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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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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

America is in the midst of a debate on the definition of marriage, the foundation for a stable society and a stable home.  Americans desperately need to hear from their pastors what God says about marriage, the institution He created.

This year, our country faces one of the most pressing issues in our history as efforts are underway to radically redefine the institution of marriage, the relationship that God established long ago in the Garden of Eden even before the Fall of mankind.  The United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two cases where plaintiffs are hoping to radically redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.  Oral argument on these cases will be in late March and a decision by the Court is expected at the end of June.  These are the first cases ever where the Supreme Court will address the definition of marriage directly.

With all this in mind, Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2013 will be a Sunday focused on marriage.

Even though this year is a non-election year, that does not mean it is a non-engagement year for pastors.  The heartbeat of Pulpit Freedom Sunday has always been to remove legal restrictions on what a pastor can say from the pulpit and by doing so, to empower pastors to speak boldly and courageously on the pressing issues of our day that are addressed by Scripture.

As many of you know, Alliance Defending Freedom launched Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2008 as a legal challenge to the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment is a 1954 law that grants the IRS the power to censor what you as a pastor say from your pulpit about candidates during an election season.  The law is hopelessly unconstitutional.  Yet despite this fact, no court has ever been presented with a constitutional challenge to the law.

Courageous pastors stood in their pulpits as part of Pulpit Freedom Sunday and proclaimed biblical truth as it relates to candidates and elections.  They recorded their sermons and sent them to the IRS in hopes of sparking a legal challenge to the Johnson Amendment to have it declared unconstitutional.

You may be wondering what the IRS response has been.  In a word, silence.  Not one of the pastors who have participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday has been censored or punished by the IRS in any way.

Despite this fact, the Johnson Amendment remains in effect and the IRS continues to maintain publicly that it has the power to enforce the law against a pastor’s sermon.  Because of this, Pulpit Freedom Sunday is still necessary to keep up the pressure on the IRS and to regain the freedom of America’s pulpits.

  • When is Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2013?

Pulpit Freedom Sunday will be on Sunday, June 9, 2013.  We want every pastor available to speak on that same day, if possible, to declare with one voice God’s design for marriage.  If you cannot speak on that day, please pick another day close to that day and sign up to participate.

  • What will pastors do on Pulpit Freedom Sunday?

Pastors who sign up to participate will preach a sermon on God’s design for marriage.  Pastors can also take the opportunity to address the threat to religious freedom posed by same-sex “marriage,” or to call out their elected officials who are on record supporting same-sex “marriage.”

  • What resources are there to help me prepare for Pulpit Freedom Sunday?

There are sermon preparation materials, sample sermons on marriage, resources to help you understand how same-sex “marriage” poses a threat to religious freedom, and information about elected officials that are either supporting or opposing same-sex “marriage.” All of these can be found at www.pulpitfreedom.org

  • Where can I sign up to participate?

Sign up to participate at  www.pulpitfreedom.org The sign up process only takes a minute to complete.

Now, more than ever, Americans must hear from their pastors regarding what God says about marriage.  Pastors have always guided the conscience of America through troubled times when the country faced a moral dilemma.  Pastors must once again assume that role as the conscience of America, guiding her into biblical truth.

Will you stand with thousands of your fellow pastors on Pulpit Freedom Sunday?  Sign up today at www.pulpitfreedom.org.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

Increased animosity toward churches because of their Biblically based moral teaching sometimes results in actual disruption of church services.  The disruptors’ intent is to intimidate churches into foregoing their right to speak up on issues like homosexual behavior by terrorizing parishioners.  ADF went to court to protect a Michigan church in Mt. Hope Church v. BashBack! when a self-described anarchist homosexual group interrupted Sunday Morning worship, shouting anti-Christian slogans, throwing pamphlets at worshipers, and blocking entrances.  We won that case, securing a nationwide injunction against BashBack! prohibiting it from continuing to disrupt churches.

But the Mt. Hope case illustrates why churches should have a security plan in place in the event of similar disturbances.  Our resource “Church Security FAQ” answers questions on how to go about getting started in this area.  It’s also important that churches follow Mt. Hope’s example and actually take legal action against the perpetrators of this anti-religious bigotry. Often times, government officials are unwilling to do anything about it, as was the case with Mt. Hope. If this anti-Christian behavior is left unchecked, the perpetrators are emboldened to take even more violent action against churches who dare to engage the culture and speak up on controversial issues like sexual morality.

Please share your comments below and to join the conversation join our facebook page Facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

This bill is currently pending before Congress and could have a detrimental effect on the ability of churches to only hire individuals  that agree with their religious beliefs and live their lives accordingly.  If passed, ENDA would add “sexual orientation” to the list of characteristics upon which an employer cannot discriminate.  This is unlikely to have much direct effect on churches because Title VII allows religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of religion.  See Page 12 of our resource, Business With Conviction: Employer Religious Beliefs. But it could affect them indirectly if they have separate ministries such as schools or day care facilities that are not expressly religious and all employees are not required to subscribe to church doctrine.  A good summary of the potential implications of ENDA for churches written by Richard Hammar can be accessed here.  Well-crafted bylaws and employee handbooks will go a long way toward helping a church defend its ministries against this law, should it pass. Suggestions of what these documents should include can be found in our legal resource, “Job Descriptions & Religious Grounds for Limiting Employment” at speakupmovement.org/church.

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

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