MIAMI BEACH — Christians who have so far avoided controversial "culture war" issues will likely be pulled into those battles as their religious freedom becomes threatened due to gay marriage, Dr. John Inazu warned Monday.
Theologically conservative Christian non-profit organizations, including churches, could face losing their tax exempt status or being shut down, and Christian doctors, lawyers, counselors and other professionals could be forced out of their professions, he explained.
Inazu, associate professor of law and political science at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, was delivering a presentation, "Religious Liberty and the American Culture Wars," at the Ethics and Public Policy Center's "Faith Angle Forum."
Even though his personal beliefs often align with conservative Christianity, Inazu explained that he often thought of himself as a "civilian" in the culture wars and he thinks a lot of other Christians feel the same way. These Christians serve their communities and work through ministries that "do a lot of good for society — in education, social services, hospitals, mercy ministries, and many other areas."
To illustrate, he spoke about Focus on the Family and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Focus, he pointed out, used to be considered part of the Christian Right while it was led by James Dobson, but that is no longer the case under its new leader, Jim Daly. Recently, for instance, it partnered with the Gill Foundation, a gay rights group, to help pass an anti-human trafficking bill in Colorado.
As a member of its board, Inazu is even more familiar with the work of InterVarsity. Since its founding in 1946, Inazu explained, InterVarsity has sent tens of thousands of students all over the world to help build infrastructure and serve the poor, sick and dying. The student group has never "really been fighting the culture wars," he noted, and is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse groups around. But InterVarsity has recently found itself on the culture war front lines as some colleges and universities have forced it off campus. Last year, for instance, all the state universities in California required the group to allow non-Christians to be leaders to remain a campus group.
If the Supreme Court rules in June that the U.S. Constitution requires all 50 states to recognize same-sex marriage, Inazu believes that the resulting religious freedom issues will depend much on how the opinion is written. He pointed to an amicus brief in the case submitted by Douglas Laycock, a religious freedom expert and law professor at the University of Virginia law school.
Laycock argued in favor of same-sex marriage, but warned the Court about the religious freedom issues that would inevitably follow.
He wrote, for instance, "Must pastors, priests, and rabbis provide religious marriage counseling to same-sex couples? Must religious colleges provide married student housing to same-sex couples? Must churches and synagogues employ spouses in same-sex marriages, even though such employees would be persistently and publicly flouting the religious teachings they would be hired to promote? Must religious organizations provide spousal fringe benefits to the same-sex spouses of any such employees they do hire? Must religious social-service agencies place children for adoption with same-sex couples? Already, Catholic Charities in Illinois, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia has closed its adoption units because of this issue.
"Religious colleges, summer camps, day care centers, retreat houses, counseling centers, meeting halls, and adoption agencies may be sued under public accommodations laws for refusing to offer their facilities or services to same-sex couples. Or they may be penalized by loss of licensing, accreditation, government contracts, access to public facilities, or tax exemption." (For brevity, all footnotes have been removed.)
During the Court's recent oral arguments on gay marriage, Inazu recalled, President Barack Obama's solicitor general acknowledged that some of these challenges are "going to be an issue" if the Court favors gay marriage. How much of an issue it will be depends on what Inazu calls the "Bob Jones question."
In Bob Jones University vs. United States (1983), the Supreme Court ruled that the Internal Revenue Service was correct to revoke the Christian school's tax exempt status over its interracial dating prohibition. The analogy is important because gay marriage supporters often claim that opposition to gay marriage is bigotry motivated by hatred. If the Supreme Court suggests the same in its ruling, lower courts will be less likely to uphold the religious freedom of traditional marriage supporters.
"Now is a good time to be thinking about the implications of the Bob Jones question: whether we really think Gordon College in 2015 is like Bob Jones in 1983, that InterVarsity is like a neo-Nazi group, and that Tim Keller is like the Grand Wizard of the Klan. If we think there are meaningful differences, then now is a good time to think harder about the rhetoric fueling some of these debates," Inazu said.
Inazu has a book that will be published later this year, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference. Audio of his Faith Angle Forum presentation is available on the Ethics and Public Policy Center website. A transcript will be posted later.