religious conscience

Why Sexual Morality Cannot Be Excluded from Religious Freedom

on March 1, 2019

As reviewed by this writer in articles in February, the denial of religious freedom involved in the proposed Equality Act will result in a daunting challenge to faithful Christians. It will give traditional religious believers the choice of underclass status or disobeying God. Professions and occupations will be closed to them because they will be required to facilitate sinful behavior. At the heart of the problem is giving civil rights status to sexual behavior and inclinations, an impossible project if liberty and equality are taken as the justifications. With sex self-defined, it becomes impossible to say what is and is not sexual; virtually anything could be done or required by someone claiming to be a victim.

The ludicrous but dangerous situation the nation is now faced with is the result of the attempt to incorporate sexual license into people’s understanding of virtue via the Constitution. As also reviewed in earlier articles, this process began in the 1960s, with Supreme Court decisions finding a constitutional right to marital contraception. While the Griswold decision (1965), appealing to a “law older than the Bill of Rights,” is well known, its background in a dissent from an earlier case is perhaps most important.

In Poe vs. Ullman (1960), the court had dismissed a case challenging Connecticut’s law banning contraception. Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan’s dissent from the dismissal turned out to be one of the most important statements in American jurisprudence. He declared that the freedom guaranteed by the Constitution was not a series of discrete rights, such as freedom of religion, speech, and the press, but a “rational continuum which, broadly speaking, includes a freedom from all substantial arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints.” In subsequent years the court found this meant a right to contraception, abortion, and sodomy. “Rational continuum” appears to be a vision of the good life which is understood to be held by all enlightened persons.

By introducing civil rights law into the mix, this vision of the good life, focusing on the sexual aspect of life, becomes binding on everyone. This puts it on a collision course with religious freedom, since an important part of any religion is commonly restrictions on sex, and the enlightened vision declares consensual adult sexual activity to be righteous.

A summation of the sexual standards of the major world religions easily shows this. Christian ethics is drawn first from the Bible, which while recognizing marriage as part of creation, and therefore good, devotes most of what it has to say about sex to restriction and condemnation. The unhappy ending of the Garden of Eden account has clear sexual overtones, and sex appears again and again in the Book of Genesis as a cause of violence and suffering. Condemnation of adultery is part of the Ten Commandments. The sexual condemnations of the so-called Holiness Code in Leviticus 18, really in the heart of the law given by Moses, focuses on such gross departures from sexual morality as incest, bestiality, and sodomy. Harlotry, lust, and non-marital sex generally are repeatedly condemned in Old Testament history, the prophets, and the wisdom literature.

The New Testament is even more restrictive, prohibiting divorce, which the Old Testament allowed. The vice lists, found in the Gospels, Epistles, and the Book of Revelation prominently include condemnations of non-marital sexual activity. Notice particularly that this includes the vice lists of Jesus, in Matthew and Mark, and the vice list of damnation at the end of the Book of Revelation. Thus it is not at all a secondary, but a primary concern of the Christian Gospel. Of particular concern for today, Jesus identified complicity in sin as sinful. While it is sometimes said that the Bible has no uniform condemnation of all non-marital intercourse, the words of Jesus and Paul indicate otherwise. Jesus rebuked the woman at the well for cohabitation, while Paul’s admonition to the young unmarried couple to get married, saying that it is “not sinning,” clearly indicates that a sexual relationship without marriage is a sin.

Jewish sexual ethics are in large measure covered by the foregoing mention of the Old Testament, although supplemented by subsequent rabbinical judgments, just as Christian sexual ethics are understood through post-Biblical interpretation. The Catholic Encyclopedia expands on the Catholic interpretation of the commandment against adultery, for instance.

Islamic sexual ethics appear to comprehend all forbidden sexual activity under one word “zina.” It covers all non-marital intercourse, and as in the teachings of Jesus, the “lust of the eye.” Like Jewish and Christian ethics, it is well worked out by scholars over the centuries.

