Christian Colleges and Businesses Wonder How Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Will Affect Policies

Jul 09, 2015 05:21 PM EDT

Many Christian colleges and businesses across the United States adhere to the Bible-based belief that traditional marriage is between one man and one woman. However, the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage could impact such policies based on those beliefs.

According to Brian McVicar of MLive, legal experts indicated that the high court's decision cannot force institutions such as Christian colleges to change their beliefs or practices. However, both their tax-exempt status and federal benefits could be affected.

"The ruling itself doesn't actually have any impact at all outside of recognizing same-sex marriage as a fundamental right," professor Frank Ravitch of Michigan State University's College of Law said. "At least for religiously affiliated entities, the risk isn't interfering with their beliefs or practices."

Ravitch added that for Christian colleges and other similar institutions, "it's going to be more a question of whether or not they're going to be subject to revocation of tax-exempt status down the road."

According to McVicar, there are two Christian colleges in Michigan: Cornerstone University and Calvin College. Both Christian educational institutions uphold the traditional meaning of marriage.

"At this point, whether federal officials will move in that direction is unknown," McVicar wrote in regards to the tax-exempt status of Christian colleges. "But it's an issue that's on the minds of leaders at many institutions."

Ravitch pointed out that institutions granted tax-exempt status cannot violate the fundamental rights or civil liberties of an individual. Such protections currently extended to characteristics such as race, religion, sex and national origin.

"It's unclear whether it would apply to sexual orientation," Ravitch said. "The IRS does not have to grant (nonprofit) status to entities that are violating people's fundamental rights."

However, Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued in an article published by the Huffington Post that "religious freedom" is being invoked by government employees, universities, corporations and individuals who "don't want to deal with LGBT clients." His organization has launched the "Protect Thy Neighbor" project, which aims to "fight back against these warped definitions of religious freedom" in his opinion.

"You may notice that the name of this new initiative has a biblical ring to it. That is intentional," Lynn wrote. "All religions (and secular philosophies) teach the idea that we should look out for and care for one another."

Lynn warned that anyone who attempted "to use religious freedom as a shield for bigotry and an assault on human dignity" would face the wrath of his organization.

"This sort of religious-based bullying must be overcome," Lynn wrote. "At Americans United, we believe strongly that the constitutionally guaranteed right to religious freedom does not permit anyone to use their personal beliefs as a weapon to harm others."

To counter that point of view, Damon Linker of The Week argued in favor of judicial restraint. He wondered why the LGBT community and Christians, at least on the conservative end, cannot find a way to coexist.

"Part of me found Chief Justice John Roberts' eloquent, cautious, and measured dissent more persuasive than [Justice Anthony] Kennedy's often moving but legally gaseous appeals to high moral ideals that he and the four Democratic-appointed justices consider to be self-evident, but that four of their colleagues, and millions of their fellow citizens, obviously do not," Linker wrote.

Linker explained the reasoning behind the resistance of the Supreme Court's ruling from his conservative friends.

"They're genuinely frightened that they're about to run afoul of anti-discrimination laws just by virtue of continuing to uphold age-old ideals of marriage," Linker wrote. "It's this fear that's inspired some of these friends to make what can sound at first like bizarre and self-pitying parallels to the persecution of Christians in pagan Rome and under communism."

Linker came up with a proposal that the LGBT community could advocate for while fighting "workplace and other forms of discrimination."

"Every proposed expansion of state and federal anti-discrimination law to cover homosexuality must include explicit carve-outs regarding same-sex marriage for churches and religiously affiliated institutions, as well as for small businesses owned by conservative Christians," Linker wrote.

Linker acknowledged that "there's very little chance that the government will force a church to marry a gay or lesbian couple, or forbid a priest or pastor from preaching from the pulpit against same-sex marriage." However, he pointed out that Christians have to live in the world outside of the church.

"Throughout American history, the First Amendment has been understood to permit these Christians to act in the world as moral representatives of their faith communities - to exercise their religion by forming and joining groups in civil society that are affiliated with their churches or advance their moral vision of the world," Linker wrote. "These might be private schools, colleges, and universities, or hospitals, soup kitchens, and other charities. They might be businesses whose owners want to express their Christian faith (as they understand it) in their dealings with customers."

Linker warned that there would be consequences if the government ever decided to use "its coercive powers" to compel conservative Christian colleges and businesses "to choose between survival and denying their religious convictions."

"It would mark a sea change in the country's historic attitude toward faith, signaling a shift away from the characteristically American ideal of religious pluralism and toward the far more draconian form of secularism (laïcité) that's dominated France since the French Revolution," Linker wrote.

According to Linker, the legalization of same-sex marriage by the high court does not have to lead to "unjustly suffered political persecution" of conservative Christians. He noted that they are also citizens of the United States.

"Many of them are good and decent people trying their best to uphold a vision of marriage they can trace back 2,000 years to the founder of their faith. Yes, this vision is incompatible with same-sex marriage," Linker wrote. "But free societies should not require as the price of admission to public life the conformity to a comprehensive moral outlook or ideology - and neither should they require the complete public suppression of theological commitments."