SBC Life Articles

Religious Liberty and Biblical Faith Decisions

The freedom to live according to one’s religious beliefs has been a fundamental right in America since its founding. As the culture changes and those opposed to biblical values become more vocal, it is becoming increasingly difficult to express religious beliefs without being socially ostracized or legally penalized. This map displays political and cultural events from the past few years that have had an effect on religious liberty and biblical faith in America. See below for more information about each event.

Jump to:
Liberty and Faith Setbacks
Liberty and Faith Victories
Questions Pastors and Churches May Consider

Click on map to view larger.

Religious Liberty and Biblical Faith Decisions

Liberty and Faith Setbacks

Methodist-owned facility refuses same-sex ceremony
January 12, 2012 // Ocean Grove, New Jersey

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, refused to host a same-sex civil ceremony on its property, saying it violated its Methodist doctrine. A judge ruled that because the property was available for public use, the group had violated a state anti-discrimination law.

Vanderbilt BCM declines recognized status
May 7, 2012 // Nashville, Tennessee

Vanderbilt University’s non-discrimination policy required all officially recognized student organizations to allow any student to seek a leadership position, preventing Christian groups from requiring their student leaders to be Christian. The campus’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry, rather than accepting the policy, declined the opportunity to be officially recognized as a student organization.

Supreme Court declares part of DOMA unconstitutional
June 26, 2013 // Washington, DC

Edith Windsor’s same-sex partner died, leaving Windsor her entire estate. Windsor was denied the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses because the term “spouse” only applied to heterosexual marriages. In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act’s federal definition of marriage as a man and a woman was unconstitutional, opening the floodgates for a series of lawsuits overturning bans on same-sex marriage at the state level.

California Proposition 8 overturned
June 26, 2013 // San Francisco, California

California Proposition 8 was a successful ballot initiative in 2008 for a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages. Approved by voters and upheld by state court, it was ruled unconstitutional by federal courts. When the state refused to appeal, proponents of the proposition sought appeal. The US Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the proponents did not have standing to appeal. Although the Court did not address the amendment’s constitutionality, the dismissal legalized same-sex marriage in California by allowing a previous district court ruling to stand.

Photographer refuses to photograph same-sex ceremony
August 22, 2013 // Santa Fe, New Mexico

Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Although the couple was able to find another photographer, they filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. The case went to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which ruled that the refusal violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act.

Bakery refuses to bake cake for same-sex ceremony
January 17, 2014 // Gresham, Oregon

Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Oregon, refused to bake a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries brought charges that the Kleins had discriminated against the same-sex couple. They may now face fines of up to $150,000, which will be decided in a hearing on March 10, 2015. The couple closed their bakery in the summer of 2013 and is now operating in a limited capacity out of their home.

Mozilla CEO pressured to resign
April 3, 2014 // Mountain View, California

Brendan Eich helped found Mozilla, a software and technology company, and held leadership roles throughout its history. In 2008, he donated $1,000 to support California Proposition 8, which defined marriage as a man and a woman. When he was promoted to CEO on March 24, 2014, opponents to Prop 8 stirred up controversy over his 2008 donation. He resigned less than two weeks later on April 3 after protests from activists, Mozilla employees, and other companies.

HGTV drops TV show with Benham brothers
May 7, 2014 // Concord, North Carolina

Jason and David Benham, two brothers who work in real estate, were slated to star in a new show on HGTV called Flip It Forward, in which the brothers would help transform a fixer-upper home for a family. After the media publicized the brothers’ stance against homosexuality and the homosexual agenda, HGTV canceled the show before it aired.

Bakery refuses to bake cake for same-sex wedding
May 30, 2014 // Lakewood, Colorado

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, declined to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding celebration. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that he had illegally discriminated against the customers, and that he must change his business policies, conduct staff training, and submit quarterly compliance reports for two years.

Tenth Circuit court legalizes same-sex marriage
June 10, 2014 // Denver, Colorado

A lower court ruling striking down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was upheld by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision is binding in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.

Fourth Circuit court legalizes same-sex marriage
July 28, 2014 // Richmond, Virginia

A lower court ruling striking down a same-sex marriage ban in Virginia was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision is binding in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

InterVarsity de-recognized at California State University
August 2014 // Long Beach, California

California State University issued a policy requiring student organizations to allow any student the opportunity to hold a leadership position. Collegiate ministry InterVarsity refused to comply with this policy, as their organization’s policy required leaders to adhere to a statement of faith. Beginning in the 2014–15 school year, InterVarsity was de-recognized at CSU’s twenty-three campuses, denying the group access to certain campus resources and events.

Farm refuses to host same-sex wedding
August 8, 2014 // Schaghticoke, New York

Cynthia and Robert Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm in upstate New York, refused to host a same-sex wedding on their property. The judge ruled the couple had violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws and ordered that they pay $13,000 in fines and restitution. After the ruling, the couple announced they would no longer host any weddings on their property.

