By Matt Clark (President, Alabama Center for Law and Liberty)
“We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29. When Peter and John said this to the Sanhedrin after being ordered not to preach in Jesus’ name any longer, they faced the prospect of being stoned. Happily, in the United States, we face no such prospects, at least not yet. However, there has been a movement lately to get Christians, including pastors, to obey men rather than God or face the crushing blows of legal sanctions, which fortunately are softer than stones but still nothing to be trifled with.
I’m talking about laws that forbid “discrimination” on the basis of “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” In the legal world, we call that SOGI for short. SOGI laws are designed to ensure that if you disagree with homosexuality, transgenderism, and the like, you have to put your convictions aside and go along with it. If not, then the government comes after you and fines you.
One such case is currently before the United States Supreme Court. Aaron and Melissa Klein are Christian cakebakers from Oregon who believe that God ordained marriage between a man and a woman—just as we do. When they declined to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, the State of Oregon came after them. The State successfully prosecuted them, and the court fined them $135,000. This forced the Kleins out of business. They are now trying to reopen as they fight their battle, but it has been a long and difficult road.
It is a shame that this is going on anywhere in the United States, a country that was founded by people seeking religious freedom. But it is worth nothing that SOGI laws are not only being passed in blue states like Oregon. We have two here in Alabama at the local level in Birmingham and Montevallo. My organization was instrumental in helping defeat a SOGI bill in Montgomery last year, but we won only by one vote. Gay-rights advocates have Mobile in their sights as well.
The Montgomery ordinance shows how sweeping SOGI ordinances can be. The only protection that the Montgomery bill provided for religious liberty is allowing churches to select their ministers according to their religious views. Thus, while a church could fire a pastor for endorsing same-sex marriage, it could not fire an employee who was not a “minister.” That could include janitors, security guards, or even child-care workers. For years, liberals preached “separation of church and state.” I guess in their minds, that only applies when the church wants to influence the state, but not when the state wants to influence the church.
It gets worse. As I read it, the Montgomery ordinance probably would have required churches to rent out their facilities for same-sex weddings if they did opposite-sex weddings. It may have even forbade them from segregating bathrooms by sex on Sunday mornings.
Outside the walls of the church, the ordinance certainly would have required Christian creative professionals like the Kleins to cater to same-sex weddings against their will. It probably would have required Christian schools to let transgender students use the locker rooms and bathrooms of their choice, which would have blown the doors wide open to sexual assault and voyeurism. Finally, it would have required Christian homeowners who rented their houses out on Airbnb and the like to allow same-sex couples to rent out and have sex in their bedrooms. Instead of “get out of my bedroom,” which was the LGBT mantra for years, SOGI ordinances say, “Let me in your bedroom, or else.”
Fortunately, there are legal ways to fight them. The Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment provide a lot of protection. If someone is being forced to speak or promote a message with which they disagree, the Free Speech Clause generally prohibits this. Your right to speak includes a right not to speak. In other words, if you don’t want to promote homosexuality, you don’t have to. There’s a case right now in front of the U.S. Supreme Court – 303 Creative v. Elenis – which makes that point. A Christian creative-professional from Colorado is challenging that state’s SOGI law, arguing that it would compel her to promote a message with which she disagrees. I expect her to win.
The Free Exercise Clause is likewise applicable. It really should settle the matter, since our religion prohibits complying with SOGI ordinances like the aforementioned. Unfortunately, the courts don’t give it full respect it deserves. However, if it can be shown that the law is not being applied equally (which is often the case), then the Free Exercise Clause works in the favor of religious organizations.
In conclusion, SOGI laws are probably the biggest threat to religious liberty in America today. Just as the men of Sodom did not accommodate Lot when he asked them nicely not to molest his guests, neither will the forces behind SOGI laws accommodate us if we’re nice to them. While we should certainly show them Christian love, we also must be vigilant in opposing SOGI laws. Pastors must also be preaching on how to deal with suffering and persecution, because SOGI laws are designed to punish us for standing with the Bible. We must have the vigilance to oppose them while we have the chance. But if we lose the political battle, we must have the fortitude to say, “We must obey God rather than men.”