Updated at 5:30 p.m. April 6 with additional 3 paragraphs at the end.
NASHVILLE (BP) — Noted Southern Baptist leaders have signed a Liberty Institute friend-of-the-court brief defending the freedom of speech of those who support and teach the Scriptural truth that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The brief was filed in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, a consolidation of four individual cases challenging biblically based marriage laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The case could answer questions left standing after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, appearing to leave individual states the right to define marriage within individual state jurisdictions.
Liberty Institute filed the brief April 2, naming a religiously diverse list of individuals penalized for conducting themselves in the public square based on their views on marriage, including former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, a Southern Baptist; former United States Navy Chaplain Wes Modder, a member of the Assemblies of God; former Georgia Department of Public Health Director Eric Walsh, a Seventh-day Adventist; and five pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by the city of Houston.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin, among the signatories, emphasized in a written statement to Baptist Press the importance of protecting free speech as the cultural definition of marriage evolves.
“As our culture continues to redefine what is meant by the word ‘marriage,’ it is crucial to maintain the protection of speech for those who state the biblical definition of a covenantal, monogamous relationship between a man and a woman,” Akin said. “I love each and every person regardless of lifestyle choices, and I am against any expression of hatred or anger toward individuals, but I continue to affirm covenantal heterosexual marriage without apology. As discourse has become increasingly complex, the freedom of speech and exercise of religion has become more important than ever.”
First Baptist Church of Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, also a signatory, told Baptist Press the Supreme Court needs to hear from those who support a restricted definition of marriage before it makes a “historic blunder and expands the definition of marriage.”
Christians and the institution of marriage are facing attacks unheard of in earlier generations, the megachurch pastor said.
“It would have been unthinkable five years ago that a Christian would be faced with the liquidation of his or her business,” Jeffress said, “and facing fines and possible jail time simply because that Christian held to the belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman.”
The guarantee of marriage for everyone is not explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution, Jeffress said.
“You can search the Constitution and never find any explicit guarantee of the right to marry for everyone, but what you can find is in the First Amendment, which Bill Clinton called our ‘first freedom,’ the right to freely exercise one’s religious beliefs,” Jeffress said. “And that guarantee of religious freedom is not confined in the First Amendment to one’s home, church or synagogue, but extends to every area of his life, including the workplace.”
Other Southern Baptists among the 20 signatories include Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood President Owen Strachan, author Eric Metaxas, the National Religious Broadcasters, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
“The freedom to speak according to religious conscience is essential to the dignity of each person and to the stability of our self-governing Republic,” the brief reads. “These core First Amendment principles cannot peacefully coexist alongside Government speech codes designed to enforce a superficial and false conformity of belief. Instead, the Free Speech Clause protects a noisy, crowded, and vibrant marketplace of ideas, populated with both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage.”
The 32-page brief emphasizes the broad reach of freedom of religion and the widely respected, longstanding authority of biblically defined marriage.
“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 reads. “This Court should affirm the decision … in part to protect the First Amendment rights of those who disagree with same-sex marriage. In so doing, this 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.”
The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for April 28 in the case designed to determine, according to the SCOTUS blog, whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, and whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state.
The case originated in Ohio, but was consolidated by the Supreme Court to include the Tennessee case of Tanco v. Haslam, the Michigan case of DeBoer v. Snyder, and the Kentucky case of Bourke v. Beshear.
Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, referencing protests against Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in Indiana and Arkansas, noted, “As it became increasingly apparent last week, the forces that insist upon changing the definition of marriage are willing to jettison our free speech and religious liberties to do so. This brief is needed to warn the court of this danger.
“There is no way a constitutional right to homosexual, so-called, ‘marriage’ can be invented by the courts and enforced without using the police power of the state to impose cooperation by its citizens, and that is in violation of the First Amendment,” Johnson, a Southern Baptist, said in a statement to Baptist Press.
“For those who think sexual liberty trumps religious liberty, they need to be reminded that the free exercise of religion is explicitly framed into the Constitution. The same is not so for sexual rights, especially not a revolutionary redefinition of marriage.”