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Moore, others back law to protect religious liberty

WASHINGTON (BP) — Ethicist Russell Moore has initiated an effort by Southern Baptist and other leaders calling on Congress to pass legislation to protect the religious freedom of those who object to same-sex marriage.

Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and 29 cosigners sent a July 28 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner urging approval of the First Amendment Defense Act. The presidents of all six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries endorsed the letter.

The bill — S. 1598 in the Senate and H.R. 2802 in the House of Representatives — would bar the federal government from discriminating against a person, non-profit organization or for-profit corporation that believes or acts on a conviction that marriage is limited to a man and a woman and sex is restricted to such a marriage.

Discrimination prohibited by the First Amendment Defense Act would include revocation of a tax exemption and denial of a deduction for a charitable contribution based on belief in the biblical, traditional definition of marriage as only a heterosexual union. It also would ban such discriminatory actions as refusing a federal grant or benefit based on the same conviction.

The legislation — with Republicans Mike Lee of Utah in the Senate and Raul Labrador of Idaho in the House as sponsors — has almost no Democratic support so far. Of the 36 Senate and 145 House cosponsors, Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D.-Ill., is the lone Democrat.

The bill — and the new letter urging its adoption — comes at a time when religious liberty in the United States appears threatened in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 26 legalization of same-sex marriage.

That ruling “has shaken millions of people of faith in our nation,” Moore and the others said in their letter. “As a result of this ruling, the very meaning of religious freedom is under scrutiny in many circles today.”

The letter said, “Governmental discrimination on the basis of religious belief and practice about marriage will have devastating effects on people of faith, their institutions, and the communities they serve. Millions of law-abiding, faithful people are likely to be suddenly deemed bigots and social outcasts. Their institutions will be crippled and many may cease to exist. Most distressing, millions of people will lose the safety net and affirming services they depend on each and every day, from daycare to meals to job training to adoption.”

The letter cited ominous comments from Solicitor General Donald Verrilli about tax exemption during the March oral arguments in the marriage case. 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.”

Moore and his fellow signers noted, “It should not be ‘an issue’ for any individual or institution to be discriminated against by the federal government for deciding to honor the dictates of their faith regarding marriage.”

Until recently, heterosexual marriage “was the only acceptable form of marriage in practically every society on the planet,” the letter said. “It would then seem arbitrary and capricious to marginalize or punish persons and institutions whose definition of marriage the government shared up until last month.

“No one in this country should face the discriminatory power of the federal government over a matter so fundamental to the religious teachings of most of the world’s faiths as marriage.”

The Southern Baptist seminary presidents signing the letter were: Daniel Akin, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason Allen, Midwestern Seminary; Jeff Iorg, Golden Gate Seminary; Chuck Kelley, New Orleans Seminary; R. Albert Mohler, Southern Seminary; and Paige Patterson, Southwestern Seminary.

Other signers from educational institutions affiliated with Southern Baptists were Steve Lemke, provost, New Orleans Seminary; Barry Creamer, president, Criswell College; Thomas White, president, Cedarville University; C. Ben Mitchell, provost, Union University; and Tony Beam, vice president, North Greenville University.

Among other signers of the letter were Samuel Rodriguez, president, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Richard Malone, chairman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on laity, marriage, family life and youth; Jerry Johnson, president, National Religious Broadcasters; Penny Nance, president, Concerned Women for America; David Stevens, chief executive officer, Christian Medical Association; and Richard Land, president, Southern Evangelical Seminary.