RFRAs, LGBTQ and the Christian Response

RFRAs, LGBTQ and the Christian Response


Americans Helped by RFRA Laws:

Chuck Schumer wrote the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that was almost unanimously passed and signed by Bill Clinton. This was to correct a bad Supreme Court decision by Antonin Scalia that limited the religious freedoms for Native Americans who smoke peyote in ceremonies. An RFRA allows those with religious beliefs to challenge any government activities that usurp those religious beliefs. There has to be proof the government’s activities substantially burdens religious beliefs according an RFRA.

On March 10, the federal government returned eagle feathers that had been seized nine years ago from Native American leader and feather dancer Robert Soto. When Soto legally addressed the confiscation of the eagle feathers, he was facing 15 years in a federal prison and a $250,000 fine on the grounds of the law. Undercover agents went to a powwow in 2006 to confiscate the eagle feathers central to Soto’s Native American faith. The federal government does not allow anyone to own eagle feathers without a permit and they only give permits to museums, scientists, zoos, farmers, large power companies and federally recognized tribes. The Lipan Apaches are recognized by Texas, historians and sociologists, but they are not recognized by the federal government. However, the RFRA still disagreed with the confiscation of the eagle feathers and Lipan Apaches are now recognized by the federal government because of the RFRA.

A federal employee, Kawal Tagore, was baptized into the Sikh faith. Tagore carried a kirpan (an emblem that looks like a small knife with a curved, blunt blade), one of five things, that reminded those who are baptized of their Sikh faith and they are always supposed to carry with them. She was sent home from her federal job with the IRS in Houston, Texas and she was told not to return. The federal building, however, allowed knives, knives, scissors, box cutters and other sharper blades than her kirpan. She worked from home for a while and was fired after nine months. She appealed under the RFRA protection and on November 4, 2014 the government agreed to a settlement.

An RFRA does not guarantee who will win the dispute. The government has to meet appropriate standards before violating religious liberties. An interfaith group of 40 urban Chicago churches tried to fight a Chicago zoning law that only allows churches in business and commercial areas if they have a special permit. The permit is promptly required, expensive, complicated and controlled by politics. The Civil Liberties for Urban Believers (CLUB) sued Chicago under the Illinois RFRA showing the substantial burden on churches who wanted to occupy city property. The 7th Court of Appeals found that there was not any substantial burden placed on the churches and that appellants failed to make a sufficient showing of essential elements of religious liberty statutes. RFRA does not guarantee a win, it is simply a means to push back against the government.

Most of the dominant religions in the United States believe it is acceptable to kill and eat goats, but not in a residential area. However, not all religions share that view. In 1990, Jose Merced moved to Euless, Texas. Merced was a priest for Santeria Oba Oriate. Merced had performed animal sacrifices essential to Santeria for 16 years. In 2006, Euless told Merced to stop. He sued the city under the Texas RFRA. Modern-day Santeria began in Cuba and is a blend of a Western African tribal religion and Roman Catholicism. They engage orishas, or spirits, using the life force they get through the sacrificing of animals. Practitioners worship at home. There are very few Santeria temples in the world and none of them are in the United States. On special occasions such as ordinations, the worship calls for the sacrifice of a four-legged animal and other types of animals. This is in direct conflict with many Texas codes. However, Merced won his case in 2009 with the RFRA.

Adriel Arocha was a long-haired Native American getting ready to start kindergarten in Needleville, Texas. School policy required all students to be well-groomed. The grooming policy for the boys said that his hair could not touch his ears or his shirt collar. The policy’s purpose was to instill discipline, teach proper hygiene, avoid safety hazards, assert authority and prevent disruption. His parents filed for an exemption but because Native American religious practices are handed down to each generation orally, they were unable to present proper documentation of their religious practice. However, the school was violating RFRA Texas law. The ACLU supported RFRAs vocally then, and they gave the family an award for fighting for their religious liberty. Recently, however, the ACLU has sent out a press release opposing RFRA law.

RFRA laws have helped state and federal prisoners. RFRAs have also helped churches win the right to drink sacramental hallucinogenic tea, however, the feds argued to uniformly apply the state drug law with no accommodations for the Brazilian church to advance drug prohibition interests. The Supreme Court disagreed. This is a prime example as to why RFRAs are important, the church won exemption from federal law to use the hallucinogenic tea, because of the RFRA but the church is not exempt from the state law.

