IT’S MORE THAN MARRIAGE: What’s really at risk if the Supreme Court redefines a millennia-old institution?

June 18, 2015

By the end of June, the United States Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case challenging the constitutionality of state laws that define marriage as between one man and one woman. Depending on the Court’s ruling, the case could have ramifications for the religious liberty and free speech rights of millions of Americans who hold the time-honored, millennia-old view that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.


In a friend-of-the-court brief (amicus brief) filed in April on behalf of many prominent Christian leaders and organizations, First Liberty Institute warned the Supreme Court about the danger to religious liberty posed by a ruling requiring nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage. In its opening summary, First Liberty Institute’s brief noted that the government has already attempted to silence those who hold traditional beliefs about marriage, then stated:

“A decision from this Court imposing same-sex marriage nationwide would inevitably exacerbate these conflicts, and inexorably result in additional violations of free speech rights.”

As cited by the brief, Americans from various walks of life have already experienced persecution for expressing their sincerely-held religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality, including pastors, members of the military, university students, a leading health administrator, and a fire chief.

In addition, during the oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges at the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 (which First Liberty Institute General Counsel Jeff Mateer attended and described in his eyewitness account published in a previous edition of Liberty Watch), the Obama Administration’s U.S. Solicitor General admitted that the tax-exempt status of colleges and universities who hold a traditional view of marriage could be at risk. In response to Justice Alito’s question about the tax-exempt status of schools which oppose same-sex marriage, the Solicitor General said:

“You know, I – I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I – I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is – it is going to be an issue.


Assessing the implications of a decision imposing a redefinition of marriage, First Liberty Institute President & CEO Kelly Shackelford gives a list of the dominoes that could fall.  He recently stated, “Here’s just some of what could be at risk:

  • Tax-exempt status will probably be attacked nationwide.
  • Christian colleges and schools accreditation will be attacked.
  • Faith-based adoption of foster care providers will be attacked
  • Federal contractors and grantees including those with loans at religious schools will be attacked.
  • Religious staffing at faith-based organizations will be attacked.
  • Those in the military that don’t follow the new agenda will be attacked.
  • Those in cities and counties, employees at all government levels will now be attacked.
  • Faith-based businesses, as we’ve already seen, will be attacked.
  • Numerous federal laws have triggers in them which will now swing into effect. This includes employment laws, housing, the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, the Federal Communications Commission, and more.  All could be areas for attacking religious belief.
  • Licenses to even be in a profession will be a target. I don’t know how quickly, but it will be under attack.”

He concludes, “This is going to be a direct attack on religious freedom everywhere in the country and no one will escape it.”


The Supreme Court’s decision comes at a crucial time for religious liberty in America. In his recent e-book, A Time to Stand 2015: Why Saving Religious Freedom Depends on What People of Faith Do Next, Shackelford warned that America is at a “tipping point” for religious liberty, predicting that religious freedom will be either saved or lost within the next five years—with much of the result dependent on how people of faith respond.

He asks, What if we don’t stand? What if America tips the wrong way on this issue? What if the next few years or so don’t go well? For people of faith, especially Christians, there will be almost no protection for the open expression of your faith anywhere. We could slide into the beginning of totalitarianism.”

But even more than religious freedom is at stake.

“People in other countries can testify,” writes Shackelford, “that if you lose your religious freedom, you will lose all your freedoms. Why? Because of the powerful truth stated in the Declaration of Independence: all rights are endowed by a Creator, which is a higher power.

“Governments are a lower power. They are instituted to secure the rights given by the Creator, and governments are thus accountable to that Creator. That’s why religious liberty is the ‘First Freedom’ listed in the Constitution. But if the Creator is downgraded by the diminishing of religious rights, then government has set itself up as the ‘higher power’—government has replaced God as the origin of rights—and can redefine or remove your rights as it pleases.”

Religious freedom is like a circuit board which wires our entire system of legal rights. And the secularists in power are trying to short out that circuit board—usually for gains driven by whatever interest group holds the spotlight. With ObamaCare, it’s the issue of forcing pro-life religious citizens to provide for abortion through insurance coverage for life-terminating drugs. In other cases it’s gay rights. But these interest groups are so intensely focused on ‘their issue’ that they don’t understand the peril to the entire country if they were to destroy religious freedom. Eventually, all rights, including theirs, would be at risk.”


Yet that is what is being tested in the Supreme Court marriage decision, its aftermath, and other controversies raging across the legal and cultural landscape: the survival of religious liberty and the future of political and economic liberty. 

The question leads Shackelford to a pointed challenge to people of faith: “Will we stand, or will we allow secularists, manipulating government and special interest groups, to overturn our foundation of religious liberty and crown government as God, thus hanging a capricious sword over everyone’s rights?

“If that does happen, your church will be no refuge. People used to say, ‘Well they would never force ministers to violate their beliefs in the United States, right?’ People said, ‘We might disagree on gay marriage or abortion, but we would never force ministers to marry gay couples?’”

Yet as Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out in the oral arguments of Obergefell v. Hodges, that last question is now squarely on the table. Indeed, the entire concept of religious freedom is what is now on the table and different cases are going to test whether the secular elites can get rid of it.

The good news? Shackelford points out that enough legal precedent and federal and state laws still exist—no matter what the Supreme Court rules—to save religious liberty if people of faith stand up and challenge attacks on their freedoms.  But now is the time to stand.

Please click here if you would like to give a donation to help defend and restore religious freedom.

Kelly Shackelford’s recent e-book, A Time to Stand 2015: Why Saving Religious Freedom Depends on What People of Faith Do Nextis available for free at Download it to read more about the challenges to religious liberty and how religious freedom can be preserved—but only if people of faith courageously take a stand.

Please also visit to download resources designed to assist churches and ministries in preparing for increasing assaults on religious liberty

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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit

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