Other religions, although not monotheistic, do not seem greatly different on sexual ethics in their generalities. Severe condemnation of adultery seems almost universal, as in Hinduism, along with a more general condemnation of pre-marital intercourse. For Buddhism, sexual morality is comprehended under the third of five precepts that are basic to the religion. Like other religions, it focuses on restrictions, specifically prohibiting adultery, but is commonly understood by traditional societies to cover a much broader range, such as pre-marital sex. Scholarly discussions of homosexuality seem to strain to find ways of understanding it permissible by traditional standards, but as with Buddhism, finally concede that “Theravada Buddhist countries are not terribly open to homosexual practice.” Similarly, the same source endeavored to point out that the Dalai Lama offered no absolute condemnation of homosexuality, while conceding that he did say that all but biological intercourse is forbidden to Buddhists.

Confucianism is sometimes thought of as an ethical system rather than a religion, but it is not greatly different from undoubted religions in holding the restrictive view of sex common from antiquity. Several NIH authors seem disappointed that traditional Confucian morality has not greatly weakened with respect to pre-marital sexual behavior in the Far East, while the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism offers much the same morality as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, with an especially strong condemnation of homosexuality.

Sexual morality is thus fundamental to most world religions. Sexual standards differ from one religion and one culture to another, but there is also, and more importantly, a profound similarity. In particular, all acknowledge that non-marital sexual activity is in some measure defiling. Any language in the world can be expected to have a word that means “adultery,” and a word that means “virgin.” What does this say? It says that from antiquity, humanity considers non-marital intercourse to be defiling.

The contrary viewpoint of the sexual revolution is that humanity is wrong, and should change its mind. Modern technology and affluence can be held to eventually make possible a world without families, their responsibilities, and emotional strings. The mental and physical ailments that result from departing from the ancient standards are simply problems calling for enlightened resolutions by science and technology. How do we know that this is right? Apparently because people are entitled to what they want. It can be seen as part of the “rational continuum” of freedom. But this is not at all obvious – it seems to be offered as a moral intuition. Sexual desire is certainly real; that it is necessarily proper is simply an assumption. There is as much reason to give the consensus of the ages credence as there is the views of the modern international elite – many think, much more reason.

But more importantly than current trends, for traditional religious believers, traditional religions present themselves as an apprehension of ultimate reality. Therefore, the deliverances of religious precepts are non-negotiable. But there is nothing uniquely dogmatic about that. So is the secularist commitment to moral autonomy non-negotiable. Non-negotiable commitments cannot be rejected because they are non-negotiable. There must be a final good (a non-negotiable) in all moral assessments. Today there remains a common sense that marriage and family breakdown, the confusion about what sexuality means, and the death and pain visited by the promiscuity of the sexual revolution are not good things. By that standard, the non-negotiable of sexual purity received from antiquity ought to be favored. These generally recognized goods should be strong enough for law and public policy.

And so sexual morality cannot justly be excluded from religious freedom, as the cultural Left demands be done, because sexual morality is integral to world religions. Personal behavior and inclinations, as noted above, cannot consistently be given civil rights protection, and even if they could, the law should never require action against conscience.

But action against conscience is now being required by the sexual revolution in the interest of overthrowing the common human morality. It is exactly what the Equality Act, and any similar laws or rules will do. Especially for the religious conscience, commitments on sexual matters are rooted in an apprehension of ultimate reality, and cannot possibly be given up, for any penalty. Therefore, the religious conscience ought to be accommodated in law and public policy, regardless of how badly anyone is pained.

  1. Comment by Robert Hulse, B.S. Pharmacy; M.A. Religious Education; EdS Organizational Leadership and Brain-based Leadership on March 1, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    While foolish to deny the existence of prohibitions (and subsequent condemnations) of human sexual behaviors arising from religious systems, it would be equally foolish to deny the evolution in how those same religious systems treat human interactions (including sexuality) in light of “newer” understandings brought about by scientific discovery. Not all emerging science is “absolute” and there are plenty of examples of how our scientific understandings are mutable. However, with subsequent confirmation, we are spiritually wise to always consider the possibility (or the reality) that prior religious proscriptions of human behaviors and interactions should be reconsidered in light of “better” understandings of our biological and psychological selves.

