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Seminaries urge tax-exemption protection

WASHINGTON (BP) — Southern Baptist educational leaders are among 74 signatories to a June 3 letter urging Congress to pass a bill protecting the tax-exempt status of schools in the event the U.S. Supreme Court approves same-sex marriage as a civil right.

If the Court establishes gay marriage as the law of the land, educators are concerned there may be legal precedent to withdraw tax-exempt status to schools that uphold the biblical truth that marriage is between one man and one woman.

“It is out of concern that schools adhering to traditional religious and moral values could lose tax-exempt status that we urge support for the Government Non-Discrimination Act, which would ensure that the federal government cannot discriminate or take action against private entities because they act in accordance with a moral or religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman,” the letter reads. “This bill, introduced in the 113th Congress with more than 100 House and Senate cosponsors and which will be introduced soon in the 114th Congress, would protect against government discrimination of those who believe in natural marriage.”

Christian educators are concerned after an April 28 exchange at the U.S. Supreme Court between Associate Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli during oral arguments in a key gay marriage case. Alito cited a 1983 decision in which the Supreme Court upheld the Internal Revenue Service’s revocation of a tax exemption for Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian school in Greenville, S.C., because the school prohibited interracial dating and marriage.

“So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?” Alito asked Verrilli, who said he would need more information to give a concrete answer, but admitted, “It’s certainly going to be an issue.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has observed that Verrilli “did not say no,” the letter notes. “Instead, he said that the federal government, at present, does not have a law banning discrimination in such matters on the basis of sexual orientation.”

If the Supreme Court approves gay marriage, “Christian institutions that offer student or constituent housing could be mandated to provide such to same-sex couples,” the letter reads. “Additionally, even if there is no sexual orientation law, it is difficult to see how educational institutions that recognize marriage in their housing, for instance, will not be required to recognize same-sex marriage benefits as well if the Court redefines marriage.”

The Family Research Council spearheaded the letter initiative, releasing the correspondence in tandem with a June 3 press conference at the U.S. Capitol featuring the bill’s author, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah); Union University President Samuel “Dub” Oliver; American Association of Christian Schools President Keith Wiebe; and Jerry Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters and former president of Criswell College.

Other Southern Baptist letter signatories, in addition to Mohler, included Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Seminary; Golden Gate Seminary President Jeff Iorg; Southwestern President Paige Patterson; New Orleans Seminary Provost Steve Lemke, and Ethics & Religious Liberty President Russell Moore, in his role as former administrator of Southern Seminary. Louisiana College President Rick Brewer, Criswell College President Barry Creamer and Louisiana College trustee Tony Perkins also signed the letter.

“Any federal initiative, whether generated in the judicial, executive, or legislative branches of government, to remove tax-exempt status from faith-based educational institutions because of their commitment to their beliefs about marriage would result in severe financial distress for those institutions and their millions of students,” reads the letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House speaker John Boehner. “Additionally, it would result in millions of students losing the choice of a faith-based educational experience that has been of historic value to the country for over 150 years.”

There are more than 1,700 religiously affiliated colleges and universities in the U.S., in addition to 29,000 such preschools, and elementary and high schools, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics, the letter notes.

At the June 3 press conference, FRC Center for Religious Liberty Director Travis Webber said the federal government is “on the verge of excluding these schools from the public square and effectively eliminating the entirety of their good work simply because they believe marriage is between a man and a woman.”

“We urge you in the strongest terms to protect the schools we represent,” the letter urges Congress, “as well as other Americans who live and work in our great country, from such unwarranted and unconstitutional abridgements of the liberty we always have cherished in our nation.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on the gay marriage case in question, Obergefell v. Hodges.