Christian Rights in Jeopardy

San Francisco allowed to stigmatize religion to protect homosexuality. Christian persecution in USA is getting closer.

In a stunning decision that threatens the very heart of religious freedom, a three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the right of the city and county of San Francisco to lash out at the religious beliefs of those who oppose homosexuality. The 2-1 ruling upheld a previous district court decision.

The case arose from events that occurred almost four years ago. In 1998 AFA joined with other ministries including Kerusso Ministries and the Family Research Council (FRC) to print a series of full-page "Truth in Love" ads in newspapers across the country. While mentioning the fact that Scripture calls homosexuality a sin, the ads offered "gays" and lesbians forgiveness and freedom through Jesus Christ. The ads also mentioned the harmful physical consequences of the homosexual lifestyle.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors responded with a letter to those involved with the Truth in Love campaign, denouncing their "hateful rhetoric." The letter also stated that "there is a direct correlation" between hate crimes against homosexuals and the religious message about homosexuality espoused by religious groups.

The board also passed two resolutions which again linked hate crimes - even the murder of homosexuals - with the Christian message and what the city termed "anti-gay" ads. The Board of Supervisors even urged "local television stations not to broadcast advertising campaigns aimed at 'converting' homosexuals."

The AFA Center for Law & Policy (CLP) filed a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors on behalf of AFA, Kerusso Ministries and FRC, claiming that the government action amounted to a violation of the First Amendment rights of its clients. The district court ruled against the plaintiffs.

In the 9th Circuit ruling, the majority on the panel, Judges Michael Daly Hawkins and A. Wallace Tashima, admitted that the principle of separation of church and state "applies not only to official condonement of a particular religion or religious belief, but also to official disapproval or hostility towards religion." (Emphasis added.)

Nevertheless, the judges excused the city's actions by stating that the Board of Supervisors was not solely involving itself with a religious matter. "We therefore agree with the district court that although the letter and resolutions may appear to contain attacks on the plaintiff's religious views, in particular that homosexuality is sinful, there is also a plausible secular purpose in the defendant's actions - protecting gays and lesbians from violence?" The city's disapproval of the plaintiff's religious views, the appellate court said, were "only incidental and ancillary."

Judge John T. Noonan dissented in the case, saying it was "difficult to think of a more direct attack" on a group's religious views than San Francisco's letter and resolutions. Despite having a "plausible, indeed laudable purpose, to decrease vicious violence on account of sexual orientation," the city still "used a means that officially stigmatized a religious belief as productive of murderous consequences."

CLP Chief Counsel Stephen M. Crampton said the rationale underlying the majority decision was frightening. "It would mean that as long as a city threw in a plausible secular purpose for its actions, it could trample the free exercise of religious rights of Christians," he said.

"For example, if a city wanted to forbid all protests outside an abortion clinic, it could trample the free exercise of religious rights of Christians," he said.

"For example, if a city wanted to forbid all protests outside an abortion clinic, it could simply claim that it was doing so for secular purposes - perhaps protecting the lives for abortionists against the nuts that try to shoot them. The implications for religious freedom would be chilling."

Because the 9th Circuit issued a split decision, Crampton said the CLP has appealed the ruling to the entire appellate court.

Reprinted by permission, AFA Journal, (662)844-5036, www.afa.net.

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