WASHINGTON (BP) – The White House’s claim that so-called conversion therapy for homosexuals should be illegal has sparked replies from Christian ministers and counselors who say President Obama’s position is based on biased research and threatens religious liberty.
“This is a tragic example of having a president who is fundamentally opposed to a Christian worldview and making statements that are really shaped more by the worldview of exclusive humanism,” said Eric Johnson, a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor who serves as director of the Society for Christian Psychology. The White House’s statement “is reflective much more of the culture wars we’re in the midst of right now than it is based on good science.”
In response to a petition that garnered 120,000 signatures, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett issued a statement April 8 asserting conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is “neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.”
The statement affirmed laws in New Jersey, California and the District of Columbia banning state-licensed therapists from using conversion therapy on minors experiencing same-sex attraction and noted that similar legislation has been proposed in 18 states.
The petition that prompted Jarrett’s statement stemmed from the suicide of an Ohio teenager who identified as transgender and wrote about “Christian therapists” who were “very biased,” Fox News reported.
Some Christians have questioned specific types of reparative therapy for operating on an unbiblical model of change rooted in psychology rather than the Gospel. Johnson and others say aspects of reparative therapy may be useful tools to help some individuals battling same-sex attraction and should not be stigmatized as inappropriate.
The “primary treatment” for same-sex desires is coming to Christ for salvation and drawing close to Him in every facet of life, said Johnson, a member of Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page’s Mental Health Advisory Group.
Florist fined in gay-wedding case, raises $100,000
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP) – A Washington state great-grandmother, who was ordered to pay $1,001 to the state for refusing to create a flower arrangement for a long-time customer’s same-sex wedding, has raised more than $100,000 from supporters.
Meanwhile, a pizza parlor in northern Indiana that received death threats after its co-owner said she would not cater a gay wedding has raised more than $840,000 from supporters, according to news reports.
The 70-year-old florist Barronelle Stutzman reportedly raised the funds in a crowd-funding campaign through gofundme.com that was set up by a friend in February. As of April 14, the total had risen to reportedly nearly $170,000.
The donated money is intended for potential legal bills, a note for Stutzman on the gofundme.com site said, according to Associated Press. The court has yet to impose an award for the gay couple.
Stutzman sold flowers to Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed for more than nine years, and considered Ingersoll a friend. But when he asked her to create the flower arrangements for the couple’s wedding in 2013, Stutzman said she couldn’t because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.” She referred them to another business for assistance.
The Washington state attorney sued Stutzman for sexual orientation discrimination under the state’s Consumer Protection Act. Ingersoll and Freed then filed their own lawsuit against her. A ruling on Feb. 18 settled both suits by summary judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor. The same judge previously ruled both the state and the couple had the right to collect damages not only from Stutzman’s business, but from her personal assets, as well.
The next day, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a press release, publicly offering to settle the case if Stutzman would agree to pay a $2,000 fine for violating CPA, a $1 payment for “fees,” promise not to discriminate in the future, and end the litigation.
In a letter dated Feb. 20, Stutzman declined the attorney general’s offer, stating it revealed he didn’t understand the true meaning behind the two-year-old battle.
Stutzman wrote that although she didn’t like the idea of potentially losing her business and home through court fines, her “freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”
On March 27, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom issued a decree ordering Stutzman to pay a $1,000 “civil penalty” to the state and $1 in attorneys’ fees. The order also issued a permanent injunction against any “disparate treatment” in offering goods or services to customers due to their sexual orientation.
Ekstrom postponed awarding damages to Ingersoll and Freed until after a ruling is made on Stutzman’s appeal. Represented by the ACLU, the men have asked the court to award them attorneys’ fees, costs and penalties.
In related news, Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind., received hundreds of comments, including death threats on its Yelp and Facebook pages, after co-owner Crystal O’Connor told a television reporter, “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no. We’re not discriminating against anyone. That’s just our belief, and anyone has the right to believe in anything.”
The comments appeared to be a response to the reporter’s hypothetical question, USA Today reported. One social media commentator threatened to burn down the restaurant, and O’Connor said the pizza parlor needed to close indefinitely.
Glenn Beck’s Blaze TV set up a funding site at gofundme.com, which raised $842,387 from 29,160 people before closing April 4. A rival page to support Indiana gay and lesbian youth had raised $14,790 from 516 people by April 4, USA Today reported.
Signature haggling continues In Houston anti-bias ordinance case
HOUSTON—In what many expected to be the final hearing in the lawsuit against the City of Houston and Mayor Annise Parker, attorneys continued Monday, April 13 to haggle over the signature count on a petition drive to recall a controversial non-discrimination ordinance.
Only a few hundred signatures separate Houston residents from getting to vote on the ordinance, which makes sexual orientation a protected class. But with a ballot deadline looming, plaintiffs are losing patience.
