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Recently, almost 1,100 churches from all 50 states took part in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  On June 9, pastors in these churches preached sermons about the importance of traditional marriage.  Prior to the Supreme Court’s decisions on marriage, these pastors took the opportunity on Pulpit Freedom Sunday to set forth what God says about marriage.

This was the sixth annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  It began in 2008 as a direct challenge to the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 addition to the tax code that prohibits pastors from preaching freely on the issue of candidates and elections.  Every year pastors participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday preached sermons that evaluated the candidates running for office in light of Scripture and made recommendations to their congregation as to how they ought to exercise their right to vote.  The pastors recorded their sermons and sent them to the IRS in hopes of sparking a legal challenge to the Johnson Amendment.  To date, not one of the over 2,000 pastors who have participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday has been investigated by the IRS or punished for their sermons.

Because of the lack of national elections this year, pastors were encouraged to preach about the importance of marriage.  That issue was front and center in light of the Supreme Court’s decisions on marriage in June.  Put simply, before the Supreme Court had its say about marriage, the Church had its say about how God designed marriage and intended for it to function.

Now that the Supreme Court has decided the marriage cases, it is clear the battle over same-sex “marriage” will continue and the voice of America’s pastors is even more necessary.  If you are a pastor and did not get the opportunity to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, now would be a great time to sign up.  We are leaving registration open for the remainder of the summer to allow pastors an opportunity to discuss the issue of marriage from the pulpit.  If you need resources on how to prepare a sermon on the issue, please visit our website.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions, it is clear that the Church has a lot of work to do.  Taking part in a Pulpit Freedom Sunday this summer is a perfect opportunity to educate your congregation about marriage and why it should be protected as God intended.

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Shortly before leaving for its summer break, the United States Supreme Court issued two decisions affecting the status of the future of marriage in America.  In United States v. Windsor, the Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage, for federal purposes, as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”  In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court held that the proponents of California’s Proposition 8, which recognized only marriage between a man and a woman, did not have standing to defend the law.

In the wake of these decisions, it may be easy to be confused about their effect on marriage and religious freedom.  Some pastors have expressed concerns over the potential impact of the decisions on their churches.  Here are some short key points regarding the impact of the decisions:

1.  Same-sex “marriage” is not the law of the land.  The Supreme Court decisions did not mandate same-sex “marriage” on the country.  The marriage decisions did have an impact on the future status of same-sex “marriage” to be sure. But it is important not to overstate the impact of the Court’s decisions.  It did not establish same-sex “marriage” as a rule for the entire country.

2.  The Federal DOMA remains largely intact.  The Court only struck down Section 3 of DOMA, which is commonly referred to as the definitional section.  Striking this section down now allows for same-sex couples who are considered “married” in their home states to receive federal benefits previously reserved for married couples.  Section 2 of DOMA remains intact and enforceable.  That section allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex “marriages” performed under the laws of other states.  This means that North Carolina, for example, does not have to recognize the same-sex “marriage” of a Rhode Island couple. For now, each state continues to retain authority to define marriage.

3.  The same-sex “marriage” battle will continue.  The Court’s decisions left open some important questions.  Perhaps most importantly, the question of the constitutionality of state DOMAs was left unanswered by the Court’s decisions.  That issue is currently pending in some court cases in states like Hawaii and Nevada.  These battles will continue, and it is likely the Supreme Court will confront that issue in the future.

4.  Same-sex “marriage” remains a real threat to religious freedom, as my colleague Kellie Fiedorek points out in a recent blog:

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion, said, “The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.” In other words, Justice Kennedy suggests in his opinion that the only reason Congress and President Clinton had for protecting marriage when they passed DOMA in 1996 was a bias towards couples in same-sex relationships. That is a chilling statement that poses an immediate threat for future lawsuits against anyone who believes marriage exists only between one man and one woman. It wrongly implies that those of us who recognize marriage to be the unique union of a husband and wife – something recognized by diverse cultures and faiths throughout history – are motivated by dislike rather than a desire to affirm the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need a mother and a father.  Simply astounding. Justice Scalia said it best when he called this, ‘jaw-dropping.’”

