Joe Capley-Alfano, left, and Frank Capley-Alfano of Oakland, Calif., stand in front of the Supreme Court on April 28, 2015, as justices hear arguments about same-sex marriage. Religion News Service photo by Adelle M. Banks

The First Amendment Defense Act is actually bad for religious freedom

WASHINGTON (RNS) As an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, I am occasionally asked to stand with a couple in front of their family and friends to officiate their wedding. Over the years, I've been honored to perform marriage ceremonies for dozens of couples, and had the pleasure of celebrating dozens more weddings of my relatives, friends and colleagues — some gay and others straight.

These couples all have one thing in common: They love each other and have committed to live their lives together. They all equally deserve the full legal rights, protections and benefits of marriage.

Which brings me to my day job: advocating for the fundamental American value of religious freedom. Recently, though, I’ve had to devote much of my time to fight efforts of those who seek to misuse religious liberty to assail some of the marriages I’ve celebrated — those of same-sex couples.

Right now my attention is focused on HR 2802, the deceptively named First Amendment Defense Act, or FADA. A committee in the U.S. House of Representatives is holding a hearing on this harmful bill today (July 12).

The legislation gives special rights to those with a “religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

It would allow individuals, businesses, health care providers and taxpayer-funded social service providers to ignore laws that conflict with those religious beliefs.

The FADA greenlights discrimination against many of our friends, family and neighbors. The list of those who could face harm is long: unmarried couples, couples in which one person has been married before, single mothers and anyone who has sex outside of marriage. We all know, however, that the real target of the law is same-sex couples.

It’s the Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty that shields religious bodies to make decisions about doctrine, including who can take part in important religious rituals or services, such as marriage. My denomination had the freedom to decide to recognize marriage equality, and I am free to perform marriages for a same-sex couple if asked. At the same time, of course, other denominations and faiths with different religious views on marriage are free to take a different position. But religious freedom does not mean that any religion can use the government to deny a couple the legal rights of marriage guaranteed by the Constitution.

Indeed, a federal judge in Mississippi recently struck down a state law that is very similar to the FADA because it violated the First Amendment. He explained that the government may not permit some to ignore laws at the “expense of other citizens.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, when vetoing a similar bill earlier this year, eloquently explained this principle: “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives.”

It’s no surprise that there are efforts to undermine marriage equality in the name of religion. This fight isn’t new. For instance, a decade ago, I stood with more than 2,000 religious leaders to fight efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.

The FADA is just the latest example of a troubling pattern of corruption of the noble concept of the freedom of religion and belief. As we make advances in LGBT rights, women’s equality and reproductive health, there are some who seek to undermine this progress. Under the guise of religious liberty, they want to deny health care, refuse to provide services, and disobey laws protecting our neighbors from discrimination and abuse. This is not real religious liberty.

To be sure, these efforts offend fairness, equality and justice — so I and other clergy members are again speaking out.

When I meet with a couple who’ve asked me to officiate their wedding, I sometimes offer a little advice. I’d like to offer a little advice to Congress. A verse from Proverbs cautions against fools repeating their folly. The FADA is just as troubling as measures we’ve seen before in Congress and state legislatures. The First Amendment Defense Act actually violates the First Amendment — and is an affront to religious freedom.

(The Rev. Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State)


  1. The Orwellian title of the bill is not fooling anyone. It has nothing at all to do with First Amendment freedoms whatsoever. It is the enshrining of some religious views over others. The author has this dead on. It is simply to grant a privilege to abuse others. Religious liberties are never a zero sum situation. One’s liberty to exercise religious freedom belief does not diminish the rights others. It makes notions of equal protection under the law an absolute joke and establishes certain religious beliefs as above the laws protecting those who do not share them.

    To enshrine one set of beliefs under the law automatically excluded others in a discriminatory fashion. To attack both elements of the first amendment religious freedoms.

    Your right to free exercise of religion stops where you are attacking the rights of others. Time and again this had been the same and proper interpretation of the first amendment.

  2. How is it that the most glorious titles are given to the most inglorious acts? “The First Amendment Defense Act” practically screams, “I am an unconstitutional law that subordinates others’ rights, freedoms, privacy, equality, beliefs, boundaries, and lives!”

  3. The bill should be titled the First Amendment Defilement Act.

  4. This dude is confirmation that the homosexual movement is atheistic in nature. And he is the direct fulfillment of a NT prophesy that “false prophets” will come, bringing “destructive and damnable” doctrines. Here it is in the flesh.

    Most of us already knew that the UCC was an apostate church, and it now appears that they have been “given over” and “given up to” their “vile passions” just as the Apostle Paul predicted.

  5. Sorry Waltie, you already lost that fight in the courts. Now you are trying to defecate on the first amendment in a hissy fit of bitter whininess. You don’t feel like treating people like human beings? You will have to deal with the consequence of such actions.

