By Katie Ellington, News Editor
In light of the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling, which made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, Christians of varying backgrounds are now wondering about the future of religious freedom. Many worry about the impact of the ruling on religious institutions, from Christian-owned small businesses to faith-based colleges and universities.
On April 28, two months before the Supreme Court reached its decision; Justice Samuel Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli if the legalization of gay marriage would put religious schools at risk of losing their tax-exempt status.
“It’s certainly going to be an issue,” said Verrilli. “I don’t deny that.”
Most colleges and universities in the U.S. are tax-exempt because of their status as educational institutions. However, religious schools fear that if they continue to ban gay relationships, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could take away this status as a violation of a “fundamental national public policy,” according to a June 24 article by the New York Times.
One legislator who has frequently expressed concern over the issue is Utah senator Mike Lee. Lee introduced his First Amendment Defense Act to the House of Representatives on June 17. If passed, the bill would prevent the government from revoking tax exemptions from various institutions, including educational ones, on the basis of a “religious belief or moral conviction” concerning marriage and sexual relations. The bill is currently being reviewed by various House committees.
Two schools that won’t have to worry about this issue are Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). Both announced in mid-July that after much consideration, they were updating their hiring policies to include members of same-sex unions. Both policies now state that the universities do not discriminate on the basis of “sexual orientation, gender identity or any legally protected status.” This was followed days later by a statement from the Mennonite Education Agency, which acknowledged its disagreement with Goshen and EMU but said it will “show forbearance to these two institutions.”
The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), an association that includes both Goshen and EMU as well as Asbury, has yet to release a definitive stance. Its first news release stated that the changes would be discussed during regularly scheduled meetings. Six days later, it released a second statement saying that the board “unanimously reaffirmed its commitment to a deliberative and consultative process” and would be calling all member presidents to discuss the issue “in the coming weeks and months.”
“I have already spoken with the CCCU and expressed our institutional position,” Dr. Sandra Gray, Asbury president, told the Collegian via email. “Asbury University holds to the historic, biblical view of marriage between one man and one woman, as I do personally.”
President Gray also stated: “Asbury will not make a decision (to continue or discontinue membership) until the listening process is concluded and we have given them the opportunity to communicate whether affiliate members with a different view of marriage will remain a part of the CCCU.”
Union University president Samuel W. Oliver was displeased with this choice, arguing that it made the CCCU look unprepared to handle the issue and that it had “abandoned fidelity to God’s Word when they endorsed same-sex marriage.” As a result, Union has formally withdrawn from the CCCU. Oliver has also told media that up to 40 other institutions may take similar action if the CCCU does not make a decision by August 31; however, news releases from the CCCU imply they have received no such notice from members. The president of Cedarville University, another member school, has said that Cedarville will wait for the CCCU to make its official decision, but “will not compromise on the biblical view of marriage.”
Whatever decision is made, CCCU has stated that it will continue to support the right of institutions to operate based on their religious or moral belief that marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman.