Nearly 1,300 Faith Leaders File SCOTUS Brief Saying Religious Beliefs Do Not Justify Discrimination

By Adam Polaski • October 31, 2017 • 7:07 pm

Nearly 1,300 clergy and faith leaders representing 500,000 congregants from approximately 50 unique faith traditions across the U.S. joined together this week to send a clear message that businesses open to the public must serve all. The clergy filed a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case.

More than 85 national religious leaders signed the brief including the leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Metropolitan Community Church, the Alliance of Baptists, Muslims for Progressive Values, and Reconstructionist Judaism. The presidents of ten seminaries and the leaders of 40 religious organizations also signed the brief.

The brief filed this week highlights the dangers of the exemptions being sought in this case and makes the argument that there should not be a license to discriminate based on faith. The brief states, in part:

“It is both morally wrong and not constitutionally required to permit blanket discrimination in the public marketplace for goods and services based on the personal religious beliefs of merchants with respect to same-sex couples’ rights and relationships. Amici believe that, to the contrary, public accommodation laws should be applied on the basis of religiously neutral principles of equal protection under the law.”

Read the full brief here.

The crux of  the argument is that there is no conflict between freedom of religion and equality.

Freedom for All Americans is proud to have worked with the Religious Institute, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and many state and local organizations on supporting outreach for the brief.

Freedom for All Americans and the Religious Institute have collected the stories of several of the faith leaders whose names appear on the brief, making a forceful argument for what’s at stake with this case — for LGBTQ people, for the faithful, and everybody else. According to the brief, its signers “represent traditions rooted in centuries of American history and who affirm religious liberty, human dignity, and equal rights.”

Rev. Dr. Terence Leathers • Pastor of Mt. Vernon Christian Church in Clayton, NC

“As a faith leader and a believer in the beloved community, it’s incomprehensible to me how anyone, much less the owner of a business that serves the public, could refuse to treat someone the same way as they’d treat anyone else. That attitude directly contradicts the Sermon on the Mount, which underlines the importance of loving people and emphasizes that we are the light of the world and that we show in public what the love of God looks like; even in a bakery.  We represent and practice unconditional love. … Indeed, African-Americans are familiar with this attempt to justify discrimination: during the civil rights movement, business owners grasped for any reason they could, faith-based or otherwise, to refuse to treat black and white customers equally. The steady trajectory of American history indicates our country’s commitment to equal treatment, and must continue in that direction. We decided a long ago as a nation that when a business is open to the public, it can’t pick and choose whom to serve — it must be open to everybody on the same terms.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL • Co-Executive Director of the National Coalition of American Nuns

“I am not a lawyer, so I do not know the fine legal arguments of the case; I know only that my faith tells me that discrimination against persons, even those with whom I disagree, is wrong. If someone, whose political, social, or religious views I did not share, came to my house, I would surely offer them a cake and a comfortable cup of tea, as Jesus would do. So why would I not sell them the same?”

Rev. Marie Alford-Harkey • President & CEO of the Religious Institute

“It has been said that this case is about religious freedom or protecting religious beliefs, but as you can see from the broad range of religious leaders on this brief, that is not true. Our faiths affirm the inherent worth and dignity of LGBTQ people and our relationships. We believe LGBTQ people should be treated equally under civic law, and we are the growing majority. For us, this case is about seeking justice for LGBTQ people, being present with those on the margins, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, without exception. Our faith traditions require nothing less.”

Brian D. McLaren • Author, Speaker and Former Pastor

“When I was a boy, growing up in a fundamentalist Christian context, I remember hearing preachers (including my own relatives) give a theological defense for segregation and apartheid, complete with Bible verses as proof-texts. For them, discriminating based on race was a matter of religious liberty – resulting in segregated schools, “anti-miscegenation laws,” segregated housing, and “separate but equal” oppression. So when I hear “religious liberty” used as a reason for discrimination against LGBTQ persons today, I hear those echoes and I speak up for those being discriminated against, not for those defending their discrimination. As the saying goes, even the devil can quote Scripture.”

