For the second year in a row, religious leaders are lining up on both sides of controversies over bills labeled “religious liberty” measures that critics say mask a hidden agenda of discrimination against gays and lesbians.
A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship pastor joined other Georgia clergy in a Feb. 17 press conference opposing “religious liberty” legislation they say could allow adoption agencies to put personal prejudice ahead of the best interests of children in state foster care.
“Scripture commands us to care for the orphans in our midst,” Trey Lyon, pastor of communication and engagement at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta, told media gathered outside the Georgia Capitol. “Georgia has 16,000 children in state foster care, and the so called First Amendment Defense Act would give nonprofit adoption agencies that receive state funds the ability to discriminate against LGBT couples who are looking to adopt, as well as non-celibate singles.”
“I find it unacceptable at every level — as a pastor, as a citizen, as a Baptist and as a father,” said Lyon, who is employed as global mission field personnel by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
On Tuesday the Senate Rules Committee combined the First Amendment Defense Act, which would “prohibit discriminatory action against a person who believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held 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 marriage,” with a “pastor protection act” ensuring that religious officials cannot be required to perform marriage ceremonies that violate their conscience.
The group of 15 faith leaders from Clergy United Against Discrimination and Faith in Public Life at Wednesday’s press conference represents a larger movement of more than 280 Georgia clergy who have spoken out against the religious exemption bills that have moved through the legislature.
The Georgia Baptist Convention, statewide affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, supports legislation strengthening religious liberty protections to end what leaders describe as discrimination against people of faith. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board website urges specific support for HB-837, a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that supporters say is needed to ensure that the First Amendment’s freedom of religion receives the same level of protection as other First Amendment rights of speech, press and assembly.