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The TN Democratic Party Exposes Religious Liberty Gibberish

Last week I said that a religious liberty that means religious neutrality is impossible. And this week the chair of Tennessee’s Democratic Party proved me right.

The proof came in the form of a letter from the party’s chair, Mary Mancini, to the chief executive officer of Cracker Barrel wanting to know her thoughts concerning a certain church in Knox County that was using one of Cracker Barrel’s local restaurants for an event of some kind that the church had entitled “Small Town Soul Winning.” Ms. Mancini made it clear a church was involved and that her concerns arose out of one of the sermons from that Knox County church that had contained statements “against the LGBTQ+ community.”

I have no objection to her posing the question or even being upset on behalf of many within her political constituency. I did not hear the pastor’s entire sermon, but such portions as I did hear and later read sure seemed to miss the Gospel mark both in content and tenor.

But theological dissection of what was said and how it was said is not my purpose today. Rather it is to further the point made last week that there is no such thing as religious neutrality.

I harp on this hoping that some folks—even on “my side” of the sexual ethic question—will think more deeply about the true scope of religious liberty in a pluralistic society vis-a-vis a religious liberty that is essentially pluralism (and polytheistic) in its worldview.

Cracker Barrel’s Response Invites a Civil Rights Complaint

Upon receipt of the letter, Cracker Barrel’s CEO said the business disagreed strongly with the pastor’s statements and the church would “not be permitted on site.” That is where the law of religious liberty parading as religious neutrality was broken.

If the pastor and church were so inclined, it would be legally appropriate for the church and pastor to file a claim against Cracker Barrel and hold it liable for its actions for the same reason claims were filed by citizens in other states against Christian baker Jack Phillips and floral designer Barronelle Stutzman because they refused to provide custom services. And, unlike these Christians, Cracker Barrel is probably not being asked to provide any unique custom services to the church, just its regular “beans and cornbread” type menu. Follow the logic.

Why Wedding Cakes and ‘Pinto Beans and Cornbread’ Are the Same Thing

Jack Phillips was civilly prosecuted for violating a state law making it “a discriminatory practice and unlawful for a person, directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from, or deny to an individual or a group, because of . . . creed, . . . sexual orientation, the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation.”

Mr. Phillips did not refuse to design a cake for the two men who wanted to purchase one “because of their sexual orientation,” but because of his religious beliefs about the nature of marriage. Those beliefs prevented him from creating something that celebrated as a marriage that which he could not, in good conscience, depict as marriage.

However, the argument against Phillips goes like this: The reason you won’t make the cake is “because of” your beliefs about “sexual orientation,” and therefore you would not have denied them wedding services “but for” your views regarding “sexual orientation.” I think that syllogism is flawed, but the courts have bought it.

Now consider the church. It is an organization with a “creed,” which, like Colorado’s law, is found among those things against which discrimination is prohibited under Tennessee’s civil rights law, Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-501. I know Cracker Barrel would say it didn’t “discriminate” because of the church and pastor’s creed, but because their speech was hateful. However, if the “but for” argument works against Mr. Phillips, it works for the church and pastor and has to be applied to Cracker Barrel.1

Has SCOTUS Weighed In Against Cracker Barrel?

Actually, that last thought reflects what the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission said in dismissing the claim against Mr. Phillips: The government can’t apply one standard to one commercial vendor under its law and apply a different standard to a different commercial vendor. The U.S. Supreme Court said in Mr. Phillips’ case that “the difference in treatment between Phillips’ case and the cases of other bakers who objected to a requested cake on the basis of conscience and prevailed before the Commission” was in “indication of hostility” against religion in violation not just of a statute, but the First Amendment’s provisions regarding religion.

So, if a “but for” legal standard is to be applied to determine if there is discrimination based on sexual orientation, it also has to be applied to determine if there is discrimination on the basis of creed.

I think Cracker Barrel would have a hard time referring to a church and its pastor’s statements in a sermon and then arguing the church’s “creed” had nothing to do with denying it service.

I think it’s clear that the Tennessee Democratic Party and Cracker Barrel do not believe in religious neutrality and, I suspect, the party will put as much economic pressure on vendors like Cracker Barrel as they can in support of its constituents. The Cracker Barrels of the world do obeisance to their perceived monetary gods, because they can’t be neutral, either.

