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Yes, Threats to Religious Liberty Happen Here

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Some on the left are criticizing Senator Ted Cruz’s recent comments about how the drive to redefine marriage may threaten religious freedom — but a closer inspection of the issue reveals his worries were accurate, prescient, and maybe even too cautious.

In an interview with Cruz, David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network raised the concerns that many Christians are now expressing: “A lot of Christian scholars, when they talk about the marriage issue, they see it as a religious-freedom issue . . . as in essence going down this line toward potential ‘hate speech’ from the pulpit,” Brody said. In reply, Cruz pointed to problems abroad. “If you look at other nations that have gone down the road toward gay marriage, that’s the next step of where it gets enforced,” he said. “It gets enforced against Christian pastors who decline to perform gay marriages, who speak out and preach Biblical truths on marriage. That has been defined elsewhere as hate speech, as inconsistent with the enlightened view of government.”

Advocates of redefining marriage contend that the First Amendment ensures that pastors, priests, and other clergy in America will remain free to preach what they want to — they will never be forced to celebrate a same-sex wedding, and liberals suggest that this is the extent of the challenge to religious liberty posed by the redefinition of marriage.
 
To the contrary, if marriage is redefined, then a belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman ordered to procreation and family life — a notion once shared by virtually every human society — would increasingly be characterized as an irrational prejudice that ought to be driven to the margins of culture. The consequences for religious believers are becoming apparent.

Ted Cruz looked to other countries for examples, but he easily could have cited a growing number of incidents in the United States.

Thomas Messner, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has documented multiple instances in which laws forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as laws redefining marriage, have already eroded religious liberty and the rights of conscience.

After Massachusetts redefined marriage to include same-sex relationships, Catholic Charities of Boston faced a mandate to place children with same-sex couples. Rather than go against its principles, Catholic Charities decided to get out of the adoption business — a move that helps neither the orphans nor society. When Massachusetts public schools began teaching grade-school students about same-sex marriage, the town of Lexington’s school superintendent, Paul Ash, defended the decision to the Boston Globe with this statement: “Lexington is committed to teaching children about the world they live in, and in Massachusetts same-sex marriage is legal.” A Massachusetts appellate court ruled that parents have no right to exempt their children from these classes.

The New Mexico Human Rights Commission prosecuted a photographer for declining to photograph a same-sex “commitment ceremony.” Doctors in California were successfully sued for declining to perform an artificial insemination on a woman in a same-sex relationship. Owners of a bed-and-breakfast in Illinois who declined to rent their facility for a same-sex civil-union ceremony and reception were sued for violating the state nondiscrimination law. A Georgia wellness counselor was fired after she referred someone in a same-sex relationship to another counselor.

In fact, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty reports that “over 350 separate state anti-discrimination provisions would likely be triggered by recognition of same-sex marriage.”

In a letter sent to priests, deacons, and pastoral facilitators in 131 parishes, the Catholic bishop of Springfield, Ill., explains that a same-sex-marriage bill state lawmakers are considering this year does not include meaningful protections for religious liberty:

[It] would not stop the state from obligating the Knights of Columbus to make their halls available for same-sex “weddings.” It would not stop the state from requiring Catholic grade schools to hire teachers who are legally “married” to someone of the same sex. This bill would not protect Catholic hospitals, charities, or colleges, which exclude those so “married” from senior leadership positions. . . . This “religious freedom” law does nothing at all to protect the consciences of people in business, or who work for the government. We saw the harmful consequences of deceptive titles all too painfully last year when the so-called “Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act” forced Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoption services in Illinois. . . . There is no possible way– none whatsoever — for those who believe that marriage is exclusively the union of husband and wife to avoid legal penalties and harsh discriminatory treatment if the bill becomes law. Why should we expect it be otherwise? After all, we would be people who, according to the thinking behind the bill, hold onto an “unfair” view of marriage. The state would have equated our view with bigotry — which it uses the law to marginalize in every way short of criminal punishment.

Georgetown University law professor Chai Feldblum, an appointee to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, argues that the push to redefine marriage trumps religious-liberty concerns:

For all my sympathy for the evangelical Christian couple who may wish to run a bed-and-breakfast from which they can exclude unmarried, straight couples and all gay couples, this is a point where I believe the “zero-sum” nature of the game inevitably comes into play. And, in making that decision in this zero-sum game, I am convinced society should come down on the side of protecting the liberty of LGBT people.

Indeed, for many supporters of redefining marriage, such infringements on religious liberty are not flaws but virtues of the movement.

Citizens must insist that the government respect those who continue to stand for marriage as the union of a man and a woman. When he “evolved” on the issue last year, President Obama insisted that the debate about marriage was a legitimate one, that there were reasonable people of good will on both sides.

Supporters of marriage as we’ve always understood it (a male-female union) “are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective,” Obama explained in an interview with Robin Roberts on ABC. “They’re coming at it because they care about families.” He added that “a bunch of ’em are friends of mine . . . people who I deeply respect.”

But in a growing number of incidents, government has not respected these Americans. To counter this, we must insist that government not discriminate against those who hold to the historic definition of marriage. Policy should prohibit the government or anyone who receives taxpayers’ dollars from discriminating in employment, licensing, accreditation, or contracting against those who believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

— Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation and co-author, with Sherif Girgis and Robert George, of the book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.

First appeared in National Review Online

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