Three clients of Alliance Defending Freedom described their battles for religious liberty March 2 at Proclaim 17, the National Religious Broadcasters' annual convention, which was held in Orlando this year. A wedding cinematographer, preschool director, and former fire chief shared about their legal efforts in a public policy session sponsored by ADF at the Orlando World Center Marriott.
Their cases and others likely will determine the future of religious freedom in America, ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley told the audience.
"I firmly believe that within the next decade or so how Christians are going to be treated in employment, in the public square, in churches [is] going to be decided in court cases, in the halls of Congress, in administrations," Stanley said. Christians must return to the understanding that religious liberty is an "unalienable right" that "should not turn on the whim of who is in office," he said.
Joining Stanley in the discussion were:
• Carl Larsen, co-owner with his wife, Angel, of Telescope Media Group. The Larsens have filed a pre-enforcement challenge to a Minnesota law that would require them to make films of same-sex marriages if they create movies of weddings between a man and a woman. They could face up to $25,000 in fines and 90 days in jail.
• Annette Kiehne, director of the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia, Mo. The state rejected Trinity Lutheran's application to be part of a program using recycled tires to provide safer, rubberized surfaces for children's playgrounds because, according to the state, including it in the program would abridge a Missouri law barring government funding of religion.
Stanley will argue the case before the U.S. Supreme Court April 19.
• Kelvin Cochran, who was fired as Atlanta's fire chief for advocating the biblical view of marriage and sexuality in a men's devotional book he wrote. His challenge to his removal is prepared to go to court.
Telescope, Larsen told NRB participants, "exists to glorify God through top-quality media production." Because marriage is a "central theme" in the Larsens' lives, he said, "[W]e're excited to tell stories about the glory of God in marriage."
At the core of their refusal to video nonbiblical marriages "is a conviction that nobody should be forced to work or speak or say anything that's a violation of their deeply held beliefs," Larsen said.
Children in the neighborhood use Trinity Lutheran's playground outside school hours, Kiehne said. "It feels like a double standard, and we would just like the Supreme Court to do away with the double standard and rule in our favor" so children "can be just as safe on our playground as they could on any other neutral playground," she said.
Trinity Lutheran's challenge, Stanley said, is a "sleeper case, but this kind of case will set the principles for the free exercise of religion moving forward for the next few decades."
Atlanta officials fired Cochran even though an investigation showed he had not discriminated against employees based on his beliefs. When he experienced discrimination as a black firefighter in Shreveport, La., Cochran said he determined not to discriminate as a leader but to establish "a culture of compassion and equity and justice."
His prayer is "that God would be glorified at the end of this legal process," Cochran told the audience.