religious freedom wars why the uccs lawsuit against nc gay marriage ban matters for every american

The religious and political right in this country has used the Constitution as a weapon in recent years. From gay marriage bans to the right to own an assault rifle without a background check, the First and Second Amendments have been used as a battering ram against equality, fairness, and public safety.

You can’t make peace if you don’t even know you’re at war, and people of faith and conscience in this country need to realise that those who abuse and misuse constitutional guarantees are attacking the rights that the Constitution protects.

This is why what my church, the United Church of Christ, just did is so important in so many ways. The UCC has taken a brave step by getting involved in this fight, right where religious freedom is being abused. This church just filed a landmark lawsuit against North Carolina’s ban on gay marriage. The lawsuit says that the state’s marriage laws violate the First Amendment rights of clergy and the principle of “free exercise of religion.”

North Carolina has become “ground zero” for many of our country’s fights for fairness and equality. In 2012, Republicans took over the state legislature and the governorship. They went on a spending spree, passing laws to make it harder for people to vote, raising taxes on the bottom 80% of earners, cutting education spending, passing radical gun laws, refusing to expand Medicaid, and adding a harsh abortion law to a law about motorcycle safety.

As part of this rush to take away people’s rights, North Carolina passed Amendment One in 2012. This made it illegal for clergy in North Carolina to perform a marriage ceremony without first making sure the couple has a valid marriage licence.

Really, North Carolina? You made it illegal for us in the United Church of Christ to follow the teachings of our church?

Yes, they did. In North Carolina, United Church of Christ ministers who want to marry same-gender couples in a religious ceremony could face up to 120 days in jail, probation, and community service if they are found guilty. This is because North Carolina marriage laws say that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The United Church of Christ is the main plaintiff in this lawsuit against the State. It says that these laws are against the Constitution and go against the First Amendment rights of clergy. Two Unitarian Universalist ministers, one Lutheran pastor, one Baptist minister, and one rabbi, along with eight couples they want to marry, are also suing.

North Carolina is passing laws that are just wrong, and this full-scale attack on economic, political, and human rights has led to the powerful Moral Monday protests in the capital and around the state.

People of faith and conscience on the left are taking the word “moral” back from the extreme right, and it is important to see the UCC lawsuit as part of this larger moral struggle.

The United Church of Christ’s lawsuit for religious freedom for our clergy and church members is so important for all Americans to get back our democratic freedoms.

The lawsuit is a legal action, but it is also a strong faith action that shows a theology of “engaging the powers.” This means taking on the spiritual significance of political and social institutions (the biblical “principalities and powers”) and their role in systemic injustice, as the great theologian Walter Wink often pointed out.

From a religious point of view, what has happened in North Carolina since 2012 is wrong based on the Bible and theology. In their rush to cut economic and civil rights, these lawmakers and their supporters have “fallen into the temptation” of creating systemic injustice instead of systemic justice. You can tell that this is “falling into temptation” because they have gone too far in almost every part of their society, but they call it freedom.

These harsh laws are not freedom, neither in the Bible nor in the law.

North Carolina has “overreached” by making it illegal for members of the United Church of Christ and other faiths to marry people in their congregations who want to get married. And by “overreaching” in this way, these lawmakers gave away their cards and opened the door for this lawsuit.

The United Church of Christ has done something brave and necessary to protect religious freedom for all Americans. In doing so, it has taken a stand against the erosion of real freedom in this country.

I’m very proud of my church and all the people who worked to make this lawsuit possible.

This country is in the middle of a deep spiritual and democratic battle, and it’s time to pick a side.

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