Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Sky Wasn't Falling BUT the Wolf Still Ate Chicken Little! Let the church be warned!

As I read the Chicken Little story, something troubled me.  The sky wasn't falling, but the wolf ate Chicken Little and all his friends!  

After I wrote my last blog, I took time this week to read the majority decision handed down by the court and each of the dissenting opinions from Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito.  What I read troubled me.   

In the opinion of the dissenting justices, the implications of the decision for our legal system are profound.  A bare majority of five people have overridden the will of the people as expressed through their legislatures and determined the law of the land.  As the dissenting justices say, this should trouble us all.

But I'm a churchman, not a lawyer, and the implications of what I read for the church, for the Christian community and for religious liberty deeply troubled me.  Rather than share my thoughts I will let the justices speak for themselves.

Chief Justice Roberts states it clearly:  "Today’s decision ... creates serious questions about religious liberty.”  Justice Thomas wrote:  "Aside from undermining the political processes that protect our liberty, the majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect.
In the majority opinion the court says “those who adhere to religious doctrine...may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that … same-sex marriage should not be condoned” and that the “First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”  Do not be disarmed and believe that our rights have been protected.  They have not! 

"Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today” the Chief Justice wrote.  
The First Amendment guarantees ... the freedom to “exercise” religion.  Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses. //  Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage--when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage.  There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.
The Chief Justice goes on to say that’s not the most discouraging aspect of the decision:  "It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s “better informed understanding” as bigoted.”  (emphasis mine) He continues:
Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of today’s decision is the extent to which the majority feels compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate. The majority offers a cursory assurance that it does not intend to disparage people who, as a matter of conscience, cannot accept same-sex marriage.  That disclaimer is hard to square with the very next sentence, in which the majority explains that “the necessary consequence” of laws codifying the traditional definition of marriage is to “demea[n] or stigmatiz[e]” same-sex couples.  The majority reiterates such characterizations over and over. By the majority’s account, Americans who did nothing more than follow the understanding of marriage that has existed for our entire history—in particular, the tens of millions of people who voted to reaffirm their States’ enduring definition of marriage—have acted to “lock . . . out,” “disparage,” “disrespect and subordinate,” and inflict “[d]ignitary wounds” upon their gay and lesbian neighbors.  These apparent assaults on the character of fairminded people will have an effect, in society and in court.  Moreover, they are entirely gratuitous. It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s “better informed understanding” as bigoted. 
In a separate opinion Justice Alito wrote:
It [the Supreme Court’s decision] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. (emphasis mine)  In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women.  The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.  (emphasis mine) 
I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools. (emphasis mine) 
Make no mistake, the justices warn, this decision will “have unavoidable and wide-ranging implications for religious liberty."   

Please, note that I have been careful not to state my opinion nor the opinion of others from the religious community, but to quote the justices themselves.  

It is easy to see the implications of the Court’s decision are significant, monumental and the full impact of them has yet to be determined.  

That is why, again, I am writing to encourage you to join me in meeting with the attorneys from the Christian Life Commission on Tuesday, July 14, from 1:00 to 3:30 to learn what you must do to protect yourself and your church.  To register, click here.

PS:  If you want to read the full text of the Supreme Court decision, click here.   You might also want to read this article in Time Magazine: Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country

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