Religious freedom is for everybody

A funny thing happened when those who find marriage equality so upsetting started loudly complaining about alleged violations of their religious freedom: People whose religious freedom actually is being violated stepped forward.

As reported last month, the first ever Witness for Love held in Loudoun County drew a number of local clergy, who testified to being barred from performing the rites of marriage for same gender couples in accordance with their faith. Many people don’t realize that Virginia law includes a provision that makes it unlawful for an officiant to perform a marriage ceremony unless the couple has a legal marriage license. This provision does exactly what it sounds like it would do: It erases the supposed distinction between ‘civil’ and ‘religious’ marriage by restricting religious marriage celebration to what is permitted by civil law.

While no clergy or denomination ever has, nor ever will, be required to perform the rites of a same-gender marriage, an interracial marriage, an interfaith marriage, a marriage involving a divorced person, or any other marriage that fails to meet their particular religious criteria, those clergy and denominations that actively seek to celebrate the marriages of same gender couples in their communities are instead required to treat those couples as if they are unworthy of such celebration. That requirement (unlike the make-believe scenarios of anti-gay activists) is a very real and grievous violation of religious conscience. It unmistakably, to use the current language of the anti-gay crowd, “violates their sincerely held religious belief” in the equal dignity and humanity of their LGBT parishioners. Today, one of those denominations finally filed a lawsuit seeking the restoration of First Amendment rights to its clergy.

In what is believed to the first-ever challenge by a national Christian denomination of a state’s marriage laws, the UCC filed the lawsuit Monday morning, April 28, in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, N.C.

Under Amendment One, which passed in late 2012, it is a crime in the State of North Carolina for clergy to officiate a marriage ceremony without determining whether the couple involved has a valid marriage license. United Church of Christ ministers interested in conducting a religious marriage ceremony for same-gender couples could face up to 120 days of jail and/or probation and community service if found guilty, since North Carolina marriage laws define and regulate marriage as being between only a man and a woman. As lead plaintiff in this lawsuit against the State, the United Church of Christ asserts that these laws are unconstitutional and violate clergy’s First Amendment rights.

"Manhattan Declaration" director Eric Teetsel, bearing false witness before the Supreme Court

“Manhattan Declaration” director Eric Teetsel, bearing false witness before the Supreme Court last month

Activists (such as this fellow to the left) in several states have already trivialized religious liberty by trying to enact absurdly broad exemptions, on the basis of an ill-defined “sincerely held religious belief,” to established civil rights law. These efforts willfully pervert the intent of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, inviting religious liberty claims against other private citizens instead of against the government itself. In case it isn’t self-evident, they also seem unfamiliar with the meaning of the word “all.”

These activists wanted to make religious liberty a burning issue. Good. Let’s have that conversation. Let’s examine, objectively, who actually has a valid religious liberty claim. The United Church of Christ lawsuit leaves no doubt, and leaves hypocrites like poor Mr. Teetsel holding their transparently dishonest signs.

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