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Bill to guard marriage advocates’ rights, draws Bapt. support

WASHINGTON (BP) — A Southern Baptist Convention ethicist and advocate for religious freedom has joined other church leaders to endorse revised legislation to prevent discrimination by the federal government against Americans who object to same-sex marriage.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and nine others endorsed the latest version of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) in a Nov. 13 letter to the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mike Lee, R.-Utah, and Rep. Raul Labrador, R.-Idaho.

The legislative proposal seeks to protect religious liberty following the Supreme Court’s June legalization of same-sex marriage. That decision and the uncertainty in its wake have left the conscience rights of Christians and other defenders of biblical, traditional marriage susceptible to potential federal discrimination.

In their letter, Moore and the other signers say enactment of FADA is needed to avoid a collision between “the federal government and people of faith.”

The bill would protect the free exercise of religion and the belief marriage is only between a man and a woman, they said.

“In our pluralistic and inclusive society this belief deserves protection, while ensuring that those who disagree are not denied any benefit or service under federal law to which they are entitled,” the letter says, adding FADA “does both.”

FADA “is a common-sense law that provides necessary protection to millions of Americans who have sincere religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality,” Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press. “The need for such a bill has become obvious as legal rulings and confusion over existing religious liberty legislation have left many Americans vulnerable to overreach by the federal government.”

The bill, he said, “will help protect the conscience rights of all and will ensure that court rulings or cultural change do not embolden the government to exclude people of religious conviction from the public square.”

The legislation seeks to make certain the federal government does not discriminate against a person — as well as a religious organization or family owned business — because he or she “believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

Discrimination prohibited by FADA would include revocation of a tax exemption and denial of a deduction for a charitable contribution based on belief in the definition of marriage as only a heterosexual union. It also would ban such discriminatory actions as refusing a federal grant or benefit, as well as denying access to educational institutions, based on the same conviction.

Lee and Labrador introduced FADA originally in June, but they presented revised language in September after working for months with religious freedom experts to make clear the intent is only to bar federal discrimination against people and institutions that limit marriage to a man and a woman, Lee said.

The revised legislation adds clarifying language, including a definition of “persons” protected by the measure to exclude “publicly traded for-profit entities,” federal workers acting within the range of their employment, for-profit federal contractors working as part of their contract and medical institutions in regard to visitation and health-care decision-making.

Moore led a coalition of 30 church leaders in endorsing the original legislation in a July letter to congressional leaders. Among the signers were several Southern Baptists, including the presidents of the six convention seminaries.

The Nov. 13 letter from Moore and his allies cited ominous comments from Solicitor General Donald Verrilli about tax exemption during the March oral arguments in the marriage case before the Supreme Court. When asked if a college or university would lose its tax exemption for opposing gay marriage, Verrilli said, “[I]t is going to be an issue.”

In addition to Moore, other signers of the latest letter included Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Other signers of the letter included representatives of the Anglican Church in North America and the North American Lutheran Church.