Seventh Circuit court legalizes same-sex marriage
September 4, 2014 // Chicago, Illinois

Lower court rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin were upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision is binding in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

Ninth Circuit court legalizes same-sex marriage
October 7, 2014 // San Francisco, California

Same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada were struck down by the Ninth District Court of Appeals. This decision is binding in Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington.

T-shirt vendor refuses to print gay pride shirt
October 7, 2014 // Lexington, Kentucky

Blaine Adamson, owner of T-shirt printing company Hands On Originals, refused to print shirts for the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization for Lexington’s 2012 Pride Festival. The Lexington Human Rights Commission said that Adamson violated a city fairness ordinance by discriminating against the GLSO.

19 Kids and Counting controversy
November 2014 // Tontitown, Arkansas

In part due to the Duggar family’s efforts to oppose a Fayetteville, Arkansas, anti-discrimination ordinance, over a hundred thousand people signed a petition for TLC to cancel their show 19 Kids and Counting. A counter-petition garnered even more signatures as of the end of 2014. TLC has not responded to the petitions.

Fire chief Kelvin Cochran fired
January 6, 2015 // Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed dismissed fire chief Kelvin Cochran following an investigation into Cochran’s book Who Told You That You Were Naked?, which calls homosexual behavior immoral. Though a city investigation found no evidence that Cochran had discriminated against homosexuals, Reed cited policy violations and possible lawsuits against the city as reasons for his termination.

Mayor won’t allow churches to meet in public schools
January 15, 2015 // New York, New York

An appeals court ruled that New York City’s policy preventing churches from renting space in public schools for worship services is constitutional. Bronx Household of Faith petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration filed a brief to the Supreme Court defending the policy, despite de Blasio voicing his opposition to the policy during his 2013 mayoral campaign.

Answers in Genesis denied tax benefits
February 3, 2015 // Petersburg, Kentucky

In 2014, the government of Kentucky granted preliminary approval for a tax rebate, offered by the Kentucky Tourism Development Act, to apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis for the construction of its theme park Ark Encounter. On December 10, 2014, the state reversed its decision and denied the incentive. AiG filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination by the state because it is a religious organization.

Alabama federal district judge reverses state constitution
February 9, 2015 // Mobile, Alabama

On January 23, 2015, Federal District Court Judge Callie V. S. Granade ruled that the “Sanctity of Marriage Amendment” to Alabama’s constitution violates the federal constitution and that same-sex marriage would become legal in the state on February 9, 2015. On February 9, the US Supreme Court denied a request by state officials to stay the ruling pending appeals. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore urged probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying that they were not bound by Judge Granade’s decision. As of February 17, most of the counties had begun issuing marriage licenses.

Florist refuses to make arrangements for same-sex wedding
February 18, 2015 // Richland, Washington

Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Washington, declined a request from a longtime customer to make a flower arrangement for his same-sex wedding. The state attorney general filed suit against both the business and the owner. A judge ruled that she had broken state consumer protection and anti-discrimination laws. Stutzman may be forced to pay penalties as an individual as well as her business.

Liberty and Faith Victories

Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day
August 1, 2012 // Atlanta, Georgia

In an interview, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy spoke about the company’s belief in traditional marriage. It was also revealed that the company had donated money to various causes in support of traditional marriage. LGBT activist groups called for a boycott of Chick-fil-A restaurants. A counter-protest on August 1, dubbed “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” saw record-breaking sales for the company as customers flocked to the restaurants to show their support.

Duck Dynasty controversy
December 18, 2013 // West Monroe, Louisiana

In an interview, Phil Robertson of the TV show Duck Dynasty stated that homosexuality is sinful. The show’s network, A&E, announced that they were suspending him from the show indefinitely. In addition, sponsor Cracker Barrel removed Duck Dynasty products from their stores. After fans expressed their outrage at the decision, the suspension was lifted and the products were returned to Cracker Barrel shelves.

Prayer in government meetings allowed
May 5, 2014 // Greece, New York

The town board of Greece held public meetings to address city business, and opened each meeting with prayer—usually led by Christian pastors, but also sometimes by leaders of other faiths. The practice was challenged on the grounds that it constituted a government establishment of religion. In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court ruled that the prayers were constitutional.

Hobby Lobby allowed to decline abortifacient coverage in insurance plans
June 30, 2014 // Washington, DC

The Christian owners of two businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, objected to a mandate that would have forced them to provide coverage for abortifacients in their insurance plans for employees. They specifically objected to four out of twenty total required contraceptives that could cause an abortion. The Supreme Court ruled that closely held for-profit corporations could object to the mandate based on religious beliefs.

Wedding chapel refuses same-sex wedding
October 24, 2014 // Coeur D’Alene, Idaho

The Christian ministers who operate the Hitching Post wedding chapel filed a lawsuit against the city of Coeur D’Alene, saying that the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance would force them to marry same-sex couples. The city initially said the ordinance would apply to the chapel because it is a for-profit corporation, but later said it would be exempt as a religious organization.

