One of the most prized tenets of our American experience is the freedom of religion. So sacred is this concept of non-interference that it is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States and has been the subject of much debate these last few years. The Roman Catholic Church claims that forcing the Church to pay abortions or contraception is a violation of the free practice of the religion. A group of Roman Catholic nuns have sued for the same purpose and then there is the famous Hobby Lobby case and the case of the baker in Arizona who refused to bake a cake for a same sex couple and was sued by them. But what happens when the government passes, or tries to pass, a law that makes it illegal to practice what someone's faith allows them to practice?
On April 28, 2014 the United Church of Christ filed a law suit challenging the North Carolina's ban on same sex marriage. The lawsuit claims that the first article of the North Carolina law makes it a crime for clergy to officiate a marriage between two people of the same sex and therefore limits the practice of their faith as described by their particular denomination.
Being a decentralized church the UCC has allowed the congregations themselves to decide if they will allow their clergy to officiate at same-sex marriages and UCC churches in North Carolina do wish to officiate at such marriages. The UCC has recognized same-sex marriage since 2005. This now becomes a freedom of religion case and the question I have is, why are more churches not joining in this fight for freedom of religion?
I am a strict separationist and even though I do not support the idea of same-sex marriage I do support the right for churches to decide for themselves if they will or will not bless such unions. In my mind there is no difference in the "violation of consciousness" that the Roman Catholic Church claims by being forced to pay for abortions and contraception, then this "violation of consciousness" by making it a crime for clergy to officiate at a marriage that their particular church deems appropriate.
One of the often spoken misperceptions of the anti same-sex marriage group during the run up to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, was that the government would force churches to perform same-sex marriages, well that has proven not to be the case, but the truth is the government has made it illegal, in North Carolina anyway, for clergy to perform marriages, so the reverse has come true.
If you study American history, especially history concerning freedom of religion, the legislators and commentators of the day were not afraid of the church interfering in the work of the government, but the fear was of the government interfering in the work of the church! It would seem their fears have been realized.
As a supporter of freedom, all freedoms, I support anyone's right to say anything they want. If it is slanderous they will have to face the consequences, but I support their right of free speech even if I do not agree with what they are saying. The gun lobby claims that the Second Amendment gives them the right to keep and bear arms without restriction. You want to own an Uzi, own one. I don't agree with that philosophy but I do agree they have the right to believe that and say that and fight for that right, that is what makes America, well, America!
Restriction of freedom is a slippery slope and just as the anti same-sex marriage group was warning about the government forcing me to marry same-sex people, I have to ask if this is allowed to stand, what will be next? What will the next intrusion of the government be on the free exercise of religion?
If we are going to fight for the rights to exercise our faith as our conscience dictates, as is our Constitutional right in the United States, then we must get behind this lawsuit in North Carolina as this is, plain and simple, a freedom of religion question. I do not have to agree with what they want the freedom to do, but I do agree with the right to do it!