Churches, faith groups and religious individuals across the United States are reporting actions that are curtailing their religious freedom and conscience. Here are some examples that show the different ways religious freedom is being challenged. Each situation provides a unique window into the complex facets of this increasingly public debate.
- Gordon College, an evangelical campus in Massachusetts, has been called before the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), the local accrediting body, to justify its “life and conduct statement” — an honor-code style code of conduct which students, faculty, and staff at the small Christian college are bound by, and which prohibits, among other things, “sexual relations outside of marriage and homosexual practice.” If the NEASC does not like what it hears, it has the authority to remove accreditation, or impose other sanctions.
- The Chief of Atlanta’s fire department was fired for publishing a book in which he affirmed his sincerely held religious beliefs about a biblically-orthodox understanding of human sexuality. He was initially suspended after a copy of his book, which only even mentions homosexuality in two sentences, made its way into the hands of city officials. City officials claim he was fired not for his traditional moral beliefs, but for “lack of judgment and failing to obtain permission” to publish the book — a claim which the chief disputes.
- The Christian Legal Society sought official recognition as a student organization at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. To join the society students had to agree with its statement of beliefs about God and adhere to its standards of sexual conduct. Hastings recognizes student groups of nearly every stripe, but refused to recognize CLS unless it admitted anyone who wanted to join, even if they didn’t agree with its statement of beliefs or live by its standards. The United States Supreme Court eventually rejected CLS’s claims.
- A fertility doctor in California was forced to provide artificial insemination services to a gay couple, even though to do so violated his religious beliefs, and even though there were many other fertility specialists in the area who were willing to perform the procedure.
- A small Evangelical church called the Bronx Household of Faith is challenging a New York City policy that bans worship services from taking place in vacant schools but allows other groups to gather in these schools for any reason “pertaining to the welfare of the community.” Though churches and other religious groups are currently meeting in city public schools because of an injunction issued by a District Court, the City of New York appealed the injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The federal court upheld the city ban. The church is appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court.
- A counseling student in Michigan was expelled from her program when she respectfully requested that a gay client be referred to one of numerous other counselors in the nearby area. The student was acting on her religious beliefs and therefore could not provide effective counseling to the client.
- A Baptist-affiliated organization that places at-risk children in adoption or foster care terminated an employee because her admitted homosexual lifestyle was contrary to the organization’s core values. Accusing the organization of sexual orientation discrimination, she brought a federal lawsuit that the organization is still litigating more than a decade later.
- A private Jewish university in New York City was sued by a lesbian couple for its policy of reserving its married student housing for male-female couples. The state’s highest court ruled that the university’s policy could be challenged as violating the city’s ordinance barring housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.