Bryan Fischer isn’t exactly known for his tolerance toward the LGBT community – or his respect for facts. But in his regular column for One News Now, Fischer, who is director of issues analysis for the American Family Association, resurrected a two-year old story to tell particularly bold falsehood about same-sex marriage and religious liberty.
“According to the London Telegraph, a new law passed by the Danish parliament ‘make(s) it mandatory for all churches to conduct gay marriages.’ No options, no exceptions, no choice. Homosexuals are to be married wherever they want, regardless of whose conscience is trampled and whose sanctuary is defiled in the process,” Fischer wrote, arguing that religious liberty is under direct attack by legal same-sex marriage.
“While an individual priest may not be compelled to perform such weddings,” he went on, “his bishop has been ordered (under threat of what?) to find a replacement for him so that the priest's church can be used. Thus an individual priest can no longer protect the spiritual integrity of his own house of worship.”
But there’s more to Denmark’s law, which passed in 2012, than Fischer acknowledges in his column.
While it is certainly true that in Denmark, same-sex couples have a legal right to be married in a church in some cases, Fischer neglects to mention the reason why that is so: Denmark has a state church. The law applies quite specifically to that state church.
“With the legalization of gay marriage, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark [which is the state church], is required to allow same-sex couples to marry in churches,” the Pew Research Center notes in a 2013 explainer on same-sex marriage laws around the world.
It’s hardly a blanket rule: Pew goes on to state that other religious groups are exempt from the law.
Catholic churches, for example, aren’t required to host same-sex marriage ceremonies, a fact the Vatican noted just this week. “For the moment we [the Catholic Church] are not worried,” Niels Messerschmidt, a representative of the Catholic Diocese of Copenhagen, told Vatican Radio.
So not only does Danish law protect the individual conscience rights of clergy in its state church, it imposes nothing on churches that are not affiliated with the state. That’s hardly a religious liberty crisis. Moreover, it’s nonsensical to claim, as Fischer does, that the law is a harbinger of nightmares to come in the United States.
“How long will it be before American churches will be ordered, as a condition of maintaining their tax-exempt status, to host same-sex ceremonies? How long will it be before American pastors are ordered to perform them?” he whines.
The answer is never.
The United States does not have a state church. Courtesy of the First Amendment, it will never have a state church. There is a significant difference between the tax-exempt status currently enjoyed by all clergy, regardless of their religious affiliation, and the establishment of a state church, which is directly supported by public funds. The government has a say in the affairs of the latter, but not the former.
So what does Fischer have to say about the First Amendment?
It doesn’t rate a mention in his column on Denmark. But previous pontifications on the subject grant insight into his perspective. Although Fischer has stated that he doesn’t support the establishment of a state church, he has publicly claimed that the First Amendment only applies to Christians. And in a previous column, he called the wall of separation between church and state “completely mythical.”
It's sadly ironic. The one thing that prevents the government from telling churches what to do – separation of church and state – is loathed by Fischer. Rather than hyperventilate about Denmark, Fischer should be grateful that church-state separation, as set out by the First Amendment, prevents a similar situation from occurring in the United States.
Acknowledging this would mean that Fischer (and the American Family Association) would have to stop their assault on the wall of separation. But as long as he believes that his interpretation of Christianity deserves to be enforced by the government, Fischer’s in no position to criticize Denmark.