is LONG BEFORE  social engineers decide to judicially "re-define" it.  I do miss Reverend Richard John Neuhaus!!

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Wed, 09/14/2016 01:22 pm

    Sawgunner, you are absolutely right.  That has been my concern, too, and what I was hinting at.  Thank you for your post!

  • Michael Eichler
    Posted: Tue, 09/13/2016 03:37 pm

    With the cultural climate change in the US, we are witnessing a shift backward to historical Rome in and around 1 A.D.. The church survived and actually flourished reversing the cultural trends that existed at that time. The difference then to now are the institutions that exist from Christian influence (centers of higher education/colleges, hospitals, etc.) and we would do well to examine the models from the past and present (China) for us as followers of Christ to continue our mission in a country that is becoming more hostile daily to them.

    Today, in the US, we are in a position where legal resistance towards cultural change is permitted at least until the day when the magistrates and administration across the country are able to effectively circumvent the legislative bodies both within the States and the Federal government until they, the legislative bodies themselves, join the magistrates and administration in attitude and actions as well. This does not mean resistance to the culture is futile so long as we do it biblically. We are, therefore, not to look at changing the world on our own but setting our sights on Jesus, loving our neighbors, and living for the life to come.

    For our hope is not in politics, government, or politians but in Christ alone. Doing what we are called to do as a body as a Church in the societies and cultures we are placed; we will, by the will of God Almighty, be the feet, hands, and mouths that God will use to transform the pockets of people we have in our everyday lives until we leave this life or Christ returns.

  •  Ernest C Beisner's picture
    Ernest C Beisner
    Posted: Tue, 09/13/2016 06:49 pm

    Sexual libertinism now trumps all real rights, including freedom of religion and freedom of association. This is reality in a world that worships the God of sexual passion.

  •  BOBGUTJAHR's picture
    Posted: Tue, 09/13/2016 07:17 pm

    I think we should get roles of toilet paper printed with the Constitution and mail them to every political representative in the country.

  • My Two Cents
    Posted: Tue, 09/13/2016 07:52 pm

    If I walk into a sports bar, I expect televisions around the room tuned in to various sporting events. I expect the beer to flow liberally, an increased noise level to inhibit intimate conversations with my dinner companions. That's the sort of thing that happens in sports bars. Now, should I expect the server to tune all the televisions into a Billy Graham crusade? Can I turn all the t.vs off, stand on the bar and preach the gospel? Well, I could, I suppose, but it would be wrong to expect the patrons to remain attentive.

    Why then, does Massachusetts expect the churches to accommodate the alphabet people? Why would the alpha people expect certain accommodations from houses of worship? And what would those accommodations be? If they attend services at the Baptist church, they should expect a Baptist service.

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Posted: Wed, 09/14/2016 01:02 pm

    Love your colorful analogy.

  •  Paul B. Taylor's picture
    Paul B. Taylor
    Posted: Tue, 09/13/2016 09:14 pm

    If only Trump and Pence will have the courage and faith to stand up and defend religious liberty.  Our nation is clearly going to face the wrath and discipline of God if we continue to idolize the cause of the LGBTQs.  As the nations of Israel and Judah faced exile for the reasons of wickedness and idolatry, so does America face dark times ahead because of the present rejection of order.  We have become a land of confusion and have elevated man's view of the knowledge of good and evil.  We were once a utopia when even Hollywood would not show the face of Jesus (as was demonstrated in Ben Hur with Charlton Heston) making us a nation with a Calvinist foundation.  Then, prayer was taken out of our public schools by the atheists. Now, as a father disciplines his children, so will America be disciplined for the present moral and sexual revolution and confusion. I fear that even this response to the above article will bring upon me the condemnation of the state. 

  • socialworker
    Posted: Wed, 09/14/2016 08:44 am

    The alphabet people.  That's easier to remember than all those letters.

  • SG
    Posted: Wed, 09/14/2016 12:14 pm

    Agree with the quote at the bottom of the article. If you follow the path of these types of policies and the laws that result far enough forward, this society will become androgenous and socially generic. That doesn't sound like liberty to me. 

  •  FreedomInTejas's picture
    Posted: Thu, 09/15/2016 11:14 am

    Curious what the reaction will be when they attempt to force this on mosques. 

  • vantil
    Posted: Thu, 09/15/2016 11:49 am

    I think the 1 AD analogy is an important one for a number of reasons:

    1.  No doubt churches will be losing tax exempt status.  Will we give like the first-century church?

    2.  Christians will be going to jail for unwillingness to comply with cultural practices.

    All to say that our Free Lunch is over.