Same-sex “marriage” poses a threat to religious freedom.  If you doubt this, ask the owners of Elane photography, or Arlene’s Flowers.  These are just two of the recent cases where Christians have been accused of “discrimination” simply for abiding by their religious beliefs concerning sexual behavior.  More cases like this may occur in the future in the wake of the Supreme Court’s opinion striking down DOMA.

This is why it is important for churches to act now to protect themselves from the possibility of such claims.  Visit our website for some important resources, such as our document Seven Things all Churches Should have in Their Bylaws, or our Sample Facilities Usage Policy that ensures churches may maintain use of their facilities in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court’s decisions did impact marriage and religious freedom.  The battle will continue and the threat to religious freedom has intensified.  That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom is here.  We stand ready to protect the Church from attacks that threaten its freedom and independence to share the Gospel.  Please visit our website or contact us if you need help or legal counsel on these important issues.

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Recently, Lifeway conducted a research poll containing some startling statistics that reveal where public opinion stands in relation to same-sex “marriage” and the acceptance of homosexual behavior. The poll reported that 58 percent of those surveyed believe that same-sex “marriage” is a civil rights issue just like age, race, and gender. The narrative by those who want to redefine marriage that same-sex “marriage” is a “civil right” seems to have taken hold.

Some of the other research findings are:

- 63 percent agree and 27 percent disagree that pastors should be allowed to refuse to officiate same-sex weddings if they are made legal in their state;

- 58 percent agree and 33 percent disagree that photographers should be allowed to refuse to work same-sex weddings if they are made legal in their state;

-40 percent agree and 52 percent disagree that rental halls should be allowed to refuse to rent out their facilities for same-sex weddings if they are made legal in their state;

These statistics should be a wake-up call for pastors who think that they can avoid preaching about these issues. Public opinion on the issues of same-sex “marriage” and homosexual behavior is shifting dramatically. What are you as a pastor doing to counter this shift?

The Supreme Court is poised to render decisions on two cases by the end of June that could redefine marriage. Before the Supreme Court has its say, shouldn’t America’s pastors be heard about what God says on the subject?

Make your voice heard by participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday on June 9, 2013. Make sure your congregation knows where the Church stands on marriage. The Bible has not changed.  God’s Word remains true that homosexual behavior is wrong and that marriage is as God Himself defined it in the beginning pages of Scripture – between one man and one woman only.  Public opinion cannot change Truth. But Truth must be proclaimed to be believed and adopted.  And that is where your role as a pastor comes in. You are to proclaim the Truth of God’s Word “in season and out of season.” (2 Tim. 4:2).  After all, God’s Word is profitable for, among other things, teaching and correction. (2 Tim. 3:16). But, as the Apostle Paul reminds pastors, how are others to hear God’s Truth without someone preaching to them? (Rom. 10:14-15).

The fact of the matter is that our society desperately needs to hear what the Creator of marriage and sexual behavior says about what He created. That’s what Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year is all about – marriage. Pastor, please do not let this opportunity pass you by. Go to www.pulpitfreedom.org and sign up to participate either on June 9 or on a Sunday as close to that as you can. Stand together with hundreds of your fellow pastors from across the country proclaiming God’s Truth to a society that is in great need of hearing it.

It is vital that you participate because, to be candid, there’s a lot of work to be done. And, as a pastor, you are in a position to be heard. You can make a difference in your congregation, in the community, and eventually throughout the culture.

For resources to help you construct your sermon, please visit our Marriage Resource Page on www.pulpitfreedom.org.

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My grandmother used to always quote the old mariner’s saying: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.  Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”  While meteorologists will debate whether this saying is accurate, one thing about it is true.  Before the days of radars and satellites, the sailors of old would always keep an eye on the horizon to judge whether gathering clouds were harbingers of bad weather.

We also have a saying at Alliance Defending Freedom: “While you shepherd your flock, we’ll watch the horizon.”  The sentiment behind this statement is that pastors frequently lack time or expertise to watch the horizon and judge what poses a legal threat to the church. That’s why God placed Alliance Defending Freedom in this place at this time. We are watching the legal horizon.

This year, marriage is a hot topic in legal circles. The United States Supreme Court is deciding cases involving the definition of the institution created by God in the Garden of Eden even before the fall of man. How can you as a pastor best respond in these challenging times?

