The freedom to live according to one’s religious beliefs has been a fundamental right in America since its founding. As the culture changes and those opposed to biblical values become more vocal, it is becoming increasingly difficult to express religious beliefs without being socially ostracized or legally penalized.
The following compilation by SBCLIFE, the journal of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, lists many of the political and cultural junctures that have had an effect on religious liberty and biblical faith in America in recent years.
The first section recaps various setbacks; the second section, various victories.
Liberty & faith setbacks
– Methodist-owned facility refuses same-sex ceremony
Jan. 12, 2012 – Ocean Grove, N.J.
The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association in Ocean Grove refused to host a same-sex civil ceremony on its property, saying it violated its Methodist doctrine. A judge ruled that because the property was available for public use, the group had violated a state anti-discrimination law.
– Vanderbilt BCM declines recognized status
May 7, 2012 – Nashville, Tenn.
Vanderbilt University's non-discrimination policy required all officially recognized student organizations to allow any student to seek a leadership position, preventing Christian groups from requiring their student leaders to be Christian. The campus’ Baptist Collegiate Ministry, rather than accepting the policy, declined the opportunity to be officially recognized as a student organization.
– Supreme Court declares part of DOMA unconstitutional
June 26, 2013 –- Washington, D.C.
Edith Windsor's same-sex partner died, leaving Windsor her entire estate. Windsor was denied the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses because the term “spouse” only applied to heterosexual marriages. In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act’s federal definition of marriage as a man and a woman was unconstitutional, opening the floodgates for a series of lawsuits overturning bans on same-sex marriage at the state level.
– California Proposition 8 overturned
June 26, 2013 – San Francisco
California Proposition 8 was a successful ballot initiative in 2008 for a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages. Approved by voters and upheld by state court, it was ruled unconstitutional by federal courts. When the state refused to appeal, proponents of the proposition sought appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the proponents did not have standing to appeal. Although the Supreme Court did not address the amendment's constitutionality, the dismissal legalized same-sex marriage in California by allowing a previous district court ruling to stand.
– Photographer refuses to photograph same-sex ceremony
Aug. 22, 2013 – Santa Fe, N.M.
Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, owners of Elane Photography in New Mexico, are among many Christians whose religious liberty has been challenged by the government over their Christian beliefs about marriage.
Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Although the couple was able to find another photographer, they filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. The case went to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which ruled that the refusal violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act.
– Bakery refuses to bake cake for same-sex ceremony
Jan. 17, 2014 – Gresham, Ore.
Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Oregon, refused to bake a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries brought charges that the Kleins had discriminated against the same-sex couple. They may now face fines of up to $150,000 in upcoming court action. The couple closed their bakery in the summer of 2013 and is now operating in a limited capacity out of their home.
– Mozilla CEO pressured to resign
April 3, 2014 – Mountain View, Calif.
Brendan Eich helped found Mozilla, a software and technology company, and held leadership roles throughout its history. In 2008, he donated $1,000 to support California Proposition 8, which defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. When he was promoted to CEO on March 24, 2014, opponents to Prop 8 stirred up controversy over his 2008 donation. He resigned less than two weeks later on April 3 after protests from activists, Mozilla employees and other companies.
– HGTV drops TV show with Benham brothers
May 7, 2014 – Concord, N.C.
Jason and David Benham, two brothers who work in real estate, were slated to star in a new show on HGTV called “Flip It Forward” in which the brothers would help transform a fixer-upper home for a family. After the media publicized the brothers’ stance against homosexuality and the homosexual agenda, HGTV canceled the show before it aired.
– Bakery refuses to bake cake for same-sex wedding
May 30, 2014 – Lakewood, Colo.
Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, declined to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding celebration. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that he had illegally discriminated against the customers and that he must change his business policies, conduct staff training and submit quarterly compliance reports for two years.
– Tenth Circuit court legalizes same-sex marriage
June 10, 2014 – Denver, Colo.
A lower court ruling striking down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was upheld by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision is binding in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.
– Fourth Circuit court legalizes same-sex marriage
July 28, 2014 – Richmond, Va.
A lower court ruling striking down a same-sex marriage ban in Virginia was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision is binding in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
– InterVarsity de-recognized at California State University
August 2014 – Long Beach, Calif.