Religious Neutrality Is Not the Answer

Christians need to think a moment about what has happened: It was a sermon preached inside the four walls of a church that got this church excluded from receiving services from Cracker Barrel.

That Christians might disagree with the theology and tenor of the sermon preached is not the point. Rather, the point is that those Christians who want to retreat from the so-called “culture wars” and trust for their protection in a liberty law grounded in religious neutrality need to think again.

Christians of all people should know that trusting in the law to save them has never worked.2

NOTES

1. No doubt, defenders of Cracker Barrel would say this was not just a meal but an “event” and the restaurant didn’t want to be associated with the event. But is not a wedding and reception an event? Of course.

2. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision yesterday preventing the removal of the Peace Cross in a public space in Bladensburg, Md., does not change this point about religious liberty. That decision involved the Establishment Clause, which involves different constitutional issues.

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David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Barronelle Stutzman

Is the Demise of Today’s Version of Religious Liberty Needed?

Barronelle Stutzman is a florist in Richland, Wash., who is alleged to have violated that state’s law prohibiting her from refusing services to persons based on their sexual orientation. This week, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the judgments of lower tribunals against her, and now she is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to accept her appeal and reverse the decisions against her. But I sometimes wonder if a victory for religious liberty is, in the long run, the best thing for those who profess to be Christians.

It pains me on several levels to write that last sentence.

Why Thinking a ‘Religious Liberty Victory’ Would Pain Me

On a personal level, it pains me, because I’ve met Ms. Stutzman. She is a kind, gentle, sweet-spirited person. I don’t want to see her business bankrupted or even her income suffer because of this dispute over the law.

It pains me, because I do believe in religious liberty, though a more nuanced understanding of it in accord with our Founding Fathers than that for which many Christians advocate today. And this is why I think a victory on religious liberty grounds (as opposed to one based on freedom of speech/expression) may not be helpful in the long run.

Religious liberty is a colloquialism that hides from Christians an important truth: There can be no religious neutrality from God’s perspective, which is the perspective from which Christians are supposed to operate.

The Christian Myth of Religious Liberty as Neutrality

The first reason that is true is found in God’s declaration to the Serpent after seducing Adam and Eve into their rebellion against God, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15 NKJV). That is not neutrality.

The second reason is that religious neutrality is the cultural embrace of a polytheism, and God is not neutral in that regard, either. Read Acts 17:16–32. Paul’s message on Mars Hill to a polytheistic culture was, “Truly, these times of ignorance [in the past, prior to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension] God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). It was not the modern-day evangelistic call to come forward if you happen to be interested in having your better life now or if you want to get control of X in your life; it was literally a command from God.1

Of course, Paul’s audience did not appreciate his message on Mars Hill, and it’s not tolerated today, either, even by many in evangelical churches and in their pulpits. People, including many professing Christians, like their liberty more than they like the biblical message of a sovereign creator God to whom His creatures and such liberty as He gives them are subject.

Given these facts, it is impossible, as I’ve written before, for religious liberty to work as an organizing principle within the social order.

Why The Emphasis Today on Religious Liberty?

But the sad thing to me is that many Christians of all stripes, though certainly not all, have retreated from the biblical position of advocating for laws that reflect what they believe to just defending and arguing for religious liberty.

Exhibit A is the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities recently leading the charge for accepting (and eventually accepting) the fairness-for-all proposal, because the proposed inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal law as a protected class carved out an exception for its members.

No doubt, some accept retreat to a supposed safe harbor of religious liberty because they believe they just need to hold out a wee bit longer because Jesus is going to rapture them out of here.

For others, retreating to religious liberty is either consciously or subconsciously a lot easier and a lot less costly in terms of lost friendships, diminished communal approval and acceptance, and deprivations of material wealth than challenging in the first place the enactment of the law from which they now clamor for a religious exemption.

I suspect those costs are in the back of the minds of many in the first group, too. Perhaps they believe they can escape the rich young ruler’s dilemma and plight (Mark 10:17–22) if they can just hold out a bit longer. Unlike him, they may be able to keep their “stuff” here and get to heaven to boot!

