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Gay rights, religious liberty colliding

WASHINGTON (BP)–Christian conviction and the homosexual agenda are headed toward a “cataclysmic conflict,” a Southern Baptist public policy specialist said at a briefing for pastors sponsored by the Family Research Council.

The freedom of Christians and others who follow biblical teaching to express their faith will be threatened by the push to expand homosexual rights, Barrett Duke said at the FRC’s annual Watchmen on the Wall meeting May 21 in Washington.

Duke, vice president for public policy with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he is “convinced that we are on a collision course with the radical homosexual agenda. It is inevitable.”

He noted: “In order for the radical homosexual agenda to be accomplished, people of faith are going to have to be silenced and marginalized, and their religious liberty and their very conscience are going to have to be violated….

“If the homosexual agenda is codified into law, our own government will be arrayed against us and our struggle to protect our religious freedom,” Duke said. “Folks, we can fight this battle now or we can fight it later, but we are going to fight this battle.”

Three issues are fueling the move toward “an eventual clash” between homosexual rights and religious liberty, Duke said, citing 1) same-sex “marriage”; 2) workplace protections for homosexuals and 3) hate crimes legislation.

Same-sex “marriage,” Duke said, “will lead to the violation of our children’s consciences” and to an infringement on the right to determine membership in groups based on religious convictions.

Children whose parents are teaching the biblical view about homosexuality are receiving a “much different message” in many public schools, Duke said. It will get worse if “gay marriage” becomes legal, he said.

“[I]magine if we have same-sex marriage across this country, what government-run schools will feel compelled to do in order to help our children understand the complexities of life…,” Duke said. “And imagine what it’s going to do in order to help our children understand what marriage in their minds really is.”

Children will be forced to read books and listen to speakers to help them understand same-sex marriage, “because the schools will feel that it’s their responsibility to give these children this picture because they think they know what’s better for our children,” Duke said.

The legalization of same-sex marriage also “will create a situation in which the government will prohibit religious groups from using convictions about homosexuality as a determining factor in membership in groups,” which already is evident in government’s response to religiously based guidelines on the use of church camps or retreats, Duke said.

“That’s just the beginning,” he said. “Imagine if we get to the place where same-sex marriage is treated as a civil right and all of the power of the United States government is brought to bear on making sure that no one involved in a same-sex marriage has his or her civil rights violated.”

The government will be unable to secure both the civil rights of those in a same-sex marriage and the religious rights of those who accept what God’s Word teaches regarding homosexuality, Duke said.

Under the proposed Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) to protect homosexual rights in the workplace, Duke noted, “… our ability to hire people who share our values will be taken away.”

The bill’s exemption for religious groups may protect churches’ freedom to hire people who have the same beliefs about homosexuality, but “if you have a bookstore, if you have a retreat, if you have a child-care center, the government’s going to decide whether or not those qualify,” Duke said. “And at this point, the government is deciding those don’t qualify. So you’re not going to have the freedom to choose all of your employees” in religious ministries.

ENDA also will open Christians up to “accusations of discrimination” at work, Duke said. “We will be considered bigots if we say anything or even represent any kind of conviction about homosexuality in the workplace and there’s a homosexual in the workplace who takes offense at that.”

Expanding hate crimes laws to include homosexuality as a protected category could expose Christians who believe biblical teaching to prosecution and could intimidate pastors into not speaking forthrightly on the subject, Duke said.

“Already today our pastors are very nervous about speaking about political issues,” Duke said. “[T]hey’re afraid they will violate the 501 (c) (3) code about endorsing candidates. So they respond by not addressing anything about politics. Well, suppose we have laws all of sudden that make it illegal to do anything that might incite violence or might lead to violence against homosexuals. Suppose homosexuality becomes a civil right and it’s protected in the same way that other civil rights are protected and pastors become worried about losing their tax-exempt status if they violate the civil rights of homosexuals.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R. 1913, with a 249-175 vote in late April, that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the current categories -– such as race, religion and national origin — protected from hate crimes. “Sexual orientation” includes homosexuality, while “gender identity,” or transgendered status, takes in transsexuals and cross-dressers. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.