Measure would harm religious freedom

Freedom is a remarkable and challenging concept. While we can be grateful for the gift of freedom, we must be aware that it brings with it a sense of accountability. To ourselves and to our Creator.

During this season when Christians celebrate the Christ child as Emmanuel, the Hebrew word for "God is with us," freedom is front and center. Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." In that same message, he said, "Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

We all have the freedom to make choices that either widen or narrow the relationship gap between a Creator who longs for intimacy with us -- so much so that he sent His son to die on our behalf. Daily, we must bring our weaknesses and struggles and addictions and pains to Him. His response is unconditional forgiveness.

Here in America, we've been blessed with religious freedom. Our Founders knew it as the "first liberty" and in no uncertain terms, that liberty is under assault today.

Chai Feldblum, a respected Georgetown University Law professor, lesbian, LGBT activist and Obama nominee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, put it most succinctly and honestly when she said, "There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases sexual liberty should win. I'm having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win."

In April, Anchorage residents will be asked to add sexual orientation and transgender identity to our city's discrimination policy. This initiative threatens to inflict widespread and pervasive harm on religious liberty, affecting -- among others -- employers, employees, businesses, professionals, membership organizations, community groups, religious entities, and educational institutions.

This is not mere speculation. In communities across the country where similar measures have passed, religious freedoms are being taken away.

In New Mexico, a wedding photographer who had refused to photograph a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony for religious reasons was ordered by the court to pay more than $6,000 to the same-sex couple.

The archdioceses in Boston and Chicago were forced to go out of the adoption business when they determined that their religious beliefs precluded them from fostering or encouraging the placement of children with same-sex couples.

Government entities have declared that licensed counselors and counseling students engage in sexual-orientation discrimination when their religious convictions prohibit them from affirming homosexual behavior in their counseling. In response, public universities have dismissed counseling students where their religious beliefs forbid them from providing counseling that affirms homosexual behavior.

In each of these cases and countless others, it should be noted that it was never an issue of not having access to a service. Photographers, adoption agencies and counselors were abundantly available for the same-sex couples. The problem was the religious viewpoints of the service providers.

Ultimately, those who advocate for the advancement of sexual behavior protections in our law have little or no room for those who have religious convictions on those issues.

Certain employers have legitimate reasons for considering an employee's or applicant's sexual behavior when making employment decisions, such as a faith-based school or organization making a hiring decision about a principal, teacher or leader. But this initiative, because of its very limited religious exemption, will forbid these entities from adhering to their moral and religious convictions by forcing them to hire, or prohibiting them from removing, a person openly engaging in homosexual behavior.

Every citizen in Anchorage has and should have the freedom to love whomever they want. That freedom, however, should not require those with deeply held religious beliefs on human sexuality to check their faith at the door of their place of worship and be required by law to affirm or promote homosexuality.

Jim Minnery is president of the Alaska Family Council.