Colorado Freedom Institute

Religious Freedom Under Attack: An Easter 2016 Message 

By Michael J. Norton, President and General Counsel, Colorado Freedom Institute       

The days were pretty bleak and dark for followers of Jesus the days leading into His crucifixion and before His resurrection on that first Easter Sunday. 

And as we approach Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, it seems that yet again the days are bleak and dark in our land.  

We all know that something has gone badly wrong. Almost every day there is a new set of terrifying headlines. 

Very powerful people have demanded that so-called rights for ‘sexual liberty” trump our God-given, constitutionally protected right to religious freedom. Government power is being used to punish Christians who choose their faith over these views. Advocates of these progressive causes tell us we must get on their side of history.

Hillary Clinton, a presidential candidate, has said, “Religious beliefs . . . have to be changed” when they are contrary to abortion rights.

Chai Feldblum, the homosexual activist President Obama appointed to be chair of the EEOC, has said, “There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win.”

Martha Minow, Harvard Law School Dean, has said, “For some issues where the values of this country conflict with religious view, if they can’t live with it, they should leave.”

And LGBTQ organizations have contributed millions to target religious freedom, especially as it is exercised by objectors to gay marriage.

These powerful groups all saw the fruit of their investment with the June 26, 2015 decision of the United States Supreme Court ordering the redefinition of marriage in all 50 states.

June 26 was a bad day for all Americans who:

  • Believe marriage is ordained by God as the union of one man and one woman and is the only institution for the procreation of children and the best institution for the raising of children.
  • Believe in democratic self-government.
  • Believe in the U.S. Constitution and the rock-solid principles of our Founders.

As you all know, the Constitution is silent on the issue of marriage. And that means that the power to define marriage is reserved to the States and to the people.

And 31 states, including Colorado, had done just that over the years. In fact, in 2006, nearly 800,000 Coloradans voted to affirm the historic definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

And yet, on June 26, five unelected judges struck a blow at the heart of the liberty of all Americans by stripping us of the freedom to debate and decide this important public policy.

Twice in the last two years, the United States Supreme Court has dealt with whether American governments must recognize marriage between persons of the same sex.

In 2013, in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled (5-4) that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to define marriage as only existing between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court ruled on a law passed by the federal government – the Defense of Marriage Act – which, for purposes of over 1,000 federal laws that allocated benefits and responsibilities based on marital status, defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the five Justices in the majority, emphasized that marriage had always been a matter of definition by the States rather than the federal government, and therefore Congress’s only reason for DOMA was to demean persons who engaged in same-sex conduct.

Though the Windsor decision did not address whether States could define marriage, after Windsor, many federal and state courts applied Windsor’s hostility rationale to strike down about half of the State’s laws that defined marriage as between only a man and a woman, including the Colorado constitutional provision adopted by the people of Colorado in 2006.

Then, on June 26, 2015, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court again narrowly ruled (5-4) that it was unconstitutional for any State government to define marriage as only existing between a man and a woman.

The same Justice Kennedy who had said before that marriage had always been a matter of definition by the States rather than the federal government wrote that States cannot have laws that define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Here are some of the things Justice Kennedy wrote for the 5 justice majority in Obergefell:

Our Founding Fathers “did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions” and so the Supreme Court has been entrusted to define “liberty as we learn its meaning.”

The right to marry is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. It is “central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs.”

“[P]rotecting the right to marry is [important because] it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education.” 

“[T]here is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex marriage.”

This prompted Chief Justice Roberts to say in a stirring dissent, “[Just] “who do we think we are?”

Justice Scalia raised the specter that this decision marked the end of democracy as we know it.

Justice Alito warned that radical homosexual forces that wish to smash all dissent from their LGBTQ orthodoxy will do all they can to use the Supreme Court’s decision to marginalize and persecute those who believe in Biblical teaching.

And yet, in his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy gave lip service to our First Amendment religious liberty protections. He said:

[I]t must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. 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, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

In response to that, Chief Justice Roberts, wrote, "Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today." The obvious problem with what Justice Kennedy wrote, said Chief Justice Roberts, is that “the majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.”

