NEW YORK – The head of Miami-Dade County Public Schools wants to evict a Southern Baptist church that rents space in one of its buildings because of the congregation’s opposition to homosexuality.
Supt. Alberto Carvalho released a statement to a local television station alleging that Impact Miami’s opposition to homosexuality “appears to be contrary to school board policy as well as the basic principles of humanity.”
“I have asked for immediate legal review to seek the termination of the contract that is involved,” he told Local10.com. “I am making this decision not on the basis of policy or politics but as a rejection of prejudice and intolerance.”
The controversy surrounds Impact Miami, a new Southern Baptist church that is currently renting space inside North Miami High School for its Sunday worship services.
When President Obama announced that he supported gay marriage, Pastor Jack Hakimian preached two sermons explaining the biblical position on homosexuality.
One of the sermons was titled, “Gays and Sex Addicts Can Change and Should Change.” Another was titled, “Pedophiles Use the Same Argument as Homosexuals and the Weed Smoking Community.”
“The school board chair, as well as the superintendent, have both reviewed the allegations and found this disturbing and appalling,” school spokesman John Schuster told www.Local10.com.
Hakimian said he and his congregation have been unfairly labeled as bigots. He said they are facing eviction from their space simply because he preached that homosexuality is a sin.
“It’s about a message that homosexuality is a sin that God wants to redeem as all other sins,” he told Fox News.
The church pays nearly $1,500 a month to rent the high school facility, and Hakimian said “as taxpayers we have the right to assemble in public spaces.”
“I never thought I would be penalized for teaching on Christian marriage and sexual ethics from the Bible – the very Bible that presidents swear on,” he said.
Impact Miami is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. SBC President Fred Luter told Fox News that the controversy is a “sign of the times.”
“We’re living in a day and time when people are calling wrong right and they’re calling right wrong,” Luter said. “Any time a man of God stands up for the Words of God, I think we should expect opposition – simply because of the fact that God’s ways are not man’s ways.”
The possible eviction has enraged religious liberty groups – several of whom have already volunteered their services to defend the pastor and the church should they be thrown out of their meeting space.
“He has the right to be able to speak on Sunday from the Scriptures and speak about his viewpoint on human sexuality,” said Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group. “This is not someone who is advocating violence or some whacko that is extreme that would be a threat to society. This is a pastor who is speaking on issues from their own moral, political and biblical perspective.”
Staver told Fox News that he’s had a chance to review the pastor’s sermons and said the messages were in line with what millions of Americans believe.
“It is not contrary to humanity,” he said, refuting the school superintendent’s allegations. “It is absolutely outrageous that you would have a superintendent who would [think] along these lines.”
Staver added, “It’s serious for all of us. If we lose the right to free speech in this area – we lose it in every other area.”
Joel Oster, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, told Fox News the U.S. Constitution is clear on matters regarding free speech.
“A school cannot be listening to sermons and then discriminate against the church based on the content of the sermons,” Oster said. “This church does have a constitutional right to use these facilities. Public schools cannot discriminate against religious use of their facilities based upon viewpoints – and that’s exactly what’s going on here.”
Andre Pierre, the mayor of North Miami, told Fox News he had concerns about the school board’s actions and wondered what kind of an impact it might have on other religious groups renting space.
“You cannot censor his speech,” Pierre said. “The school should stay out of it. Pastor Jack is paying rent. He’s not getting the space for free.”
The mayor said he believes the school board attorney will side with the church.
“I think he’ll come down on the right side – which is – you cannot censor freedom of speech,” Pierre said. “You have to respect the American principles and you have to uphold the Constitution.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard daily on Fox News Radio stations around the nation. He is the author of “Dispatches From Bitter America” and “They Popped My Hood and Found Gravy on the Dipstick.” This article first appeared at www.toddstarnes.com. Used by permission.)