  6. “We don’t give perverts a “right” to be perverse.” Sure we do. We give you the right to practice your religion.

    Homosexuality has never ever caused any harm whatsoever to anyone, so there is not even one legitimate objection to people living in accordance with that innate orientation.

    But, there are a multitude of legitimate objections to Christianity which has been a major source of human suffering, harm, oppression, persecution, and the direct killing of millions of people throughout its history, with Exhibit “A” being the killing of six million Jewish people less than 80 years ago. Thanks, Walt, for confirming that you advocate traditional TrueChristian “morality.”

    When people condemn others for a way of life that harms no-one, while simultaneously promoting a way of life that harms multitudes of others, I call that perverse.

  7. Thanks for showing you have no respect for any part of the First Amendment. You not only want your religious views endorsed by government to the detriment of all, but object to the free exercise of religion as well.

    Of course FADA has zero chance to make it out of Congress. Let alone ever get passed or end up in front of the courts. You recognize it has zero chance of surviving a court challenge for being unconstitutional at its core. But pride prevents you from admitting such. So you blame it on the court’s political makeup.

  8. Another preacher who’s fine with religious liberty so long as he isn’t one of those being forced to sacrifice at foreign altars. Disgusting.

  9. Remember, the First Amendment , the constitutional freedom of religion, is what YOU guys are trying to repeal on us Christians.

    You guys are willing to do pretty much anything (anything undemocratic and unethical, that is), to force American Christians to bow and kowtow to the Gay Religion.

    FADA is merely a legislative attempt to stop you guys’ mess for a little while. Just trying to preserve religious liberties a little while longer. So, win or lose, it’s worthwhile.

  10. Where do you get your news from? That’s not at all what Atheists are trying to do. Try to broaden your reading list and then come back with a non-paranoid perspective of reality.

    Essentially what Atheists are trying to do is play devil’s advocate and make sure everybody has equal rights, not just Christians. It takes a very honest, unbiased, and selfless group of individuals to do such a thing. When is the last time Christians pushed for equal anything for anybody other than themselves? Pff, get outta here.

  11. Funny, there has never been an interpretation of the first amendment which considered discrimination to be the free exercise of religion. In fact, it’s purpose is to make discrimination based on religious beliefs illegal. So you hold the very concept of the first amendment and religious freedom in contempt.

    Your bigotry is so overwhelming you want to torch our freedoms in exchange for undue privilege over others. The more honest title of the bill should be ICFY I’m Christian F You.

  12. That sounds an awful lot like conservative evangelicals.

  13. Except for all of those gay Christians and Jews, and all of their fellow parishioners who don’t obsess over what other people do with their dangly bits.

  14. its only about perverts and perverse sexual behavior to people who pervert the meaning of pervert in order to work out their own sexual issues on people who don’t share them.
    But glad to know that you would like to see us in jail. I can just feel all of that Chrstian love.

  15. Doc, you have the right to believe whatever you wish. I wouldn’t dream of interfering with that.
    What you don’t have is the right to use the civil law that governs all of us to inflict your prejudices and the purely theological concerns you use to justify them upon people who don’t share them.
    My religious rights ae every bit as important as yours– just not to you.

  16. Thanks to you and your organization, Rev. Lynn, for all the work you do to preserve religious freedom. You are right on the nose with this description of what the First Amendment protects for all Americans:

    “But religious freedom does not mean that any religion can use the government to deny a couple the legal rights of marriage guaranteed by the Constitution.”

    Again, gracias.

  17. Nobody is forcing you do anything other than follow the same laws and rules that everyone else follows. And, in some states, it is illegal for businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

  18. In plain English, you are whining, “how dare he say that the law meant to prevent discrimination based on religious belief prevent me from discriminating based on religious belief”.

    What you call “sacrificing at foreign altars” is a rather dishonest and martyrbaitional way of complaining that your religious views don’t grant immunity from laws designed to protect the rights of the rest of us. Boo hoo, you can’t attack people with impunity using your religion as an excuse. Tough luck. The world doesn’t revolve around you or your religion.

  19. I’m a proud member of Barry Lynn’s organization, Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Their excellent monthly magazine, Church & State, is the only one I consistently read cover-to-cover.

  20. It’s an unfortunate tendency, both for peoples and individuals, for the Law of Love to turn into the love of Law.

  21. Yes, I’m well aware from your earlier posts that you see nothing wrong with forcing people to be accessories to activities they consider sinful and believe that those that consider obedience to God’s law more important than obedience to man’s law to be idiots.

  22. It’s amazing how dishonestly you have to couch your expressions and euphemisms here.

    What you call,” forcing people to be accessories to activities” is better described as denying goods and services in open commerce and government agencies. No different in action and tone to the discriminatory activities that were permitted when we had legalized segregation of a different sort. You want religious based segregation. Exactly the sort of thing the first amendment is there to prevent.