Before the Court has its say, America’s pastors must have their say

The Supreme Court decision is expected to be handed down by the end of June. In its decision, the Supreme Court will have its say on how our laws will treat marriage. But before the Supreme Court has its say, America’s pastors must have their say. That’s why we are conducting Pulpit Freedom Sunday on June 9, 2013. On that day, pastors across the country will stand united to proclaim with one voice what God’s design for marriage is and why our country should honor that design and resist the siren’s call to redefine this most basic of human institutions.

If you have not yet signed up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday, please do so. The sign-up process only takes a minute.  If you cannot preach on June 9, then pick a Sunday as close to that day as possible and indicate the date of your message in the sign-up process.

In this crucial time in our country’s history, the voice of God from the shepherds of God’s flocks must be heard proclaiming biblical Truth about marriage to a society that far too often seems on the verge of forgetting marriage altogether.

What’s the state of the marriage battle?

Given the complexities of the legal process, many pastors feel daunted by the prospect of communicating the state of the marriage battle. However, we’ve made it easy for you.  This simple map will show you the current state of the battle to protect marriage in the United States.

There are also numerous sermon preparation resources on our website to help you effectively communicate about marriage to your congregation. There are resources about God’s design for marriage, and the threat that same-sex “marriage” poses to religious freedom.

We also have created a resource highlighting the positions certain elected officials took before the Supreme Court on the issue of marriage. You can use this resource to praise elected officials who fought to protect marriage as God intended, or to call out with biblical Truth those officials who took a public stand against marriage.

What do I need to do to protect my church?

We also receive many questions about what proactive steps churches can take to protect themselves.  There are a couple of things all churches can do to best position themselves for the future.

First, read our resource Seven Things all Churches Should have in their Bylaws. We also have some suggested bylaw language on marriage and human sexuality that will help churches in this regard.

Second, we advise every church to adopt a facilities usage policy that governs use of church facilities for wedding ceremonies. We have created a sample policy for you to use to ensure your church is protected.

Even in those states that adopted same-sex “marriage” or some equivalent, such as civil unions, churches do not have to allow use of their facilities for wedding ceremonies that are inconsistent with their faith. But there is an effort underway in some areas — such as Hawaii and Hutchinson, Kansas — to force churches to allow use of their facilities for same-sex “weddings” if they open their facilities for use by non-members for weddings at all. Passing a facilities usage policy provides a good defense. Put simply, no government official has the right to force a church to allow its facilities to be used for events that violate its religious beliefs.

Never forget that Alliance Defending Freedom is “watching the legal horizon.” We will continue to keep you updated and provide the best ways you as a pastor can respond to protect your church from legal threats.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

For some time now, the IRS has not been auditing churches.  As I explained in more detail in this post, the IRS’ decision to “suspend” church audits stems from a 2009 federal court decision finding the IRS’ regulations on church audits to be unlawful.  Since that decision, the IRS, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, has not been auditing any churches.  It has said since 2009 that it is preparing new regulations that will enable it to begin auditing churches again, but we have not seen those regulations finalized.

However, at a recent tax conference, Treasury Attorney-Advisor Ruth Madrigal said that the IRS’ long-awaited rules on church audits are “close” to being finalized.  So what does this mean for churches?

What this means is that once the IRS’ regulations on auditing churches are finalized, then it is logical to assume that the IRS will begin auditing churches again.  Whether this means that the IRS will audit churches that participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday remains to be seen.  We will have to closely watch the IRS’ actions once the church audit rules are finalized.

But ultimately, the constitutional rights of pastors and churches do not turn on whether the IRS decides to audit churches.  Alliance Defending Freedom has said for years that the Johnson Amendment in section 501(c)(3) of the tax code is unconstitutional.  If the IRS audits and penalizes churches for something it believes violates the Johnson Amendment, then Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend the constitutional rights of America’s pastors to speak biblical truth uncensored by the IRS.

For now, we will continue to monitor the situation and will make you aware of any changes the IRS proposes.  As we say here at Alliance Defending Freedom, “You watch your flock, and we’ll watch the horizon.”  And if you have not yet signed up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, please do so today.  This year, Pulpit Freedom Sunday is all about marriage, and America desperately needs to hear what God says about marriage at this crucial time.  Signing up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday is easy and we hope to see thousands of pastors standing united on June 9, 2013, preaching biblical truth about marriage.  Will you be one of those pastors?  Please sign up today.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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