Within an hour of the June 26, 2015 Supreme Court decision imposing same-sex “marriage” on every State in the Nation and requiring each State to recognize the same-sex marriages of other States, our Nation’s White House was bathed in the rainbow colors of the homosexual movement.

Just four days after the Supreme Court’s decision, James Obergefell, one of the plaintiffs in the case, was part of an LGBTQ press conference in which it was announced that the Supreme Court victory for the homosexual agenda was not enough. It did not go far enough.

He said at this press conference, “Friday’s historic ruling is a victory, but it’s just the beginning.”

The Supreme Court’s decision on marriage has effectively stripped all Americans of our freedom to debate and decide marriage policy through the democratic process. The freedom to democratically address the most pressing social issue of the day is the heart of liberty. Yet, the Supreme Court has taken that freedom from the people and over-ridden the considered judgment of tens of millions of Americans who previously reaffirmed marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

In doing so, the Supreme Court cast aside the understanding of marriage’s nature purposes that diverse cultures and faiths across the globe have embraced for millennia.

And that, of course, is just what the militant LGBTQ people want – to take away our constitutionally protected religious freedoms.

And, joining the chorus of progressive thinkers, on October 29, 2015, the same Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the majority decision in the gay marriage case, told a Harvard law School audience that government employees with religious convictions about marriage should resign.

He said that if a public official has a moral objection to homosexuality or to abortion, she must either follow the law or quit public service. Stunning his audience, he added, after all, “some judges did the right thing and resigned under Hitler’s Third Reich. Christians are bound to follow the law even if it is morally corrupt.”

Kennedy’s view would come as a shock to Dieitrich Bonhoeffer who once said, “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.

Religious freedom and rights of conscience mean nothing to these powerful people. They seek to restrict religious freedom and to force Christians to violate their most deeply held beliefs by requiring them to take action or communicate messages that are in direct conflict with their beliefs and, worse yet, to remain silent.

What progressive thinkers, including President Obama, say is that we have the freedom to worship. What they mean by this is that we can exercise our religious freedom within the walls of our churches or in our homes for a few hours a week, but we cannot dare bring our religious convictions into our lives, our businesses, or, God forbid, into the public square.

And, with the coercive support of federal and state governments – led by activist judges – people of faith who seek to exercise their religious freedom are being punished over and over again. More is to come.

Francis Schaeffer would say even louder today what he said more than 30 years ago that: “[A]ny government that commands what contradicts God’s Law abrogates its authority. It is no longer our proper legal government, and at that point we have the right, and the duty, to disobey it.”[1]

We all know that something has gone badly wrong. Almost every day there is a new set of terrifying headlines. Every day, people sense that something big is about to happen. In recent days, we learned that:

  • 147 Christians were martyred in Kenya.
  • Brendan Eich, co-founder and CEO of Mozilla, was driven out of the company he founded because he had the temerity to make a modest contribution to the campaign in favor of traditional marriage on California’s Proposition 8.
  • Radical Islamic forces torture hostages, many of them followers of Jesus, before beheading them.
  • Christianity is criminalized and the City of Houston demands that five pastors – all ADF clients -- turn over their sermons in the mayor’s efforts to promote homosexuality.
  • A Lakewood baker was asked to create a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage celebration at a time when Colorado’s constitution provided that the only lawful marriage in the State of Colorado was the union of one man and one woman. Even though Jack Phillips offered to bake any other item for the same-sex couple, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission found Jack guilty of discrimination and ordered him and his staff to undergo diversity training so he could be re-educated on the values of the LGBTQ movement. A member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission actually called “freedom of religion” a “despicable piece of rhetoric” and compared Jack’s religious beliefs to those of slave owners and Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust. Jack’s bakery business has severely suffered and I am not sure he will be in business much longer.
  • Melissa Klein, who owned a bakery called Sweet Cakes by Melissa, has been driven out of business and fined an unconscionable $135,000 for declining to create a cake for a same-sex wedding.
  • Obamacare and many State laws force Christian hospitals and businesses to fund elective abortions and abortion-inducing drugs and devices and contraceptives, all against their religious beliefs.
  • Colorado schools are being required to allow students to use restrooms and locker room facilities that correspond to their gender identity at the moment.
  • Across the world today, the holocaust of abortion is overwhelming us.  115,000 abortions are committed every single day. Forty-two million unborn children are massacred every single year. As multitudes of babies are dismembered and destroyed daily and Planned Parenthood is caught selling baby parts, we cannot ignore that abortion is an affront to God’s authority as Creator, an assault on God’s work in creation, and an attack on God’s relationship with the unborn. This summer, the Center for Medical Progress released a serious of undercover videos demonstrating that Planned Parenthood is inhumanely and illegally selling the brains, eyes, livers, and other body parts of aborted babies. has been in the forefront of exposing these abhorrent. On November 9, a Colorado Senate Committee conducted a hearing at the State Capitol to investigate these practices by Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood.

