By JOHN FORTMEYER
SALEM — The assault on religious rights in the United States can no longer be ignored, an attorney on the front lines told hundreds of Oregon pastors here last month.
“It’s a long time we’ve had our heads in the sand,” said Joseph Infranco of Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). “We just can’t do it any longer.”
Infranco said his concern was at such a level that it was difficult to convey. “I have to say, it’s a challenge to communicate to you how broad, how serious and how deep this attack is,” he said.
Infranco was featured speaker during the biannual Pastors’ Day at the Capitol sponsored by the Oregon Family Council. The luncheon event at the Salem Conference Center provides not only information updates for the pastors, but also gives them a chance during the state legislative session to meet at the nearby Capitol with their local representatives.
Infranco is senior counsel and senior vice president at ADF, a network of thousands of attorneys nationwide who deal with religious liberty cases. He said many of the current challenges deal with the “conflict coming at train wreck speed” between sexual autonomy and religious beliefs. This is being seen in attacks that are coming “primarily on marriage and pro-life issues,” he said.
Emphasizing that “dozens of these cases are occuring on a regular basis,” he cited a few examples:
•Catholic Charities in Massachusetts deciding to get out of the adoption service business several years ago because of that state’s insistence that the agency place children with same-sex couples;
•A graduate student in counseling at a Michigan university who was initially kicked out of the program because of her views against homosexual behavior.
•Attempts today throughout the culture to redefine marriage;
•Efforts to compel employers, regardless of their religious convictions, to facilitate insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs under the new federal health care law.
Why is this all happening so intensely now?
First, the moral consensus on absolute truth and values has been changing nationally, he said. “We’ve lost the idea of transcendent truth.”
Secondly, there is an increasing thinking that churches aren’t generally good for the culture, because they are seen as squabbling and disciminatory, he said.
That leads to Christians being increasingly labeled as hateful, which “is ironic, because it’s precisely the opposite,” Infranco said. “”It’s love that produces limits.”
Unfortunately, financially strapped government agencies will increasingly use such attitudes about people of faith to challenge churches’ traditional tax exemptions, he said.
“You are a nice big turkey, on the tax-free rolls, that they have to start plucking,” he told the pastors.
Thankfully, voices such as Alliance Defending Freedom are in place today to respond to these multiple challenges, he said. “If I need 50 attorneys to file suits for religious organizations … the network is here,” he said.
Furthermore, “by God’s grace,” ADF is successful in about 80 percent of the cases in which it is involved, he said.
Infranco urged churches and religious agencies to be loving, kind and patient in their dealings, but to also stand firm for their rights by making sure their bylaws address such matters as sexuality and governing authority. This is particularly true in the marriage debate, which clearly sparks hostility from foes of traditional values.
“You’re going to be confronted with this,” he said. “Because we love, we have to say what separates us (from society) according to our beliefs.”
Infranco said extensive information on defending religious rights in all areas of society can be found at speakupmovement.org.
According to spokespesons Jack Louman and Teresa Harke, Oregon Family Council is again taking a leading role, as it did successfully during a 2004 election campaign, in calling the state’s Christians to defend traditional marriage in Oregon. Lowman and Harke say they anticipate opponents of traditional marriage will seek a statewide vote next year to grant marriage rights to homosexual couples.
For more information, go to oregonfamilycouncil.org.
By JOHN FORTMEYER