All states, except New Hampshire and Vermont base their drug laws on the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits the hallucinogenic tea. They do not make exceptions for religious use of any kind. In these states, members of the Uniao do Vegetal are under the constant threat of criminal and civil penalties in order to practice their religion.

The RFRA laws even allow for weed churches. The Quaintance’s founded the Church of Cognizance and they believe that marijuana is a deity and a sacrament. They sincerely believe that possession and consumption is essential to their religious exercise.

Religious Issue:

In the Washington Post, Tim Cook was quoted as saying, “This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other has human beings.” A student was punished for his religious practice by his elementary school, Orthodox Jews in Dallas did not have a synagogue for worship but RFRAs changed these situations.

The anger surrounding the Indiana RFRA is that its wording is an expansion of other bills to make sure businesses are protected. Those who oppose this bill, do so because there is a fear that the change will allow businesses to discriminate against people in the LGBTQ community. All the RFRA does is provide individuals and businesses the right to file litigation and have their day in court. There are no guarantees to who wins.

The Christian Calling

It is everyone’s duty to listen and try to understand. The RFRA law is causing concerns in the LGBTQ community because either Christians are not credible, or because the frustration and anger surrounding the RFRA is really about Christian judgement. There is the concern that Christians will use the RFRA to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. This is a valid concern as it has already happened. Christians do not have the best record when it comes to working alongside anyone affiliated with LGBTQ.

LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than their peers. Of the LGBTQ population, 40 percent of them are homeless. Students who identify as LGBTQ are five times more likely to skip school and nine out of ten of them have been bullied in the last year. Christians do far too little to help.

The case against same-sex marriage has been the rallying point for Christians.  When World Vision changed their employee policy, the evangelical world stopped supporting the impoverished children. The LGBTQ community understood that to mean that Christians would rather allow children to starve before working alongside LGBTQ.

After the ECLA changed its stance on same-sex marriage, a tornado went through Minneapolis. Christians claimed the natural disaster to be God’s judgement on the ECLA. Christians have blamed Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, as well as 9/11 on homosexuals. Instead of finding ways to reach out and help their neighbors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, Christians are causing the most pain.

What would it be like to be told you are not loveable and to be treated as if everyone was made in the image of God except you? LGBTQ individuals are being rejected by the very people who claim to speak for the God of love. The outcry and the anger is not really about the RFRA, it is about Christians. There is a valid fear of discrimination based on a history Christians must own.

It is the job of Christians to restore, rebuild and reconcile relationships with LGBTQ individuals because Christians, as followers of Jesus, are called to be ministers of reconciliation. The debate of same-sex marriage is over. The morality of it is over. There is no convincing today’s culture and society that same-sex marriage is immoral. Move onward.

The question being asked of Christians by the LGBTQ community today, is, “Will you treat us as human beings?” That is it. The desire to be treated as humans, seen as humans and to enjoy life. Everyone wants that.

If Jesus can make 120-180 gallons of wine for a wedding party that was already hours in and not be condoning or celebrating drunkenness, would he not make a cake for a wedding He had theological issues with? It is done all the time. Christians make cakes for Jewish weddings, weddings for people who are not divorced for Biblical reasons, atheist weddings and even Wiccan weddings. To choose one lifestyle to be disapproving of and refuse services to is hypocritical.

Nowhere in the Gospels did Jesus refuse anyone. Not anyone who thought differently than He did, or even believed in Him. There was the Samaritan woman, the Roman Centurion, the Syrophoenician woman, tax collectors, fishermen, prostitutes, even lepers and so-on.  Jesus met everyone with grace. He went to extremes to love human beings, which is why John says, “We love because God first loved us.” Christians are to freely give grace too, even to those people not liked or agreed with, even enemies. Christians are to give grace to those who deserve it the least.

The Christian mantra of “love the sinner, hate the sin” is just a loud, clanking gong. That is all that can be heard when those words are spoken. When Christians fear a law that may force them to serve someone, it truly means those people are not loved.

Christians, stop focusing on religious rights, the RFRA, and focus on relationship responsibilities. Responsibilities to love others the way Christ loved, to lay down for another, as Christ did and to give grace with reckless abandon. Christians are called to comfort the hurting, the broken-hearted and speak for the oppressed, even if they have a different theology, lifestyle and make different choices. Christians need to listen more, and all this means that religious freedoms may have to take a back seat.

By Jeanette Smith


Nate Pyle

Indy Star

The Federalist

Photo courtesy of Greta PPP – Flickr License