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Four religious liberty cases on trial carry important consequences

Several religious liberty cases are making their way through the legal system, many arising from decisions the U.S. Supreme Court has made. While some, like the case of Fox sportscaster Craig James, have made national headlines, others have remained strictly local affairs. But they all have important consequences for First Amendment freedoms in the United States.

James, a former professional football player, ran into trouble when he started working at Fox Sports Southwest. Network executives fired him when they discovered statements he made while running for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate in Texas. He said he believed marriage was between a man and a woman. He ended up losing the nomination to Ted Cruz. Earlier this month, James filed a lawsuit against Fox Sports.

“He understands that this is going to touch every single employee across this country. Are you going to be allowed to talk about your faith at work? What about your Bible study you have at your home each week? Are you going to have that come up on your annual review?” said attorney Jeremy Dys of the Liberty Institute.

Another client of the Liberty Institute, Eric Walsh, also lost his job for something he said. When the state of Georgia hired Walsh to run part of its public health system, he told his new employers gay activists were upset with him over sermons he gave as a lay minister. He, too, had spoken in favor of a biblical view of sex and marriage.

“The COO [of the Department of Public Health] and several of his staff members spent 10 hours reviewing the sermons of Dr. Eric Walsh. And after they reviewed those sermons, the very next day, they fired him,” Dys said.

Walsh brought his claim before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. His case is still pending.

Kim Davis is the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A federal judge in Kentucky ordered her to do so, but stayed the order pending an appeal. Davis says her faith teaches her that marriage is between one man and one woman, regardless of the Supreme Court ruling that allowed same-sex marriage nationwide.

“The court did not say that a homosexual couple has a fundamental right to receive a marriage license from a specific clerk in a specific county. Nor did the Supreme Court say that these sexual rights trump the First Amendment and trump the religious freedom rights of all Americans,” said Liberty Counsel’s Harry Mehet. Davis has appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to protect her conscience rights.

Other states, such as North Carolina, have enacted legislation to protect same-sex couples who want to get marriage licenses and allow magistrates with conscience objections to keep their jobs.

“There are alternatives,” Mehet said. “There are remedies and accommodations that the state can and, under the Constitution, must provide to Kim Davis and others like her, and that’s all that she’s asking for here.”

Mehet noted such accommodations are routinely made in other areas, including for medical providers who do not want to participate in abortion.

The last case worth watching involves Pastor Scott Lively, an outspoken advocate for traditional marriage. Lively preached the Christian message about human sexuality in Uganda, a country that banned homosexual practice long before Lively arrived. But a group called Sexual Minorities of Uganda sued Lively in U.S. court and argued his speech was a crime against humanity.

“The theory that is being advanced in this case, that hasn’t received much media attention until now, … is essentially that anyone who works with any legislature to preserve traditional family values and to oppose the homosexual lobby and expansion of homosexual rights commits a crime against humanity under international law. And that international law trumps the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment,” Mehet said. “It’s a case that would present some serious threats not just to people who go abroad and speak, but who are engaged in public advocacy on this issue in the United States.”

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