In an attempt to affirm “every American’s freedom to peacefully live their lives according to their beliefs,” 75 religious leaders came together this past week as charter signatories of “Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion”, a statement that “opposes government coercion or censorship of fellow citizens who have different views.” United by the idea that all laws must respect religious freedom and promote justice for all, those signing the statement decry the ways in which “efforts to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classifications in the law have threatened basic freedoms of religion, conscience, speech, and association; violate privacy rights; and expose citizens to significant legal and financial liability for practicing their beliefs in the public square.”
Often referred to as SOGI laws, these types of discriminatory laws are not new. More than a decade ago, Catholic Charities of Boston ended all adoption services because the State of Massachusetts mandated that all religious adoption service providers place children with same-sex couples—a mandate that is counter to Catholic teachings on the best interests of children. Forced to end their nearly 20-year contract with the Massachusetts Department of Social Services to provide adoption services in the State, Catholic Charities had no choice because the State of Massachusetts afforded no exemption for religious organizations.
That was just the start. Today, religious organizations are faced with an even greater threat to religious liberty—this time on a national level—as sexual orientation and gender identity are added as protected classifications in the laws at the federal, state, and local levels. These mandates threaten basic freedom of religion—violating privacy rights and exposing citizens to sacrifice their deepest convictions on marriage and what it means to be male and female.
SOGI laws have already forced some businesses to violate their moral and religious convictions—or else give up their businesses. A 2013 essay listed more than a dozen Christian wedding vendors who were under attack because of threats, boycotts, protests and the intervention of State or judicial authorities because they denied wedding services for same-sex nuptials because of their Christian faith. The small company Sweet Cakes by Melissa was one of the first to close because of lawsuits filed against them because they refused to provide catering services for a lesbian couple. Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado endured a discrimination complaint from the State Attorney General, and Gortz Haus in Iowa has had to contend with a complaint against them with the state civil rights commission because they declined to host a gay wedding. The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association—a Methodist-owned events venue in New Jersey—was found to have violated state law when it refused to host a gay wedding, and then lost its state tax exemption because it no longer met the requirements as a place open to all members of the public. Elaine Photography in New Mexico was hauled before the state Supreme Court because they declined to provide photography services to a same-sex “commitment ceremony”, and Arlene’s Flowers in Washington faced a lawsuit from the state Attorney General. In Iowa and Massachusetts, there are houses of worship that are under attack as churches are facing government imposed mandates requiring them to open their restrooms to individuals based on their subjectively determined sex rather than their biological reality. There are dozens more.
Now, in its continued commitment to infringing upon the rights of religious healthcare providers, the Obama administration has mandated that doctors and hospitals may not “deny or limit treatment” to those seeking sex reassignment procedures—even when these procedures run contrary to the provider’s religious beliefs and medical judgement. Recently, the religious providers fought back. Filing a lawsuit, representing over 17,000 physicians, in a Texas federal court, a coalition of religious healthcare providers, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty charged that Obama’s HHS “overstepped its bounds” by requiring doctors to participate in sex reassignment procedures—including sex reassignment services and procedures on young children. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas—the same court that temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s overreach on transgender bathrooms in the nation’s public schools.
SOGI laws use the force of the law to punish Churches, schools, physicians, and individuals—many of them small business owners—who seek to run their businesses in accord with their consciences. They threaten fundamental freedoms by empowering the government to use the force of law to silence or punish Americans who seek to exercise their God-given liberty to peacefully live and work consistent with their faith or convictions. Those who signed the statement—myself included—reject SOGI laws in all their forms at the federal, state and local levels because of the “serious threat that SOGI laws pose to fundamental freedoms guaranteed to every person.” We believe that SOGI laws treat reasonable religious and philosophical beliefs as discriminatory, and we ask that these laws be rejected because they undermine the public good and diminish freedom for individuals and organizations alike.