More than 70 leaders in the Christian education field signed letters to Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., last week advocating for legislation that will protect Christian institutions from from being punished by the government for upholding biblical views on marriage.
As concern grows regarding whether or not the IRS will be able to strip Christian schools and institutions of their tax-exempt statuses for upholding a traditional view on marriage should the Supreme Court rule in favor of making same-sex marriage a constitutional right, over 30,000 Christian schools could be at extreme financial risk if they don't construct their policies to accommodate for same-sex relationships.
The letter specifically calls on members of Congress to support the Government Non Discrimination Act, a bill soon to be introduced by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that would prohibit the government from retaliating against institutions that uphold an definition of marriage being a union between only one man and one woman.
"We urge you in the strongest terms to protect the schools we represent, as well as other Americans who live and work in our great country, from such unwarranted and unconstitutional abridgements of the liberty we always have cherished in our nation," the letter reads.
Initiated by the Family Research Council, the letter cites the exchange between the Obama administration's' lead attorney, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, and Justice Samuel Alito when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges on April 28. Verrilli told Alito that Christian schools being at risk of losing their tax-exempt statuses was "certainly going to be an issue" if same-sex marriage was constitutionalized.
The letter cites the Association of American Universities to explain just how crucial tax exemption is for higher education institutions, as tax-exempt status allows schools to "maximize the benefits that they provide society." Additionally the letter contends that losing tax-exempt statuses would cause "severe financial distress for those institutions and their millions of students."
When questioned by Chief Justice John Roberts as to whether Christian schools would be required to let married same-sex couples live together in married school housing, Verrilli responded by saying that it would depend on how states orchestrate their civil laws and added that there is currently no federal law enacted currently that forces them to do so.
"In other words, should such a federal law be enacted, Christian institutions that offer student or constituent housing could be mandated to provide such to same-sex couples." the letter asserts. "Additionally, even if there is no sexual orientation law, it is difficult to see how educational institutions that recognize marriage in their housing, for instance, will not be required to recognize same-sex marriage benefits as well if the Court redefines marriage."
Although losing tax-exempt statuses would be a major financial blow for Christian institutions, most Christian schools will not be coerced into accepting a new definition of marriage or sexual morality, the letter asserts.
"The majority of these institutions hold to religious traditions that forbid sexual intimacy outside of marriage between one man and one woman, and will not jettison these convictions for any tax benefit," the letter states. "Its loss would be premised on a historic abandonment of the principles of religious liberty that are foundational to our republic and also would have a profoundly adverse financial effect on religious-based primary, secondary, collegiate, and post-graduate institutions."
"If the government could revoke the tax exempt status of such schools, what is to prevent other forms of government discrimination such as revoking grants or contracts or funding for services unrelated to marriage?" the letter continues.
Among the 74 signatories are Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Keith Wiebe, president of the American Association of Christian Schools, Albert R. Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Tony Perkins, FRC president and Louisiana College trustee.
Last Wednesday, Sen. Lee held a press conference in his office in Capitol Hill to announce his plan to reintroduce the Government Non Discrimination Act, which he introduced in 2014 and received over 100 co-sponsors in both houses.
"When the government itself is retaliating against someone based on their religious beliefs, that is a problem and that is what we are trying to protect here," Lee said. "Tax-exempt status for religious institutions has historically been granted because we want to keep the government out of the business of interfering with religion. It really ought not be in the business of disrupting the business of a church or religious institution."