California State University issued a policy requiring student organizations to allow any student the opportunity to hold a leadership position. Collegiate ministry InterVarsity refused to comply with this policy, as their organization’s policy requires leaders to adhere to a statement of faith. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, InterVarsity was de-recognized at CSU’s 23 campuses, denying the group access to certain campus resources and events.
– Farm refuses to host same-sex wedding
Aug. 8, 2014 – Schaghticoke, N.Y.
Cynthia and Robert Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm in upstate New York, refused to host a same-sex wedding on their property. The judge ruled the couple had violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws and ordered that they pay $13,000 in fines and restitution. After the ruling, the couple announced they would no longer host any weddings on their property.
– Seventh Circuit court legalizes same-sex marriage
Sept. 4, 2014 – Chicago, Ill.
Lower court rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin were upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision is binding in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
– Ninth Circuit court legalizes same-sex marriage
Oct. 7, 2014 – San Francisco
Same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada were struck down by the Ninth District Court of Appeals. This decision is binding in Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon and Washington.
– T-shirt vendor refuses to print gay pride shirt
Oct. 7, 2014 – Lexington, Ky.
Blaine Adamson, owner of T-shirt printing company Hands On Originals, refused to print shirts for the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization for Lexington’s 2012 Pride Festival. The Lexington Human Rights Commission ruled that Adamson violated a city fairness ordinance by discriminating against the GLSO.
– 19 Kids and Counting controversy
November 2014 – Tontitown, Ark.
In part due to the Duggar family’s efforts to oppose a Fayetteville, Ark., anti-discrimination ordinance, more than 1,000 people signed a petition for cable network TLC to cancel their show “19 Kids and Counting.” A counter-petition garnered even more signatures as of the end of 2014. TLC has not responded to the petitions.
– Fire chief Kelvin Cochran fired
Jan. 6, 2015 – Atlanta, Ga.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed dismissed Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran following an investigation into Cochran’s book “Who Told You That You Were Naked?”, which calls homosexual behavior immoral. Though a city investigation found no evidence that Cochran had discriminated against homosexuals, Reed cited policy violations and possible lawsuits against the city as reasons for his termination.
– Mayor won't allow churches to meet in public schools
Jan. 15, 2015 – New York City
An appeals court ruled that New York City’s policy preventing churches from renting space in public schools for worship services is constitutional. Bronx Household of Faith petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court defending the policy, despite de Blasio voicing his opposition to the policy during his 2013 mayoral campaign.
– Answers in Genesis denied tax benefits
Feb. 3, 2015 – Petersburg, Ky.
In 2014, the government of Kentucky granted preliminary approval for a tax rebate, offered by the Kentucky Tourism Development Act, to apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis (AiG) for the construction of its theme park Ark Encounter. On Dec. 10 of last year, the state reversed its decision and denied the incentive. AiG filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination by the state because it is a religious organization.
– Ala. federal district judge reverses state constitution
Feb. 9, 2015 – Mobile, Ala.
On Jan. 23, 2015, federal district court Judge Callie V.S. Granade ruled that the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment to Alabama’s constitution violates the federal Constitution and that same-sex marriage would become legal in the state on Feb. 9. That day, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request by state officials to stay the ruling pending appeals. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore urged probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying that they were not bound by Granade’s decision. As of Feb. 17, most of the counties had begun issuing marriage licenses. On March 3, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered a halt to the same-sex licenses, posing a direct challenge to the federal court in Mobile.
– Florist refuses to make arrangements for same-sex wedding
Feb. 18, 2015 – Richland, Wash.
Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Washington State, declined a request from a longtime customer to make a flower arrangement for his same-sex wedding. The state attorney general filed suit against both the business and the owner. A judge ruled that she had broken state consumer protection and anti-discrimination laws. Stutzman may be forced to pay penalties as an individual as well as a business.
Liberty & faith victories
– Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day
Aug. 1, 2012 – Atlanta
In an interview, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy spoke about the company’s belief in traditional marriage. It was also revealed that the company had donated money to various causes in support of traditional marriage. LGBT activist groups called for a boycott of Chick-fil-A restaurants. A counter-protest on August 1, dubbed “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” saw record-breaking sales for the company as customers flocked to the restaurants to show their support.
– Duck Dynasty controversy
Dec. 18, 2013 – West Monroe, La.
