Christian Right leaders may be assuming they’ll lose their battle against equality for LGBTQ people, and they are hunkering down for what they foresee as a long siege against conservative Christian churches, businesses, and organizations.
Major Christian Right legal agencies have begun issuing manuals for conservative churches and other organizations to inoculate themselves against private lawsuits and government enforcement of civil rights laws.
The national Christian Right legal network Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, one of the primary groups behind the legislative agenda to redefine religious freedom into an affirmative right to discriminate) joined forces with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention to issue one such handbook, and the Texas-based Liberty Institute has issued a similar manual.
The ADF and Southern Baptist handbook (titled, “Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Lawsuits: A Legal Guide for Southern Baptist and Evangelical Churches, Schools, and Ministries”) anticipates needing to “engage a hostile social and political culture… amid the gathering spiritual darkness.”
The Liberty Institute sees it as “not a matter of if but when religious institutions will be faced with damaging, anti-religious legal attacks.” To prepare, the Institute advises institutions from churches and synagogues to fraternities and for-profit corporations to “religify.” [Emphases in the original.]
Both manuals urge religification by revising all of their institutional documents, from employee job descriptions to facility rental agreements. Workers and volunteers are reclassified under a broad redefinition of “ministry”; and institutional functions are cast specifically in terms of religious doctrine. The goal is to be seen by the courts as qualifying for broad “ministerial exemptions” from the law in as many ways as possible.
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They point particularly to the 2012 case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which stopped a disability discrimination complaint by a kindergarten teacher, declaring that the church employed her in a capacity of ministry, and therefore was exempt from employment discrimination laws.
Another pivotal judicial turn is the 2014 decision in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. & Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell, which for the first time endowed “closely held” for-profit corporations with religious rights under the First Amendment. Taken together, the decisions have opened the door to a wide range of religious exemptions from civil rights and labor laws.