Churches, institutions prepare for fallout from marriage decision
NEWS | From the Illinois Baptist
Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, leaders of churches and Christian institutions are asking several key questions: Is the threat to religious liberty as real as we imagined? And will our insurance cover the costs if our churches and schools are sued?
The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide flipped the final switch on a new marriage culture many observers believed was a foregone conclusion. In the days and weeks following the announcement, Christian leaders urged churches and ministries to evaluate their policies to determine if they will be adequately protected against potential infringements on religious liberty.
“For a few years now, leading up to the time ‘same-sex marriage’ became legal in Illinois, IBSA has been seeking to inform and resource churches regarding steps they can take to protect their freedoms of speech and religious exercise,” IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said immediately following the Court’s decision.
“In light of this latest Supreme Court ruling, we would again urge churches to be vigilant in pursuing the recommended steps
in their constitutions and policy manuals to help protect those freedoms. On this issue, as on others before it, the local church and churches banding together in unity and cooperation are likely to be the primary opponents of laws that threaten religious freedom.”
New research from Barna indicates 56% of Americans are concerned that religious freedom will be more restricted in the next five years, with adults over age 40 more likely to say so than those under 40.
The numbers soar when Christians answer the question: 77% of practicing Christians and 93% of evangelicals are concerned about religious freedom over the next five years.
Those polled by Barna were more likely to protect the rights of churches than those of businesses: 38% of U.S. adults say businesses should have to provide services for same-sex weddings, while only 19% say religious institutions should be legally required to perform same-sex weddings.
But some, including Illinois pastor Danny Holliday, say churches could be in danger. “I think some churches are going to end up having to close because of the Human Rights Act and the building usage issue,” Holliday, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Alton, told the Illinois Baptist.
(Illinois’ Human Rights Act protects individuals from discrimination based on classifications like race, gender, and sexual orientation. It was used by Chick-Fil-A opponents in 2012 to file complaints against the company after President Dan Cathy vocalized the business’ views on marriage and family.)
Prior to the Supreme Court decision, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission released “Protecting Your Ministry,” a booklet for churches, schools, and businesses. The guide, available for free at http://www.ERLC.com/store, provides checklists for navigating the new marriage culture (and avoiding lawsuits).
If churches do face lawsuits resulting from their refusal to perform same-sex weddings, said Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company attorney Joshua Lederman, the claim would most likely be “emotional injury as a result of improper discrimination.”
While some insurance companies only cover emotional injury claims caused by physical injury, said Lederman, Brotherhood
Mutual offers a Religious Freedom Liability Coverage endorsement that covers “alleged discriminatory acts, religious communication, challenges to your ministry’s tax exempt status, reimbursement for declaratory judgment actions that your ministry initiates in order to protect its right to pursue a belief-based decision or practice, and liability defense reimbursement coverage.”
Churches aren’t the only institutions potentially affected by the ruling: Oral arguments heard by the Court in April touched on
concerns for schools, specifically related to whether they could lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex unions.
A few weeks after the Court’s ruling, two Christian colleges, Hope College in Holland, Mich., and Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., announced they would extend benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. But Shapri LoMaglio, a representative for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, told Baptist Press that as long as Christian colleges and universities “ensure that all of their policies are clearly tied to their religious beliefs,” the threats of losing tax-exempt status and being held liable for discrimination aren’t immediate.
While nothing will change for most Christian organizations in the short term, said David Dockery, president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., schools like his and other institutions could face challenges in the areas of hiring, financial aid and accrediting.
“It is also possible that the ‘free exercise of religion’ as defined by the First Amendment and echoed in the Civil Rights Acts of
the 1960s could be reduced to a more narrow understanding of ‘freedom of worship,’ thus applicable only for the ‘heart, the home, and the pew,’” Dockery told the Illinois Baptist. “As Chief Justice Roberts suggested in his minority expression, this could have implications for religious expressions in education, publishing, social services, or other spheres.”
That’s why a holistic understanding of religious liberty—one that harkens back to Baptist leaders in the 18th century—is important, Dockery said.
“We want Mormon schools to be able to hire only Mormons if they choose to do so. We want Buddhists to be able to hire only Buddhists if they choose to do so. We want Muslims to be able to only hire Muslims if they choose to do so.”
Following the Court’s ruling, Dockery advised a “wise, careful, and prudent” approach for Christians in the days ahead.
“At this point it is important for Christians to carry out their callings in a faithful and joyful manner, seeking to be kind and civil in all of our responses with all people, even as we seek to remain convictional about the teaching of Scripture and the pattern of Christian truth.”