Glasgow Daily Times, August 21, 2015 publication
Richard Nelson, founder and executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, told the group of people who came Thursday evening to hear him at Immanuel Baptist Church that our culture is in a moral freefall and in a period of spiritual darkness.
“The Supreme Court has undone marriage,” he proclaimed as one example of that perception.
A big reason for that, according to him, is that “we’ve not been at the table for discussion, engaging these issues, and doing it in a way that honors Christ.”
He encouraged the 15 people who attended, including the Rev. Brandon Porter, the pastor, to keep dialogue flowing and stand up for what they believe.
Nelson wants the church to “re-enter culture,” and not just to wave or point a finger or to criticize and condemn, but to build up culture and demonstrate what is supported.
“We’re for marriage. We’re for strong, healthy families. We’re for human flourishing,” he said. “And this is the message the world so desperately needs.”
CPC’s mission, according to literature distributed at the event, which was publicized as a “town hall meeting” about whether sexual orientation laws and religious freedom can coexist, “is dedicated to preserving the bedrock values of life, marriage and fiscal responsibility in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
“One cannot do whatever one wants and claim religious freedom,” he said.
A major threat to that freedom is “state encroachment into personal religious convictions,” he said. Nelson said that after the July 26 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said same-gender couples have the same right to marry as
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Richard Nelson, founder and executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, speaks Thursday evening to a group of 15 people at Immanuel Baptist Church about how he believes religious freedom could be affected by changing sexual orientation and gender identity laws.
opposite sex couples, the Fairness Campaign of Kentucky announced they were going to go across the state and work with cities and counties to enact what they call “fairness laws.” Those laws elevate sexual orientation and gender identity as a civil right in housing, employment and public accommodations. And then they’re going to the state legislature, Nelson told them, adding that the those laws could impact their religious freedom. He talked about what religious freedom is and is not, and he drew a distinction between a freedom to worship, which implies it can only be done at a certain time and place, and a freedom to exercise one’s religion.
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign of Kentucky, an organization that works at the grassroots and state levels to advance equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, told the Daily Times on Friday, however, that churches need not be worried about local or state fairness laws infringing on their religious freedom, because every version of one ever passed has exceptions in it that would cover religious institutions, including, for example, a parochial school that would not want to hire outside that organization’s religious practices.
Efforts to pass ordinances and state law are not new since the high court’s decision that recognized all couples have equal protection under the law and must be treated the same with regard to marriage. The first fairness ordinances in Kentucky were in Lexington and Louisville in 1999. There was a 10-year gap with no new ones, but then five since 2013, with the most in Midway on June 1. This year was the 16th consecutive year that fairness supporters have worked to try to get a statewide law passed, he said.
“We’ve introduced the same bill every year without change almost,” Hartman said.
Nelson questioned during his presentation whether there was a need for such laws, saying that at a forum in Midway for that ordinance, no one could list a single example of how discrimination had occurred.
“Yes, there’s a need for them,” Hartman said. “There are a lot of reasons why someone wouldn’t come forward with their very personal and oftentimes very humiliating story of discrimination. … We’ve certainly heard too many stories from all across the state.”
Nelson said it seems that sexual freedom is trumping religious freedom lately.
Hartman said he doesn’t follow that logic.
“In America, what we’ve always sought to do is protect the people who are vulnerable. All that fairness laws and advancements of LGBT laws are doing is broadening the table of inclusion and protection,” he said.
Across the country, Nelson said, there are examples where business owners who did not want to provide a service, such as baking a wedding cake or being a photographer, for samegender couples who claimed that those marriages were against their religious beliefs and they felt that to provide those services would be endorsing those relationships.
“In America, when you open a business that’s open to everyone, it truly must be open to everyone.… I think we can all easily agree that no one wants to live in a place where every restaurant has a sign that lists the different people they won’t serve,” Hartman said.
The point at which a business owner seeks to treat a group of people differently in their public commerce becomes an encroachment on the religious freedoms of the people in that group.
Business owners should not be able to selectively choose who they will serve on the basis of sexual orientation any more so than they can based on race, for example, but in Kentucky, they still legally can, which is why Fairness Campaign advocates for fairness laws, Hartman said.
“Businesses just need to treat everybody with dignity and respect. It’s a deeply held Christian principle, and it’s what Jesus would do,” Hartman said.
Nelson sees the legal changes as dangerously taking precedence over religious freedoms, while Hartman said he sees the two things as “quite complementary.”
LGBT groups, he said, have long been proponents of religious freedom.
In response to hearing Nelson and Porter’s encouragements to stand up for what they believe, Nelson said that “it’s for fairness supporters to stand up and say what we’re for, like families, and religious freedom and the right for everyone to be treated with dignity.”
ABOVE: Richard Nelson, founder and executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, left, standing, speaks Thursday evening to a group of 15 people at Immanuel Baptist Church about how he believes religious freedom could be affected by changing sexual orientation and gender identity laws.
Photos by Melinda J. Overstreet / Glasgow Daily Times