Could Pastors be Jailed for Preaching Against Queers?

Indy Star
December 15, 2013

Eric Miller, founder of Advance America, a conservative activist group, speaks to students and other Hoosiers about how their government works and how they can make a difference during an April 2013 event in the Indiana Supreme Court chambers.
Eric Miller, founder of Advance America, a conservative activist group, speaks to students and other Hoosiers about how their government works and how they can make a difference during an April 2013 event in the Indiana Supreme Court chambers.

An Indiana group is making dire predictions if the state doesn’t pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Advance America, in a Sunday bulletin insert offered to churches, lays out what its leaders see as dangers ahead:

>> Authorities jailing pastors for preaching against homosexuality.

>> Cross-dressing men violating women’s privacy in their restrooms.

>> Government forcing business owners to cater to same-sex weddings.

>> Schools teaching children that gay marriage is normal.

The flier, put out this fall, argues that the items are “Just Four Dangers of Same-Sex Marriage” that could be on the horizon if Indiana fails to safeguard its traditional marriage definition, which already is contained in state law. (View the flier here.)

But Jennifer Drobac, a family law professor at Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law, was blunt in her assessment that Advance America’s flier makes claims with little basis in reality.

“This is just ludicrous,” she said. “This is just promulgating panic — and misinformed panic.”

Advance America, led by fundamentalist Christian activist Eric Miller, is among several religious-based organizations fighting at the grass roots to urge Indiana legislators to approve the proposed marriage amendment early next year. It then would go to voters on the November 2014 ballot.

Legal experts and gay-rights activists accuse Advance America of seizing on isolated examples from other states or misconceptions to strike fear into church-goers.

Freedom Indiana, the coalition working to defeat the amendment, says Advance America’s flier is full of “scare tactics.”

One of Advance America’s claims is based on a fierce legal debate in other states. Business owners such as florists and caterers have faced sanctions in some places — especially those that also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation — if they refuse to participate in same-sex weddings. But Indiana’s discrimination law doesn’t include protections based on sexual orientation.

As for the flier’s other claims, PolitiFact and other nonpartisan organizations have disputed their veracity when raised by gay marriage opponents in other states that have debated the issue.

Several attempts to reach Miller, Advance America’s founder and executive director, were not successful. It also was unclear how many churches have made use of the insert in their bulletins.

Advance America says it has more than 3,700 member churches statewide. Among them are many Assemblies of God churches, but Indiana District Superintendent Don Gifford wasn’t sure how many congregations had used the flier.

Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, says Advance America’s flier makes reasonable claims about potential harms to religious freedom that could result if the state’s existing gay marriage ban is overturned.

“The issues and the ideas that are presented are fair,” Smith, who also is working to pass the amendment, said after reviewing the flier. “They are the logical consequences of this kind of policy.”

He added the caveat that, in Indiana, defeat of the marriage amendment wouldn’t necessarily mean Hoosiers would embrace the legalization of gay marriage right away.

Disagreement over Advance America’s flier is the latest spat over claims made by either side in the marriage amendment debate.

For their part, Smith and other supporters long have accused opponents of exaggerating the potential fallout of the amendment’s second sentence. It would bar state recognition of other arrangements, including civil unions, that are “identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals.”

Freedom Indiana, some legislators and corporations, including Eli Lilly and Co. and Cummins, have expressed worry that domestic partner benefits offered by public and private employers could be at risk if the amendment passes.

But Robert Dion, chairman of the political science department at the University of Evansville, says a key difference is that that claim has gained credence from more than just the activists.

“In fact, you don’t need to look any further than some prominent (Republican) members of the Indiana General Assembly who have said that they think there are problems with that language,” Dion said. “I think it’s fair to say it’s a widespread view that that second sentence is somewhat murky, and the real-world implications of it stretch far beyond just building an anti-gay marriage ban into the constitution.”

He, too, expressed concerns about the claims made about same-sex marriage by Advance America’s church bulletin insert.

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