These stories are evidence that we have long been moving away from God’s truth to a culture when everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).

Dr. David Jeremiah recently said, “The events unfolding in today’s world are ominously threatening. People everywhere are beginning to live in a state of fear and anxiety. What will the future be for my children?”

But, of all the threats the people of our Nation – and in fact the world – face today, none is greater than the threat to our religious liberty.

“The majority's decision,” wrote Justice Thomas in the Obergefell decision, “threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect."

Justice Alito, in his dissent in Obergefell, went on to say, "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."

We have, say our opponents, including President Obama, freedom to worship. What they mean by this is that we can exercise our religious freedom within the walls of our churches or in our homes for a few hours a week, but we cannot dare bring our religious values into the public square.

Religious liberties, tolerance, and rights of conscience mean nothing to these powerful people. They seek to restrict religious freedom and to force Christians to violate their most deeply held beliefs by requiring them to take action or communicate messages that are in direct conflict with their beliefs and, worse yet, to remain silent.

They tell us, “Don’t try to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission in a public way.”

With the coercive aid of the federal and state governments – led by activist judges - those seeking to exercise their religious liberties are being punished over and over again. More is to come.

Francis Schaeffer said, “We as Bible-believing evangelical Christians are locked in a battle. This is not a friendly gentleman’s discussion. It is a life and death conflict between the spiritual hosts of wickedness and those who claim the name of Christ.

Dr. Billy Graham said, “Today the world is being carried on a rushing point of history that is sweeping out of control. There is but one power able to save this world and that is the power of prayer by God-fearing Christ believing people. Even though we are as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah, God would spare us if only we would only earnestly pray.

The Gospel of Christ is not a call to cultural compromise in the face of fear. It is arena language – go, do, act, be, and speak.

Are you ready to pay the price? You know that you can still safely identify as a follower of Jesus as long as you be completely silent about what Jesus or the Church teaches on issues such as marriage and sexual morality and the sanctity of human life.

Remember Christ’s words: “If anyone wants to be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.” Have we forgotten this timeless Gospel truth?

In a February 4, 2016 speech to the Legatus Summit in Orlando, Florida, Princeton Professor Robert George asked those listening if they were prepared to give public witness to the truths of the Gospel that this current generation does not want to hear spoken.

Do we fear to jeopardize the wealth we have piled up, the businesses we have built, the professional and social standing we have earned, the opportunities for worldly advancement we cherish?

Professor George added that “one thing alone will matter: whether we stood up for the truth, speaking it out loud and in public, bearing the costs of discipleship – or were we ashamed of the Gospel?

May it be said of us that we are not ashamed of the Gospel; that we were willing to take up Jesus’s cross and to follow him – even to Calvary. May we speak clearly about the truth of the most pressing issues of our day.

Maybe it is safer, temporarily, to be an acceptable Christian, a comfortable Catholic. But, by the grace of God, Easter is coming. He is risen. He will vanquish death and sin. There is hope and our faith in Him will conquer every fear.

Thank you and may God bless you in your fight for religious freedom.

 
[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, “A Christian Manifesto” (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1981), p. 124.