Southern Baptist leaders fear legal gay marriage will censor free speech

The Supreme Court justices will hear four cases challenging marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee beginning April 28, and are expected to answer once and for all whether state laws defining marriage as only between a man and a woman violate the constitutional rights of gays. (Supreme Court Photo)

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WASHINGTON (BNG)—A Supreme Court decision this summer to legalize same-sex marriage in America would exacerbate a pattern of restrictions on the free speech of individuals who say publicly they believe homosexuality is a sin, according to a legal brief filed April 2 by leaders of religious bodies including the Southern Baptist Convention.

kelvin cochran130Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin CochranThe brief cites examples including fired Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, accused of violating department policy by giving a Christian book he wrote condemning homosexuality to members of his staff. The Liberty Institute friend-of-the-court brief says in their zeal to advance gay marriage, many state actors have trampled on the free-speech rights of religious dissenters.

The brief offers “a cautionary tale of a road to potential tyranny” by detailing incidents “where religious dissenters from same-sex marriage have been silenced by state actors and thereby denied access to the marketplace of ideas.”

If the court imposes same-sex marriage nationwide, as many expect, the signers say the number of such conflicts inevitably will increase.

Ministries joining the argument include the National Religious Broadcasters, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. Others signing on include former Southern Baptist Convention President Charles Stanley’s In Touch Ministries and Pathway to Victory, the broadcast ministry of Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Dallas Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary joined the argument, along with individuals including Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin, Southern Seminary President Al Mohler and Owen Strachan of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Brief wants court to affirm state laws

The brief asks the Supreme Court to affirm a November ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that state laws defining marriage as only between a man and a woman do not violate the constitutional rights of gays.

The justices consented in January to answer once and for all whether marriage is a constitutional right, combining four cases challenging marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. One of the individuals suing for the right to wed is an openly gay Baptist minister. The cases will be argued April 28, with a decision expected in June.

In recent weeks, controversy arose in states considering religious liberty laws that opponents claim mask a hidden agenda of permitting Christian business owners to refuse services like baking a cake or arranging flowers for a wedding if the couple is gay.

As the culture shifts toward full acceptance of same-sex marriage, the brief contends, the traditional Christian understanding of marriage as involving a husband and wife not only is increasingly a minority view, but also one in danger of being marginalized and silenced.

One case study in the legal argument is the “Houston Five,” pastors ordered to turn over sermons and writings in a lawsuit challenging protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in the city’s nondiscrimination policy.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is a lesbian, subsequently withdrew subpoenas against the five ministers, who were not parties in the case but had spoken about it, after protests from religious groups across the theological spectrum.

Addressing multiple disputes

Other examples of the kinds of disputes the brief hopes to avoid include:

• A former graduate student at Eastern Michigan University who sued the school after she was kicked out of its counseling program for refusing to counsel gay clients in a way that affirmed their identity.

• A Missouri State University graduate who sued the school, claiming retaliation because she refused to support gay adoption as part of a class project.

• A 19-year Air Force veteran who claimed he was relieved of duty for disagreeing with a lesbian commander over the issue of gay marriage.

• A Seventh-day Adventist preacher who claimed a state public health department rescinded a job offer over sermons he posted online denouncing homosexuality and evolution.

• A Pentecostal Navy chaplain reassigned after his commanding officers received complaints alleging he disregarded his duty to be inclusive in his counseling.

“Millions of Christian ministers, teachers and leaders are compelled by faith and conscience to preach and speak aloud their millennia-old and sincerely held religious view that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman,” the brief concludes.

In refusing to overturn state gay-marriage bans, the brief says, the Supreme Court “should reaffirm that the free speech clause of the First Amendment protects religious dissenters who disagree with same-sex marriage and to reaffirm the importance of free debate and free inquiry in this democratic republic.”

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