If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Ro 12:18)
Retired attorney Sandra Gilbert recently shared with us her perspectives on legal considerations of which Christians should be aware.
Minnesota State Law
The Minnesota Human Rights Act aims to ensure freedom from discrimination in matters such as employment, housing, property, education and public services. Discrimination based on the following factors is illegal: race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, public assistance status, sexual orientation, age, and familial status.
Equal access is considered a civil right. Discrimination is considered inequitable and unfair, threatening the rights and privileges of the state’s inhabitants, and a menace to the institutions and foundations of democracy. It is therefore the public policy of the state of Minnesota to protect everyone from discrimination. However, the law also provides exemptions for religious organizations.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” So in terms of the First Amendment, the US cannot establish a state religion, nor can it prevent anyone from exercising his or her religion.
The Civil Rights Act explicitly recognizes the fundamental rights of faith-based organizations to hire employees who share their religious beliefs in order to carry out their mission. This provision allows a Christian organization, for example, to hire only Christian employees. This provision for faith-based groups protects the religious liberty of communities of faith.
How are these laws applied?
The courts try to apply the law fairly to all parties. Sandra gave an overview of the following cases currently before the courts:
- Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, was prosecuted for declining to make cakes that celebrated homosexual weddings. In his view, this violated his Christian convictions. Read more here.
- St. Cloud wedding videographers were similarly prosecuted for declining to make videos which celebrated homosexual weddings — the videographers regarded this as violating their Christian convictions. Read more here.
- Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired by the Atlanta city mayor for writing a book in which he expressed his Biblical views on marriage. Read more here.
Depending on how these cases are ultimately settled:
- Christians may face increasing legal pressure from groups considered to be anti-Christian. Already, Christians feel under obligation to be silent about their Christian convictions, and not act on them — or face time-consuming and costly legal action.
- As the law seeks to balance the rights of different groups, Christians may feel discriminated against, in spite of laws implemented to prevent discrimination, and despite exemptions for religious organizations.
The Scottsdale, Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom non-profit (which advocates religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family), can be a helpful resource in anti-Christian cases.
The Law Applied in Unexpected Ways
Sandra also outlined a case involving a church in which an associate pastor claimed sex harassment by a church pastor. In this case, the associate pastor was terminated under the exemption provisions for religious organizations. Christians should therefore be aware that the law can be applied in sometimes counter-intuitive and unexpected ways.
Inappropriate Workplace Pressure
Sandra ran through an actual workplace scenario in which a subordinate was invited to attend a luncheon by her supervisor. The luncheon turned out unexpectedly to involve a Christian speaker. In this scenario, the subordinate felt under some expectation to align her views with the supervisor’s Christian views. This kind of ‘bait-and-switch’ tactic combined with supervisor/subordinate pressure, however subtle, is inappropriate and should be avoided.
In another scenario, Sandra outlined a situation in which an employee was invited by other colleagues into an office for a meeting, apparently for business purposes. There the employee was asked the “if you were to die today, do you know where you would go” question. This kind of ‘ambushing’ behavior can feel like harassment to non-Christians, and is therefore inappropriate.
As Christians, What Should We Do?
Christians should avoid any semblance of manipulative behavior. Christian conversations that are worthy of Christ are based on authentic, transparent relationships. Build good relationships with everyone (Ro 12:18), share faith in Christ at times and in a manner that is appropriate, and leave conversion to the Holy Spirit.
Sandra suggested the following:
- Pray for your day… that you will be a light in a dark world. Be a servant to others.
- Study the Bible to learn about God’s Word to be able to discern truth.
- Participate actively in a community of believers and live generously towards others.
- Meet regularly with a Christian friend or mentor for perspective and counsel. Let the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) inform your conduct, and be kind to all.
Father, We thank you, as the Great Lawgiver, for the Ten Commandments which help us understand both your holiness and our sin. We confess that, sadly, we sin against you every day and hour in thought, word and deed. So we thank you, Lord Jesus, for your atoning work on the Cross, and for helping us understand that God’s Law is rooted in love — for both God and our neighbor. Thank you for the grace of the gospel, through which your people are adopted into your family — fully and wonderfully forgiven, justified, and reconciled — now and forever. Truly, nothing compares with the profound treasures we’ve received in the gospel! We must share this treasure with others. Help us do so with love, wisdom, kindness and grace. Amen.
(This article was written by Warwick Alcock, Director of Strategic Operations, Village Schools of the Bible)