Frustrated by yet another delay in the conclusion of the case that began in late January, plaintiffs’ attorney Andy Taylor said he was hopeful for a win but delivered his sharpest criticism yet of the city’s defense.
“The law does not require good handwriting,” Taylor said after the hearing, condemning the defense’s legibility argument that discounted thousands of signatures on the petition. In a post-trial ruling, Judge Robert Schaeffer said in order for voter signatures to count, the signature of the circulator must be legible.
Surrounded by about 60 supporters representing the city’s racial and ethnic diversity, Taylor called the legibility requirement a “modern day poll tax.”
Back-and-forth court filings as late as Sunday evening left the judge with more questions than answers Monday morning, but he ordered final judgments by Friday.
Plaintiffs needed 17,269 registered voter signatures in order to put the ordinance to a vote. Taylor said his count, as of Monday, was 17,510. Defense claims the plaintiffs fall short with only 16,619.
Ind., Ark. diverge on religious liberty
WASHINGTON (BP) – Religious freedom gained only a split decision in newly enacted laws for Indiana and Arkansas, its advocates say.
Both governors signed into law April 2 new versions of religious liberty proposals, but they differed significantly in their protection of freedom of conscience. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, both conservative Republicans, acted after their legislatures passed revisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in the wake of heavy criticism of earlier measures.
Hutchinson signed the law after asking the legislature to revise a bill it had adopted, successfully urging lawmakers to send him a proposal aligned more closely with the federal RFRA. That law – enacted in 1993 by the nearly unanimously approval of Congress and the signature of President Clinton – requires government to have a compelling interest and use the narrowest possible means in burdening a person’s religious exercise. Twenty-one states have enacted versions of RFRA.
Pence, however, signed into law an amendment of the RFRA he had enacted only the week before – an amendment that failed to protect the conscience rights of business owners. While Indiana’s new language exempts pastors and churches from providing services for same-sex weddings, its prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity offers no such safeguard for photographers, florists, bakers and others whose religious convictions prevent them from serving at such ceremonies.
Arkansas’ RFRA gained the commendation of religious liberty advocates, while Indiana’s new law received critical reviews.
Residents rally behind Caddo Parish Principal
SHREVEPORT – Many residents are rallying behind the Caddo Parish principal accused of violating the First Amendment by making Biblical references in a newsletter.
A Facebook support page was created for Walnut Hill Elementary/ Middle School Principal Albert Hardison in the aftermath of the allegations from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Hardison reportedly included a reference to Philippians 4:13 in the March newsletter that went to parents and staff.
The newsletter read:
As our students prepare to take the state mandated tests, LEAP, iLEAP and PARCC, please pray that our God will give them the strength and mental fortitude, the patience, the wisdom, and the energy to do their best. Please help our children understand the meaning of Phillippians 4:13…I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
In just a few days, the number of supporters grew from a few hundreds to thousands on the Support Albert Hardison Facebook page.
Supporters rallied at a Prayer at the Pole event in support of Hardison on April 3 at Grawood Baptist Church in Keithville.
Hundreds have posted on the Facebook support page, with most saying how he’s a great principal. The page has more than 8,500 likes.
In an open letter from ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman to Caddo Schools Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree, the ACLU said Walnut Hill “has engaged in a pattern of religious proselytization by sending messages to parents invoking prayer, and through a lengthy ‘Principal’s Message’ on the school’s website.”
Esman urged Goree to remove religious references from Walnut Hill’s website and any other school communications and educate staff on Constitutional protections from religious indoctrination.
Caddo Parish Public Schools launched an internal investigation into the matter, according to a statement released, and removed all questionable material from district websites.
Baptists sign SCOTUS gay marriage case brief
NASHVILLE (BP) – Noted Southern Baptist leaders have signed a Liberty Institute friend-of-the-court brief defending the freedom of speech of those who support and teach the Scriptural truth that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The brief was filed in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, a consolidation of four individual cases challenging biblically based marriage laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The case could answer questions left standing after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, appearing to leave individual states the right to define marriage within individual state jurisdictions.
Liberty Institute filed the brief April 2, naming a religiously diverse list of individuals penalized for conducting themselves in the public square based on their views on marriage, including former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, a Southern Baptist; former United States Navy Chaplain Wes Modder, a member of the Assemblies of God; former Georgia Department of Public Health Director Eric Walsh, a Seventh-day Adventist; and five pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by the city of Houston.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin, among the signatories, emphasized in a written statement to Baptist Press the importance of protecting free speech as the cultural definition of marriage evolves.
“As our culture continues to redefine what is meant by the word ‘marriage,’ it is crucial to maintain the protection of speech for those who state the biblical definition of a covenantal, monogamous relationship between a man and a woman,” Akin said. “I love each and every person regardless of lifestyle choices, and I am against any expression of hatred or anger toward individuals, but I continue to affirm covenantal heterosexual marriage without apology. As discourse has become increasingly complex, the freedom of speech and exercise of religion has become more important than ever.”