Two major Christian organizations have endorsed adding sexual orientation and gender identity protections to federal nondiscrimination laws.
The boards for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the National Association of Evangelicals passed the motions in recent months as a compromise, exchanging an advance in LGBT rights for protections for religious groups, World magazine reported.
But the Family Research Council warns that under such a compromise, there is “no chance” that the rights of a Christian baker or teacher who opposes same-sex marriage would be protected.
FRC assessed the NAE motion, passed unanimously in October, titled “Fairness for All,” urging Congress to maintain three principles in its legislation.
The first is that God “created human beings in his image as male or female and that sexual relations be reserved for the marriage of one man and one woman.” The second urges Congress to “support long-standing civil rights laws and First Amendment guarantees that protect free religious exercise.”
The third principle in the NAE motion is that no one “should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
Peter Sprigg, FRC’s senior fellow for policy studies, writes that the “first bullet point is a clear-cut statement of biblical teaching on sexuality and marriage” while the second “is a straightforward endorsement of long-standing American principles.”
“The third bullet point is the problem,” he says.
“What, exactly, is the definition of ‘unjust discrimination’ in this context? Is it ‘unjust discrimination’ for a Christian baker to decline to bake a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding in violation of his own conscience? Or for that matter, is it ‘harassment’ for a schoolteacher to refuse to use pronouns that falsify the sex of a student who identifies as transgender?”
Sprigg says these are questions “that need to be put to the LGBT activists with whom this ‘compromise’ is being sought.”
“The ball is in their court, not ours. Unfortunately for those seeking compromise with them, LGBT activists are likely to answer those questions with an emphatic ‘Yes.’ Alas, there is virtually no chance that they would endorse the kind of much-needed legislation that would protect the freedoms of that baker or teacher.”
‘The most viable political strategy’
World reported Houghton College President Shirley Mullen, who is on both boards, explained the rationale for the NAE motion to its board members.
“As Christian higher educators, we are increasingly persuaded that the most viable political strategy is for comprehensive religious freedom protections to be combined with explicit support for basic human rights for members of the LGBT community,” she said.
World noted “Fairness for All” is a concept based on the 2015 state legislation known as the “Utah Compromise,” a sexual orientation and gender identity law with religious exemptions.
Several NAE board members were contacted by World, but they either did not respond or declined to speak on the record.
CCCU provided a statement to World saying its motion was “not meant to represent the specific positions of our individual campuses, but rather reflect the wisdom of our board of directors as determined to be in the best interest of advancing Christian higher education in the public square.”
Critics contend that any legislation based on “Fairness for All” would protect religious organizations such as churches and schools but not Christians in the secular marketplace, such as baker Jack Phillips.
Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, was punished under state anti-discrimination laws for declining to make a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding. The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled in his favor, determining the state showed “hostility” toward his Christian faith. But the ruling did not resolve the fundamental issue of whether a business owner must provide services that conflict with his or her religious beliefs.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the “Fairness for All” concept would be counterproductive, World reported.
“Placing sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in this kind of legislation would have harmful unintended consequences, and make the situation worse in this country,” he said, “both in terms of religious freedom and in terms of finding ways for Americans who disagree to work together for the common good.”