In one of the most anticipated US Supreme Court cases in living memory, the Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that state bans to same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, thus legalizing same-sex marriage for the country. Christianity Today offers an overview of what the ruling says and what it might mean for religious freedom. We recently published articles on the key points from the decision and the uncertainty churches face with the ruling.
Attorney and Senior Editorial Advisor Richard Hammar will go deeper on the same-sex marriage decision and what it means for churches and clergy in the September/October issue of Church Law & Tax Report.
Black Churches on Fire
In the week and a half after the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting that killed nine individuals at Emanuel AME Church, six fires at black churches in the south have been reported, according to NPR. Two of those fires—one in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the other in Knoxville, Tennessee—are being investigated as arson. Another fire at a church in Macon, Georgia, is being investigated as “suspicious,” though two other church fires in Gibson County, Tennessee, and Tallahassee, Florida, were likely caused by lightning and electrical problems respectively. At least one of the six reported fires is being investigated as a hate crime.
Read Church Law & Tax’s article, “Preventing Arson,” for what your church can do to avoid becoming a statistic.
County clerks in the state of Texas who object to same-sex marriage due to personal or religious beliefs can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” wrote Paxton, according to Reuters. Paxton said that though county officials who refused to issue licenses to gay couples might be sued, the law would likely protect them. The truth of that statement, however, remains to be seen.
In the wake of the Charleston slaying by an individual who posed for pictures with a prominent Confederate flag, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., said that he would call for the governing body of the church to remove the cathedral’s two stained-glass windows put in place to honor Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The windows depict Confederate flags. Hall said, “We can live with some contradictions until we can’t,” according to CNN. Hall also said that though the Cathedral should be a “house of prayer for all people,” that was impossible while the church displayed “a symbol of racism, slavery, and oppression.”
A few years ago, Christianity Today wrote an article highlighting a religious breakdown of Americans’ reactions to seeing the Confederate flag.
Vaccines over Religion
The California Assembly, the legislative branch of the state government, has passed a measure that would eliminate vaccination exemptions based on religious or other personal beliefs, reports the L.A. Times. Only those with substantiated medical reasons for an exemption would be off the hook for getting vaccinated against diseases, such as measles and whooping cough. It remains to be seen if Governor Jerry Brown will sign the bill into law. The L.A. Times notes that if the measure is passed into law, California would become “the 32nd state to deny exemptions grounded in personal or moral beliefs, but only the third to bar exceptions based on religious convictions.”
Learn more about how such laws affect churches and religious schools in Church Law & Tax’s article on the unvaccinated movement and churches.
Conversion Therapy is ‘Fraud’
On June 25, a New Jersey Superior Court found that JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, was guilty of consumer fraud. JONAH claims to help individuals with same-sex attraction be attracted to opposite-sex individuals instead. The lawsuit claimed that JONAH and several of its leaders misrepresented the group’s methods as scientifically based. After hearing stories that therapy sessions included clients being asked to “undress and touch themselves” and “beat effigies of their mothers with a tennis racket,” a jury concluded that JONAH’s methods “constituted an unconscionable commercial practice,” according to Religion News Service (RNS). The jury awarded the plaintiffs over $72,000 in damages.
RNS reports that New Jersey, California, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., have all outlawed licensed therapists from providing “conversion therapy” to minors. In May of this year, a bill was introduced before the US Congress that, according to RNS, would “classify commercial conversion therapy that claims to change sexual orientation and gender identity as fraud.”
Our guide on Boundaries for Healthy Church Relationships can help keep your ministry safe from litigation and wrongdoing.
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