Are We Free to Believe?

    When Alicia Pedreira's co-workers first told her they'd seen her picture at the Kentucky State Fair, she didn't know what they were talking about. Then she figured it out, and set in motion events that could determine the shape of religious liberty in the twenty-first century. In the photograph her co-workers saw, Pedreira, wearing a tank top that identified her as a lesbian, was being embraced by another woman. This was a problem because Pedreira's employer was the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children. Shortly afterwards, Pedreira was fired because, her employer said, a "homosexual lifestyle is contrary to Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children core values." At the urging of friends, and with the support of the ACLU, Pedreira filed suit against the Baptist Homes for Children, alleging that her firing was an act of illegal discrimination. She maintains that if the government can't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, then Baptist Homes, which receives 75 percent of its funding from government sources, shouldn't be able to do so, either. But the case -- which is expected to come to trial later this year -- will affect more than religious nonprofits in Kentucky. Pedreira's lawyers say that if they win, they will then go after the parts of the 1996 "Charitable Choice" law, passed by Congress, which allows groups to make "[adherence] to the religious practice of the organization" a condition of employment. The ACLU isn't the only group taking aim at the religious freedom of religious nonprofits. Liberal groups have urged the President to eliminate what they call "government-funded discrimination" in his Faith Based Initiative. Of course, there's no serious question that Christian nonprofits would discriminate on the basis of race or nationality. What's being called "discrimination" is objections to homosexual or extra-marital heterosexual sex. The ACLU and others believe that's contrary to the principles of the sexual revolution. If Pedreira and her allies prevail, an unmistakable message will have been sent: Sexual freedom will always trump religious freedom. And the only way that believers will be allowed a place in American public life is if they're willing to disregard the moral teachings of their faith. It's hard to overstate how perverse this situation really is. It stands the whole idea of religious freedom on its head. If believers are disqualified from public life because we make moral judgments based on what we believe, then what's the point of the religious freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment? Equally perverse is what will happen to those being served by Christian nonprofits. The President's Faith-Based Initiatives is already under fire from Christian groups who fear that public funding may compromise their beliefs. Cases like this one only reinforce those misgivings and encourage churches to withdraw into a safe little circle. So then who will do the work these Christian groups are doing? The ACLU? The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force? Don't count on it. That's why we need to let our neighbors know what is at stake. It's freedom, and it's helping those in need; it's not discrimination that's at issue here. Judges, remember, read the newspaper and often react to public pressure. So we need to rally support with our neighbors for our position -- before the courts set in motion something that will leave all of us a little less free and a lot worse off. For further reference: Hopgood, Mei-Ling. "Bush Faith-Based Initiative Troubling: Gays Fear It May Promote Discrimination." Dayton Daily News, 8 April 2001; p. 1A.


Chuck Colson


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