The Momentum of the Secular Left against the First Amendment Rights of Traditional Religious Colleges and Universities

Matthew Pinson

(This post originally appeared at

A Recent Lawsuit

Two weeks ago, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education. The suit aimed at the Department’s funding of colleges and universities that have policies that prohibit LGBT conduct.

The class action lawsuit named twenty-five conservative religious colleges. Among them were schools such as Baylor University, Bob Jones University, Westmont College, Fuller Seminary, Union University, Brigham Young University, Liberty University, and Lipscomb University. Specifically, the suit holds that the Department of Education should not allow such schools to claim religious exemptions to orders and statutes that prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The timing of this lawsuit is obvious in light of the passage of the Equality Act by the U.S. House and the introduction of that Bill in the U.S. Senate. It represents the careful strategy of the LGBT lobby to silence traditional religious people and their institutions from the public square when their sincerely held religious beliefs mitigate homosexual and transgender identification or behavior.

The Advance against First Amendment Freedoms

Free Will Baptists need to know how serious this state of affairs is. Most of the evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Jewish, and Muslim colleges, universities, and K-12 schools that hold traditional views on sexuality and gender have students who receive funding from the federal government. Most such schools would be forced to close their doors if their students were deprived of these funds, since such students could no longer afford to attend these institutions.

This situation represents the first in what would be a long line of attempts by the secular left to drive these institutions out of operation. LGBT rights groups have made plain their intentions not to stop with Title IV funding from the U.S. Department of Education but to continue toward the removal of tax exemption, the removal of all forms of federally recognized accreditation, and more.

In short, this powerful lobby believes that policies that preclude LGBT conduct are the same as excluding people on the basis of racial or ethnic identity. If this approach takes hold in the wider political culture, soon all non-profit institutions that hold traditional beliefs on sexual morality and gender identity will be deprived of their historic First Amendment rights to the free exercise of their religion.

What Can I Do?

 What can an ordinary Free Will Baptist do?

Educate Yourself

First, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the current conversation on these issues. One helpful resource is Dr. Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing.”

Also helpful is the Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF) the legal organization that has successfully argued so many religious liberty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. This organization provided legal counsel for Welch College in 2019 when the college came under fire for its traditional Christian stance on sexuality and gender. I strongly recommend ADF.

Other good organizations defending religious liberty and providing helpful resources on these issues include Dr. David Black and the Religious Liberty Coalition and David Gibbs III and the National Center for Life and Liberty.

Exercise Your Rights as a Citizen in a Representative Democracy

Another thing you can do is to exercise your influence as a citizen by kindly and humbly communicating with your U.S. representatives and senators, as well as your state legislators. You can keep them informed of the impact of the Equality Act and similar initiatives on the very existence of traditional religious nonprofits. This includes colleges, universities, K-12 schools, and thousands of other religious nonprofits that save the state billions of dollars each year in costly educational and social services.

Political engagement exists in the context of broader cultural engagement and stewardship and does not function in a vacuum. Yet we have the ability to exercise the rights of our citizenship in a democratic republic that governs through representative democracy.

Unfortunately, the religious liberty community does not have as loud of a voice as other liberal or conservative interest groups. Take for example the LGBT lobby or the environmental lobby or even the business or gun rights or pro-life lobbies. Elected representatives are kept apprised of what those groups deem important. It’s incumbent on religious believers to communicate their concerns about religious liberty to their elected representatives on the federal and state levels.

Particularly, traditional religious people need to make their elected representatives aware of the effect the Equality Act would have on religious liberty. It would be the most sweeping legislation threatening religious freedom in the history of the U.S. If the act were passed, most traditional colleges, schools, social service agencies, and other non-profits sponsored by traditional churches, denominations, synagogues, mosques, etc., simply could not survive.

For example, the accreditation of traditional religious colleges, schools, and seminaries whose deeply held religious beliefs prohibit their hiring of LGBT individuals and admitting of LGBT students would be endangered. Furthermore, their students’ access to Title IV funds would be eliminated. Thus such institutions, which have saved the states multiple billions of dollars educating citizens and community leaders for decades and even centuries, would immediately be forced out of business.

This is because the Equality Act explicitly states that organizations will not be protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. RFRA was introduced by Congressman Chuck Schumer of New York. Passed unanimously in the U.S. House, with only three dissenting votes in the U.S. Senate, it was eagerly signed by President Bill Clinton. This act guarantees the freedom of conscience for traditional religious people promised in the First Amendment. Yet the Equality Act would do away with RFRA’s protections.

Even elected representatives who do not share our deeply held religious beliefs need to be made aware of the very valuable role traditional religious colleges, K-12 schools, adoption and other social services agencies, and other traditional religious non-profits across the U.S. have long played in our society. They need to be made aware of the existential threat this entire sector is under should the Equality Act pass.

Financial Support

Importantly, concerned churches and individuals can increase their charitable giving to institutions like Welch College. Christian colleges and universities stand to lose the most the fastest as a result of the momentum the LGBT lobby is gaining.

Christian higher education, quite simply, faces an existential threat, and the only thing that will ultimately sustain it is the financial support of its denominational, church, alumni, and donor base. This financial support has never been so important, and its increase is the greatest bulwark against the loss of Title IV funds and tax exemption.

Speak the Truth in Love

Furthermore, we must continue to speak the truth in love. Love is the final apologetic, as Francis Schaeffer used to say. And if we are not careful to love individuals whose human flourishing and spiritual lives are being harmed by the LGBT ideology, and show that love observably, we will not have the right, spiritually, to speak the truth we say we believe.

In this regard, I highly recommend the writings of Rosaria Butterfield. Butterfield is an evangelical pastor’s wife who used to be a lesbian critical theory professor and came to faith as a result of the humble, hospitable witness of a conservative evangelical pastor and his wife in a small congregation.

This pastor and his wife, and their church, bore witness to the truth of Holy Scripture regarding what kind of sexual identities and relationships honor God and His creative design and foster vital human flourishing. Yet they were loving and kind and hospitable to Butterfield and her friends, who were at the vanguard of the LGBT movement.


Lastly, pray. Pray that God will provide wisdom for people who are in leadership. Pray that God will help legislators on the federal and state levels to understand what is at stake with the Equality Act and other initiatives that jeopardize the First Amendment rights of every citizen of the United States.

And pray that God will renew faithful churches that confidently teach and model the doctrine and practice the Spirit gives us in His Word, speak the truth in love, and spread the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes.

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