By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) may not be the most recognizable organization to most Tennessee Baptist churches, but it definitely needs to be on the radar of pastors and church leaders across the state.
Alliance Defending Freedom is the world’s largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights and the sanctity of life, according to the organization’s website. ADF has defended cherished liberties in Congress, state legislatures and courtrooms across the country — all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board has partnered with ADF to provide legal protection for churches whose religious liberties are attacked at a minimal cost to the church.
“Religious liberties have never been under fire in American history as intensely as they are in contemporary culture,” observed Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“At greatest risk for attack are local churches, especially smaller churches, that have limited resources. When we at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board say, ‘we serve churches,’ we take that seriously. One of the ways we serve is to find opportunities and partners that strengthen the local church so that it can fulfill its mission to make Christ known in its community and around the world. We chose ADF as an affordable and reliable legal advocate to support Tennessee Baptist churches in their defense of the faith. We needed a partner who shares our values and ADF is that partner,” Davis affirmed.
“ADF is the world’s largest religious liberty law firm,” said Harrison Smith, regional director of ADF’s church and ministry team during a recent Radio B&R podcast (baptistandreflector.org/radio-br, Episode 47).
He noted that while most people may not know about ADF, they are aware of some of the religious liberty cases ADF has defended over the years. Clients have included Campus Crusade for Christ, Focus on the Family and many more.
Jack Phillips, a cake decorator is one of the people ADF has represented, said Greg Baylor, senior counsel for ADF, who also was on the Radio B&R podcast. Phillips was sued because he refused to custom design a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding ceremony, he noted.
ADF represented Phillips before the Supreme Court where he prevailed, and ADF is still serving him as he continues to face challenges from others who harass him for his stance, Baylor added.
ADF was birthed because everyone has freedom of speech and freedom of religion but no one was defending it, Smith said. ADF was founded to “stand in the gap and help fight to keep the doors open for the gospel,” he continued.
Smith also addressed directors of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board during their April meeting. There are a number of issues facing churches on the religious freedom front, Smith said.
“Our culture is not only changing, it is changing very rapidly,” he said.
The Equality Act is a bill introduced earlier this year in the United States Congress that, if passed, would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The proposed legislation has no “religious exemptions,” meaning churches would be forced to comply.
The Equality Act is “a time bomb” for religious liberty threats and it is not going away even if it fails to get the votes needed to pass in the Senate this year, he continued. The legislation is “an opponent of the gospel,” Smith added.
On the podcast, Baylor agreed with Smith’s assessment. “The most significant thing to say about the Equality Act is that it is the most significant threat to the religious liberty of the church and of individual believers, perhaps in the history of the United States, certainly in our lifetimes.”
The law, as it is proposed, “would create all kinds of religious liberty issues for churches,” not just in the area of employment, the two men agreed. For instance, if a church held a spaghetti dinner that was open for anyone to attend, and a biological man attending the event went into the ladies restroom, the church could not stop it, Smith said.
“We are not quite there yet, but the Equality Act is really our opponent showing their hand, saying that this is where we want to go,” he added.
Sexual orientation and gender identification (SOGI) issues are why churches need to consider the ADF church alliance program should religious liberty issues arise. The ADF Church Alliance is a membership program that provides legal help so pastors can freely preach and operate the church in accordance with Christian principles. The program acts as a hub for churches to gain access to experienced First Amendment lawyers who are available to answer religious liberty questions, conduct document reviews and provide advice, and even represent churches in court if needed.
The annual membership fee is based on church size. The annual fee is reduced by 20 percent for churches that use the TBMB partnership code, TBMB20. Benefits include:
• A review of church documents (church constitution, bylaws, etc.,) and a suggestion of changes that may need to be made to increase religious liberty protections.
• Updates on trending religious liberty issues facing churches and how they can be prepared.
• ADF attorneys on call to answer religious liberty questions.
• Legal representation in cases involving religious liberty should the need arise.
For more information, click here. B&R