In an interview, Phil Robertson of the TV show “Duck Dynasty” stated that homosexuality is sinful. The show’s network, A&E, announced they were suspending Robertson from the show indefinitely. In addition, sponsor Cracker Barrel removed Duck Dynasty products from their stores. After fans expressed outrage at the decision, the suspension was lifted and the products were returned to Cracker Barrel shelves.
– Prayer in government meetings allowed
May 5, 2014 – Greece, N.Y.
The town board of Greece, N.Y., held public meetings to address city business, opening each meeting with prayer – usually led by Christian pastors but also by leaders of other faiths at times. The practice was challenged on the grounds that it constituted a government establishment of religion. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Town of Greece v. Galloway, ruled that the prayers are constitutional.
– Hobby Lobby allowed to decline abortifacient insurance coverage
June 30, 2014 – Washington, D.C.
The Christian owners of two businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, objected to an Affordable Care Act mandate that would have forced them to provide coverage for abortifacients in their employee insurance plans. They specifically objected to four out of 20 total required contraceptives that could cause an abortion. The Supreme Court ruled that closely held for-profit corporations could object to the mandate based on religious beliefs.
– Wedding chapel refuses same-sex wedding
Oct. 24, 2014 – Coeur D’Alene, Idaho
The Christian ministers who operate the Hitching Post wedding chapel filed a lawsuit against the city of Coeur D’Alene, contending that the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance would force them to marry same-sex couples. The city initially said the ordinance would apply to the chapel because it is a for-profit corporation but later said it would be exempt as a religious organization.
– Mayor subpoenas pastors for sermons
Oct. 29, 2014 – Houston, Texas
After the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was enacted by the city council in May 2014, opponents petitioned to have the ordinance placed on a ballot for repeal. They submitted more than the required number of signatures, but the city attorney invalidated enough of the signatures to disqualify the petition. The opponents filed suit challenging the disqualification. The city then subpoenaed five pastors for all correspondence, including sermons, on anything related to HERO or homosexuality in general. The mayor withdrew the subpoenas after outcry from people on all sides of the political spectrum. In the court case, a jury’s 10-2 verdict Feb. 13 found nearly 2,500 forgeries among the 54,000 voter signatures but dismissed the city's allegations of fraud. A final judgment on the case now rests with a Houston district court judge.
– Sixth Circuit court upholds states’ same-sex marriage bans
Nov. 6, 2014 – Cincinnati, Ohio
In a move that ran counter to previous circuit court rulings, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rights of the states to decide on same-sex marriage. The ruling sets precedent in the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The Supreme Court will review the ruling and issue an opinion by June of this year, which could either legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country or uphold states' authority to define marriage.
– Minister’s housing allowance stays intact
Nov. 13, 2014 – Chicago
An atheist organization challenged the tax-exempt status of ministers’ housing allowances by saying they were denied the tax benefit for employer-provided housing allowance conditioned on religious affiliation. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the original decision to invalidate the allowance on the grounds that the organization did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit.
– Voters overturn a pro-LGBT city ordinance
Dec. 9, 2014 – Fayetteville, Ark.
Citizens in Fayetteville voted to overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance. Though the ordinance was passed in August 2014, residents collected enough signatures to place it on the ballot for a special election.
– InterVarsity job discrimination case
Feb. 5, 2015 – Grand Rapids, Mich.
Alyce Conlon, spiritual formation specialist for InterVarsity, was put on paid leave in 2011 to work on her marriage and was fired when she and her husband divorced. She sued InterVarsity in 2013 for wrongful termination. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in InterVarsity’s favor in keeping with the principles espoused in EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor, saying that the ministry qualified for a ministerial exception that gives religious organizations broad freedom to choose their leaders.
– Charlotte city council votes down LGBT ordinance
March 2, 2015 – Charlotte, N.C.
Hundreds of concerned citizens gathered at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Building March 2 to express support or opposition to a proposed ordinance to include “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” and “gender expression” as legally protected categories in the city. With more than 100 people speaking at the meeting, each for two minutes and more than 40,000 emails sent to the city council concerning the proposal, the ordinance failed by a 6-5 vote.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rebecca Wolford is communications specialist with the SBC Executive Committee. This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of SBCLIFE, published five times yearly by the Executive Committee.)