Freedom of Religion

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There is an Amarillo connection to a high profile case expected to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer. It involves religious freedom versus civil rights.

Three Amarillo pastors have filed a “friend of the court” or amicus brief with the Supreme Court, arguing that businesses should not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religious freedoms.

The pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Amarillo is one of the churches fighting for civil rights for the LGBTQ community.

“This church came about because we needed to hear, as the song goes, to get a message from the Lord that who we were is who God created us to be,” said Bernie Barbour, the Metropolitan Community Church pastor.

Rev. Barbour, known as “Pastor Bernie,” signed onto the amicus brief supporting a gay couple who was refused service by a Colorado bakery in 2012.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case late last year and is expected to hand down their ruling this year.

“There are those who will use their faith as exclusion.  It’s an exclusive club. But, the reality is, if we read those scriptures about outsiders that Jesus made it a point to go to bring in.  So when people come to me about ideas of exclusion, I immediately go to, this is not gospel. It’s not religious. It’s playing a law game,” said Rev. Barbour.

Though some other church leaders in Amarillo feel maybe there is another way.

“Maybe there is a third way besides just signing up for boycotts, and signing petitions, and deciding who is right and who is wrong, and whose side I’m on,” said Allan Stranglin, Pastor of Central Church of Christ.

Pastor Stranglin said the third option comes from a higher power. 

“I think there is a Jesus way, and there is the worlds way. And the Jesus way is not about power. It is not about money. It is not about influence. It is not about force. It’s not about my rights. It is about giving up those rights. It is about loving other people. It is about sacrifice, and about service,” said Pastor Stranglin.

“You can practice and say what you want in your church, but when you go on the public street and say I am a public business, then to me you are required to serve the general public regardless of what you believe, because I am not there to get into a discussion with you about your religious beliefs,” said Rev. Barbour.

Rev. Barbour said today’s fight by the LGBTQ community for equal rights rivals that of African Americans in the 1950s and 60s during the Jim Crow Era. 

He said now that we have marriage equality, who people are married to is no one’s business.

“The reality is, we go back to what is, in essence, would be a segregated society. This time it would around gender identity or sexual orientation.  But, either way, it’s still discrimination,” said Rev. Barbour.

“If you have a community business, the community means everybody. You shouldn’t be turning anybody away from your business. You’re there to serve the community,” said Rolla Fisher, member of the Metropolitan Community Church.

Fisher is a long time congregant at Metropolitan Community Church. He said if you open a business, he’s there for a service, not for lessons on what you believe.

“You can still keep your religious freedoms, but if you’re going to be a community-based service, you need to be community-based. You can’t pick an choose who you want to serve in your businesses. It just doesn’t work that way, and if you want to go with the religious aspect, shouldn’t you be serving everybody anyway,” said Fisher.

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