Session 2: The Impact of the Courts, part b

Reflection: Religious Liberty goes to court

Recognition and protections for LGBTQ people have been a long-fought battle in our nation. Currently there are no federal laws that would prevent an “out” LGBTQ person from being fired from their job. Religious conviction or religious teaching is cited most often as the reason for opposition to marriage equality – the federal recognition of civil marriage for same-sex couples.

The Southern Baptist Convention filed a “friend of the court” brief before the Northern California United States District Court in favor of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative specifying that marriage must be between one man and one woman. According to this brief, the Southern Baptists have no choice but to oppose same-sex marriage – they are duty bound to defend an understanding of marriage that is rooted in “biblical standards.” Though the ceremonial and civil laws given to Moses in the Old Testament are no longer in force, the brief argues, divinely given moral laws, which are characterized … as eternal and unchanging, must be obeyed.1

Following the historic Obergefell v. Hodges case granting same-sex couples the right to marry in America in 2015, Justice Samuel Alito cautioned that personal opinions expressed in public against same-sex marriage could lead the “politically correct police” to label individuals or institutions as bigots. This fear of suppression was also expressed by many who felt their traditional view of marriage had been taken away. What some saw as “political correctness,” others viewed as showing respect towards others, especially towards those who have historically not received respect from society.

As celebrations, well-wishes, and marriages began to take place across the nation on that day in June, following the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, a threat to these couples and their families loomed overhead. It was a threat that has been seen in our nation before and many marriage equality activists saw it coming – denying access to marriage licenses on the basis of the “religious conviction.”

On Monday, a same-sex couple entered the county clerk’s office of Rowan County, Kentucky to ask for a marriage license. Kim Davis, the local county clerk, refused, openly defying the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. When the couple demanded to know under whose authority she could deny them their legal right, Davis appealed not to the high courts, but to a higher power. “Under God’s authority,” she said defiantly, staring back at the questioner.2

Many Progressives hoped that once the opponents of marriage equality had their day in court, they would accept defeat and move on. However, it is naive to think that most people accept defeat graciously, especially when the stakes are high. For many, there is nothing higher than the stakes of the moral character of their nation. Some Christian leaders categorize this as a war of “good versus evil” or “light versus dark.” This is language that resonates well with many church-goers. As one article stated, “Another cue Conservative Christians are taking from their Obergefell defeat: Don’t focus too heavily on gay and lesbian peoples’ sex lives. Instead, focus on religious liberty issues that have nothing to do with the bedroom.”3

Questions: Protections from the Courts?

  1. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble …
    Should people have the right to express their opinions without fear of backlash? What are the consequences of this?
  2. When you hear those in the judicial system (lawyers, judges, Supreme Court Justices) expressing their political points of view, is that a cause for alarm or just the way things are?




1 Jennifer Knust Wright, Unprotected Texts (New York: Harper One, 2011): 8.

2 Jack Jenkins, “The Religious Beliefs of Kim Davis, the Anti-Gay Clerk who Refused to do her Job.” Think Progress, September 2, 2015  (Accessed on September 28, 2017).

3 Ibid