If Ms. Stutzman wins on religious liberty grounds, I will be personally happy for her. But if her victory perpetuates among Christians the belief that religious liberty is the saving bulwark against a God-denying culture carrying out its God-denying precepts with all its attendant consequences, then it will only have delayed the Christian’s understanding of the true nature of the conflict that exists in this world and the deceitfulness of the man-centered philosophy of religious liberty being espoused.

NOTES

1. I get that the thought of God commanding us to repent sounds like the mad, angry, dictatorial kill-joy caricature of God that many have and that is often bellowed from pulpits. I get not liking the sound of that at all! But if preaching is all thunder and lightning about God’s wrath against sin and sinners and devoid of the incredible news that God freely offers to all the provision He has made out of His great love to bring peace between us and the inestimable worth of being in a present and eternal relationship with the most glorious of all beings, then that caricature is justifiable. See Thomas Chalmers’ The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. In keeping with Chalmers’ sermon, it just may be that loss of the perceived protection for religious liberty will so strip us Christians from our affection for the things the world offers in place of the glory of God, that we will return to our first affection—the love of God—as the church at Ephesus was exhorted to do (Revelation 2:4).

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David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

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Washington State Supreme Court Nips Christian Florist’s Rights in the Bud

Washington State Supreme Court yesterday refused to reconsider its ruling against floral artist Barronelle Stutzman, a Christian who runs a popular flower shop in Richland, Wash., that has been in her family for decades.

Six years ago, Washington State’s attorney general took it upon himself to bring charges against Barronelle after she prayerfully declined to design floral arrangements for the wedding of a longtime customer who was marrying another man. She was found to be in violation of the state’s law making sexual orientation a protected class over her objection that the law, as applied to her, violated her right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion under the U.S. Constitution.

Ms. Stutzman asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal from the decision of the Washington State Supreme Court affirming her violation of state law, and the U.S. Supreme Court, having just ruled in favor of Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, sent her case back to the Washington State Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of the Masterpiece ruling.

Washington’s high court affirmed its earlier decision, finding there was no evidence of religious animus in the record. Her case now goes back to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will now decide whether to hear an appeal.

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Aussie Rugby Star Promotes Bible, Loses Career

Australian rugby star Israel Folau lost a $4 million contract last Friday when an appeals tribunal upheld Rugby Australia’s decision to terminate Folau’s contract after he posted a biblically-based comment on Instagram warning different types of sinners about the reality of hell as well as proclaiming the love of Jesus.

Folau explained, “As Australians, we are born with certain rights, including the right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of expression. The Christian faith has always been a part of my life and I believe it is my duty as a Christian to share God’s word.”

However, Rugby Australia saw the 30-year-old’s words as violating its code of conduct, since it is also a founding member of Pride in Sport, a program that promotes LGBT lifestyles in athletics. The rugby league asked Folau to take down the post or risk losing his contract.

Folau not only refused to take down the post, but also refused the league’s $1 million settlement. He is considering bringing a lawsuit.

Earlier this month, both Land Rover and Asics pulled their partnerships with Folau after the Instagram post. Folau could be the first Australian athlete dismissed for expressing fundamental religious beliefs.

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Equality Act Passes in U.S. House

The U.S. House, controlled by Democrats, passed the Equality Act by a vote of 236-173.

“This is an all-out assault on parental rights, on the family, and on the millions of people of faith in this country,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins in an emailed press statement released shortly after today’s passage of the Equality Act (H.R. 5) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The act now heads to the U.S. Senate, and if signed into law, would change the 1965 Civil Rights Act by making “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protected classes. Since there is no religious objection exemption for these two new categories, religious organizations or businesses with strong religious beliefs and convictions about human sexuality that conflict with this new sexual agenda will be forced to accept it. It would change the landscape of public, multi-person spaces like restrooms and locker rooms, as well as team sports and sex education programs in our public schools in order to make way for “transgendered” individuals.

This is how your Tennessee congressmen voted today: Voting against the bill were Republicans David “Phil” Roe of District 1, “Chuck” Fleischmann of District 3, Republican Scott DesJarlais of District 4, John Rose of District 6, Republican Mark Green of District 7, and Republican David Kustoff of District 8. Republican Tim Burchett of District 2 did not vote. Voting for the bill were Democrats Jim Cooper of District 5 and Steve Cohen of District 9.

If you are concerned about this act and want to make your voice heard, contact your U.S. senator.

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