Mayor subpoenas pastors for sermons
October 29, 2014 // Houston, Texas

After the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was enacted by city council action in May 2014, opponents petitioned to have the ordinance placed on a ballot for possible repeal. They submitted more than the required amount of signatures, but the city attorney invalidated enough of the signatures to disqualify the petition. The opponents filed suit challenging the disqualification. The city then subpoenaed five pastors for all correspondence, including sermons, on anything related to HERO or homosexuality in general. The mayor withdrew the subpoenas after outcry from people on all sides of the political spectrum. The opponents’ lawsuit went to trial before a jury in January 2015.

Sixth Circuit court upholds states’ same-sex marriage bans
November 6, 2014 // Cincinnati, Ohio

In a move that ran counter to previous circuit court rulings, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rights of the states to decide on same-sex marriage. The ruling sets precedent in the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. The Supreme Court will review the ruling and issue an opinion by June 2015, which could either legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country or uphold states’ authority to define marriage.

Minister’s housing allowance stays intact
November 13, 2014 // Chicago, Illinois

An atheist organization challenged the tax-exempt status of ministers’ housing allowances by saying they were denied the tax benefit for employer-provided housing allowance conditioned on religious affiliation. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the original decision to invalidate the allowance, on the grounds that the organization did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit.

Voters overturn a pro-LGBT city ordinance
December 9, 2014 // Fayetteville, Arkansas

Citizens in Fayetteville, Arkansas, voted to overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance. Though the ordinance was passed in August 2014, residents collected enough signatures to place it on the ballot for a special election.

InterVarsity job discrimination case
February 5, 2015 // Grand Rapids, Michigan

Alyce Conlon, spiritual formation specialist for InterVarsity, was put on paid leave in 2011 to work on her marriage, and was fired when she and her husband got divorced. She sued InterVarsity in 2013 for wrongful termination. The Sixth Circuit court of appeals ruled in InterVarsity’s favor, in keeping with the principles espoused in EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor, saying that the ministry qualified for a ministerial exception that gives religious organizations broad freedom to choose their leaders.

Questions Pastors and Churches May Consider

Questions Pastors and Churches May Consider

© istockphoto.com

In August 2013, same-sex marriage was legal in thirteen states and the District of Columbia. In February 2015, Alabama became the thirty-seventh state in which same-sex marriage was declared as lawful despite a state constitutional amendment to the contrary that had been adopted by 81 percent of its citizens.

During this eighteen-month period, news services as diverse as Associated Press and Fox News have carried news stories about steps churches have taken to identify their core beliefs relative to same-sex marriage in the face of a rapidly changing culture.

Some news stories drew attention to internal policies—has the church clearly articulated whether or not it would allow its pastor or other ministry leaders to perform same-sex marriages? Does the church have procedures in place to deal with safety and security issues should it be targeted by activists?

Other stories focused on the church’s witness within its community—how does a church serve as a redemptive center, ministering to all people, while simultaneously holding to a biblical sexual ethic and embracing biblical marriage as the covenantal union of one man and one woman?

Reporters also raised questions concerning public accommodation laws relative to the church’s building and grounds—has the church researched local and state laws relative to external groups renting the church’s facilities for a variety of purposes, including weddings?

With the changing cultural landscape in view, churches may wish to consider a wide range of questions.

Church membership and church discipline practices.
Do the membership practices or policies of your church sufficiently address the issues of Christian witness? Are matters clearly stated about conduct that would place a person’s membership in jeopardy, or justify intervention of some sort, such as church discipline?

Statements of biblical beliefs.
Has your church come to and adopted a common understanding about the biblical concept of marriage? Do all of the members, leaders, volunteers, and staff understand the importance of maintaining a uniform witness in regard to that standard?

Pastor’s role in determining wedding policies.
Is the pastor the sole decider for whom he will perform wedding ceremonies? If so, are the congregational expectations of the pastor’s participation in wedding ceremonies in harmony with the pastor’s own position? Could the pastor and people grow to be at odds in the absence of a church-adopted statement of faith or marriage policy?

Facilities use policies describing how building and grounds may (or may not) be used.
Does the church have clearly stated guidelines about the use of the church’s property and grounds? Has the church researched local and state public accommodation laws? For example, given new developments in discrimination law and their application to commercial activities, is your church engaged in any commerce (such as renting facilities to non-church members, or operating a school, coffee shop, or bookstore) to which a non-discrimination law in your jurisdiction might apply? Should that activity be re-evaluated?

Potential disruptions to church activities by church members, guests, or activists.
Has your church thought about and prayed through, and been legally counseled about, what steps should be taken in the event of an unwanted participation, disruption, demonstration, or threat in a church activity or service?

Participation in churchwide and community ministry events.
Has your church determined how it will minister to and evangelize individuals whose lifestyles are at odds with biblical teachings? For example, would marriage enrichment seminars or parenting classes be community-wide events, or designed for church members only, or both?

Liability insurance questions.
Is your church adequately covered by insurance for legal proceedings stemming from alleged discrimination or defamation?

    About the Author

  • Rebecca Wolford