Iman M. Jodeh, MPA • Director & Co-Founder, Meet the Middle East


“As a Muslim, Arab, and American, I believe this case extends far beyond a gross violation of civil liberties. This opens the door for blatant bigotry and fear mongering toward already marginalized communities. We choose to fight back using the power of love and compassion, two values we can all endorse.”

The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis • Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church in New York, NY

“The term “religious freedom” is really about religious exemption. As a Christian pastor, I believe Rabbi Jesus opened doors. And as a black woman, I recognize that our freedoms are interconnected. The rights of our LGBT siblings, our Muslim family, African-Americans, and refugees are all interrelated. As Christians, we are called to work for the marginalized and celebrate the divine in each person.”

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray • President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

“This case is about equal protection for all people under our Constitution, not a spurious notion of ‘religious freedom’. Religious freedom means that people have the right to gather into religious communities of their choice, according to their conscience, without fear of persecution. It means the government cannot impose religious beliefs or practices on the people nor show preference for any particular religion. Religious freedom does not mean that faith can be used as an excuse to discriminate, and as a faith leader I strongly condemn any attempt to do so.”

Rev. Dr. Brian J. Henderson • Senior Minister, First Baptist Church of Denver, Denver, CO

“As a people that stand within a Baptist heritage, and that claims freedom of religion as one of our hallmarks, such a freedom does not allow us to discriminate; rather, it calls us to understand ourselves in an ever evolving diversity of humanity.”

Rev. Teresa Hord Owens • General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

“As a faith leader, I believe in a moral vision that affirms equality and justice for all. I believe that all people have inherent dignity and worth and that LGBTQ people deserve access to the same rights and privileges as everyone else. Non-discrimination laws are essential to protecting the rights of LGBTQ people and ensuring that the law does not privilege one set of religious beliefs. As a Christian leader, I believe that love is at the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.  Love therefore compels us to honor the human dignity of all persons.  Love cannot support discrimination and harm to other human beings. I joined this brief because I cannot be silent when religion is used to support discrimination and harm to others. As a religious leader and a Christian, I am charged to be with and care for those on the margins. We must safeguard their rights.”

Michael Hidalgo • Lead Pastor, Denver Community Church

“Religion, at it’s best, serves all people, in all places at all times with compassion and love. This leaves no room for discrimination – especially discrimination cloaked in the name of faith.”

Rev. Amanda Henderson, Executive Director of The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado

“Religious Freedom is not a license to discriminate. As people from multiple faith backgrounds we are on the side of love, compassion, equality and opportunity. We will not stand for hate- especially in our name.”

The Rev. Dr. Karen-Marie Yust • Rowe Professor of Christian Education at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA

The Rev. Dr. Karen-Marie Yust is ordained with dual standing in the United Church of Christ and Disciples traditions. She served as a pastor in Boston for eleven years, and has been training new faith leaders for the past twelve. It is very important to her to elevate faith voices in the movement against LGBTQ discrimination, and also to provide resources for her students to engage with these issues.  

“That call of my faith is meant to order every other thing I do, whether I’m in the checkout line, driving in my car, at a political rally, wherever I am,” she said. Her faith calls on her to speak out for justice for everyone.

“My understanding of the Christian faith teaches that the same moral and ethical values that apply to those inside the tradition, apply to those outside of it. Love and appreciate one another. Those values apply to all our human relationships, not just to other Christians. Whatever we are called to do to those who share our beliefs we are called even more so with those outside.”

Rev. Jennifer Butler • CEO of Faith in Public Life

“Religious freedom is a core American value protected by the Constitution. The Trump administration’s recent executive order has given a green light to those who invoke this freedom to justify discrimination. This is a huge step backward for religious freedom in our nation.”

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