Court Battles

Legal experts: same-sex marriage ruling threatens religious freedoms

Legal experts and advocates for religious freedom are concerned about how the Supreme Court’s sweeping ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country will impact churches, and religious colleges and universities.

During a panel discussion hosted by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, on Tuesday, Attorney Gene Schaerr said the decision could impact tax statuses, accreditations and employment decisions.

“The opinion launches a bunch of grenades that are still in the air,” he said.

He pointed to an exchange Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing on behalf of the couples, had with Justice Samuel Alito during April’s oral arguments in the case. When Alito asked Verrilli if the court’s holding that a college was not entitled to tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage would apply to a university or college if it opposed same-sex marriage, Verrilli said “it’s certainly going to be an issue. i don’t deny that.”

The fact that the Obama administration has not done anything to walk back Verrilli’s remarks, Schaerr said could signal that the administrations is planning to issue regulations that would deny tax-exempt status to religious institutions that refuse to recognize same-sex marriage.

What’s scarier, he said is the impact the decision could have on the licensing of religious schools. 

“Schools depend on the ability to get accredited in order for their students to get federal funding and their students rely on the school’s accreditation to get jobs in a lot of professions,” Schaerr said. “If same-sex marriage is the law of the land and constitutionally required, isn’t it possible that accrediting bodies are going to start pressuring religious colleges to recognize same-sex marriage in order to get accredited?”

To restore religious liberties, Schaerr said protections are needed at the state and federal level. He said the First Amendment Defense Act, which Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Ind.) introduced last week, deserves public support.  

The bill would prevent any federal agency from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license or certification to an individual, association, or business based on their belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

Others believe there needs to be a change in who is nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court bench.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for Judicial Crisis Network, said the next president needs to be committed to choosing justices who are committed to upholding the principles of the Constitution and willing to stand up to that commitment when under public pressure.

“All the dissenters highlighted their concerns for religious freedom coming out of the decision,” she said. “This is going to be an issue going forward.”

Tags Family Marriage Mike Lee Same-sex marriage Same-sex marriage in the United States

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