The Nails and Streams of Liberty
The familiar words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence remind us we are endowed by God “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Happily, our Founding Fathers also proclaimed that the business of legitimate government is “to secure these rights.” In the practical sense then, the grand architecture of American liberty depends on the “nails, rivets, and screws” that fasten into place our most fundamental freedoms.
So when I read a decision from a federal judge in Hawaii recently, I could almost hear the creaking sound of nails being yanked out. Emmanuel Temple v. Abercrombie was brought by two Christian churches days before the effective date of Hawaii’s new law protecting civil unions among homosexuals. The churches argued that Hawaiian laws could now be used to prosecute them if they refuse to rent their facilities for same-sex ceremonies—particularly because the state legislature deliberately declined to exempt churches and other houses of worship.
Nevertheless, the U.S. District Court rebuked the plaintiffs, denying their request to be protected from future discrimination lawsuits that seem likely in light of Hawaii’s elevation of homosexual rights. What makes this decision so astounding is the court’s apparent bewilderment: It asked why “a same-sex couple would desire to solemnize a civil union on a premises owned or operated by an entity clearly hostile to same-sex couples.”1
Such naïveté ignores the entire history of the gay-rights movement (and numerous other social movements) where test cases are often used to force the expansion of legal rights.
But the problems with this case don’t end there. The same decision actually recognizes that the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission already accepted a complaint by a same-sex couple who wanted to sue another church for refusing to rent its facilities for their intended marriage. Nevertheless, the court still ruled the churches had not shown a high enough risk of harm to their rights to warrant legal protection.
As cases have been brought to advance homosexual rights in the last few decades, we religious-liberty attorneys have been warning the ultimate endgame will be the evisceration of the fundamental freedoms of Christians. Evidence indicates this endgame may be closer than we think.
Equally remarkable is that many of our law schools and our nation’s highest court are complicit in this result. In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5–4 to affirm the right of the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law to deny official campus recognition to the Christian Legal Society (CLS). It ruled that the school’s nondiscrimination policy trumped CLS’s Bible-based charter that did not permit people actively engaged in homosexuality to vie for leadership in the organization.
Ironically, a few weeks before the Hawaii decision, a panel discussion on “hate crimes” was held at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan. According to pridesource.com, a pro-gay website, participant Denise Brogan-Kator, executive director of Equality Michigan, specifically mentioned people (presumably Bible-believing Christians) whom she said use their “warped theology” to block homosexuals from achieving “full equality and respect.”2
The solution? “Change the environment that allows hate to openly express itself through discrimination—in our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our stores and restaurants, hospitals, and government institutions,” she said.3
Over the years, the handy “hate” label has often been used to intimidate into silence the voices of Christian conscience. At stake is America’s entire social environment, which if changed to suit Equality Michigan, would radically reduce the First Amendment rights of most Bible-believing Christians.
There is a need for an equally vibrant, countervailing movement in America’s judiciary to return to the business of securing the God-given rights of religious freedom envisioned by our Founders. Otherwise the rights of Christian free speech, worship, and assembly will eventually be destroyed.
Americans have a vital role to play in this drama. Federal judges are appointed by a president and confirmed by the Senate. Presidents and senators are elected. Although the economy and many other issues dominate the political landscape, let us not forget the critical issue of judges when we vote. As followers of Christ, we have no business simply wringing our hands or cursing the darkness. If we want, as the prophet Amos said, “justice [to] run down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24), we should make our votes count.
- Emmanuel Temple v. Neil Abercrombie <scribd.com/doc/76887074/Emmanuel-Temple-v-Abercrombie>.
- Jason A. Michael, “Equality Michigan hate crimes talk tackles difficult subject,” December 8, 2011, Between the Lines News, pridesource.com <pridesource.com/article. html?article=50599>.