    As someone not living in a theocracy, you have to put up with a lot of things which violate the precepts of your faith as a matter of course. Such as deigning to interact with those of other faiths without resorting to genocide. Such as acknowledging our laws do not permit you to murder apostates and heathens, even though your faith does.

    If you don’t want to follow our laws and think your religious beliefs are far more important, be a good Christian martyr and deal with the consequences. Don’t be such a whinybaby and expect government protection. As I see it the people who want FADA are too spineless and lazy to really work for their faith.

    You are demonstrating the basic malicious and weak willed nature of religious based bigotry. Your deeply held beliefs are strong enough to justify malicious attacks on others, but not strong enough to deal with consequences of such actions. You want to hurt others without being hurt back. It’s not about morals of beliefs but merely glorified bullying.

  23. As so many True Christians (TM) who post on these pages remind me, over and over and over.

  24. I have been donating to them for over 25 years.

  25. I’ve been donating to them for 11 years.

  26. Yes, I’m aware that you believe that bruised feelings and minor inconvenience are so horrendous that to avoid them we have to force people to violate their religious consciences. The protection of religious freedom is the exact opposite of a theocracy, especially when you include freedom of speech — which is why both call for us to overturn laws and carve out exceptions that violate them. Considering that the SJWs are seeking to shut down both, I think you need to seriously reflect on just who is trying to impose a “theocracy” on the nation.

  27. Flinging poo doesn’t make you any more honest here. Sorry if you think civil liberties are an inconvenience to your religious beliefs. But that is the way it is when you live in a free society.

    Claiming discrimination is an act of conscience is just proof how immoral your beliefs are. It’s a act of malice. Hate personified. You are not a martyr because you can’t oppress others. Martyrbaiter, but not martyr. Christian morality truly is an oxymoron for you.

    The first amendment exists to prevent religious based discrimination. You want to defile such concepts.

    Your freedom never extended a privilege to harm others. Your freedom of speech doesn’t cover slander, libel or fraud. Your free exercise of religion doesn’t grant a right to harm the rights of others in open commerce and government services.

    Your rights are not being attacked because you can’t attack others. Give us all a break.

    BTW, use of the term “SJW” is just one of those things which automatically pegs the writer as someone not to be taken seriously.

  28. Your first sentence is rather ironic, given the rest of your post.

  29. Ok. I read the above. If your tax money goes into the government coffers, then the government should afford you the same benefits of any married couple. Religious affiliation aside when it comes to the government decisions on granting benefits. I got that.

    You should be able get involved with the sex of your choice. You should be able to not get involved with the sex of your choice that you hold no desire for. No one should make you marry or spend time with a women, for example, if you don’t feel you should. That’s your personal choice. No one should judge you for that.

    If you don’t like women for marriage, don’t marry a women. Marry who you want. No one should force you into that relationship because of their beliefs.

    And no one should force you to do anything with them if you don’t want. Do you force people to be your friends or participate in your relationship if they don’t want anything to do with you? That would not be a real relationship. It would be wrong.

    Why then do some try and force people into a relationship by contributing to a relationship they want nothing to do with? Even the most intimate relationship ever two people can have? Marriage. If I don’t want to bake you a cake, why force the relationship? On any level. Don’t all parties have rights? Are not all parties involved by free will?

    I will bake you a cake. But I won’t if you force me to. That’s not a true relationship. Business or personal relationship. I do it if it’s of my own free will, or I don’t want you in my life on any level.

    Are we in the business of building bridges or building walls?

    Forced love is not love at all. It’s abuse. It’s slavery.

  30. This article is so completely biased it’s like someones personal journal. Finally, a President who doesn’t support perverted acts in Law but instead sets a law that protects those doing right. Being gay is not progress, being gay and married is not progress. A man and a man can never naturally have a baby, maybe a gmo baby, both completely unnatural, immoral and denial of reality to get only what you want! the ultimate result of continuously trying to fill the emptiness we’ve all had or have without Yah.

  31. Why do you hate freedom and the constitution? Why do fundamentalists pervert the word of God to suit their bigoted agenda?

  32. “And no one should force you to do anything with them if you don’t want. Do you force people to be your friends or participate in your relationship if they don’t want anything to do with you? That would not be a real relationship. It would be wrong.”

    Give us all a break. We are talking about open commerce here. It is a social and legal contract with the local government and public. In exchange for public visibility, advertising to the widest possible market, and the ability to take in walk in foot traffic, one must serve the entire public at large. Discrimination in this regard is a public harm. If treating all customers in the same manner is somehow “being forced” you have no concept of what is required of doing business in open commerce. You should do your business through more selective methods which are always available to you.

    If you want to discriminate in your business open to the general public, prepare for the negative consequences of your actions. You are not a martyr, you are not acting in accordance with any notions of conscience, you are just being malicious and paying the price for incivility.

  33. So is marriage basically about making babies? What if a woman is barren? If she married a man, would that be immoral and unnatural? I mean, they can never naturally have a baby, right?

Leave a Comment