    In that light, there are a couple of ideas related to human sexuality that seem to be conflated in your article – most notably, the multiple references to sexual orientation (which is different from gender identity) as simply “behaviors”. While avoiding a descent into biological determinism is not only prudent, but wise, it should be noted that modern scientific understandings of genetics and epigenetics highlight the complex biological framework within which human sexual behaviors reside. This does not exclude “free will” and legitimate human choice from the behavioral decision-making process, not by any means. But it does (or it should) give religious “traditionalists” pause to consider that the possibility that the “freedom” to choose any particular behavior, or engage in any particular interaction, is constrained, or informed, by very real biological determinants.

    Thus when we resort to a legitimately understood history of regard for human sexual behaviors, and we resort only to that, we are liable to perpetuate biases and prejudices based on emotion-driven disgust, ignorance, or just plain animosity for those who are not like us (e.g., “out groups”).

    While legitimate biblical scholarship has addressed the so-called “clobber verses” found in the Old and New Testaments, it is not my attention to highlight that here. My only desire is to accept the fact that we have, dozens of times throughout history, changed our minds about, and attitudes towards, those things that prior generations held as moral “absolutes”. Tradition has a strong influence on parenting and, as a result, on the passing on of opinions, ideas, and attitudes that should be re-evaluated in light of newer learning. (Of course, this same tradition functions well as a “skeptic” of that new learning such that weak science is rejected).

    As we have with the dehumanizing of human beings based on skin color and gender, let us not fear the future of the human race based solely on religious proscriptions of human behaviors and interactions rooted only in historical sensibilities. Let us also understand the evolution of the interpretation of scripture and how historical context has played a role in the “words” we read on the pages today.

    For those who wish to begin to understand the biological basis for same sex orientations, here are some starting points:

    1. As an overview of genetic and epigenetic research related to same sex orientation:

    2. As an high-level review of the “for” and “against” divisions in the scientific community related to research on genetic/epigenetic influences on same sex orientation: file:///Users/benedicterrainc/Downloads/1533-Article%20Text-3787-1-10-20160222.pdf

    For those who wish to consider how six verses in the Protestant Christian Bible have come to divide and exclude, here is a starting point:

  2. Comment by April User on March 1, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    The ecinc link you included in your comment contains references from 3-4 theologians and uses their quotes as a way to bolster the case for homosexuality. However, there are dozens of theologians who would disagree. Robert Gagnon, for instance, has a thorough, historic and current study on this topic. His conclusions are quite different.

  3. Comment by Robert Hulse on March 5, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    That was not intended as an exhaustive exposition, but rather a starting point to understanding that the conservative interpretations of King James versions of the English Bible just might not say what folks think they say. Of course there are those who strive hard to derive tortuous conservative theologies (the Pharisees were notorious for this) – we see them all over the place, often aided by the likes of the IRD.

    So the question for you is, “If people of equally legitimate faiths and solid relationships with God through Jesus Christ come to equally disparate conclusions on the interpretation of scripture (and that’s what this is all about, interpretation), how should we be about building the kingdom of God in this world?” You would seem to simply want to exclude anyone and everyone who does not conform to your notions of what a “holy” lifestyle looks like. Some of us, on the other hand, seek to include ALL of God’s children in the kingdom.

    If you read about the history of the early church, you will find that folks like Arius and Athanasius represented radically different perspective, arising from different interpretations of the exact same set of scriptures. Problem is, we don’t have an Emperor Constantine to intercede and declare a “winner”. This is but the latest in a long line of theological arguments over which people of faith disagreed. It won’t be the last.

  4. Comment by Joshua Jones on March 9, 2019 at 7:57 am

    Mr. Humes,
    You stated that it will not be the last dispute. Many of Christian brothers and sisters however do believe there *will* be a last dispute – the one immediately before the moment of the final judgement. Do you not believe that God is just, and will be the final arbiter – and that all of our judgments will be finally compared against His?

  5. Comment by Bill T on March 2, 2019 at 9:32 am

    Anyone, these days, who relies on studies out of the Social Sciences is a fool. A majority of the studies are junk science and not replicable. It is an agenda driven field.

    Recently several scientists send in gibberish studies into several Social Science journals and they were published. They were pointing out the lack of any scientific discipline in that field.

    There is nothing new in the push to accommodate homosexuality in Christianity. I believe there was a push about the 11th century that was defeated.

    Also, you could take your whole post and substitute eugenics and it would fit right into the science of the early 20th century. Everyone would agree with you. From that came the “Master Race” and we know how that turned out.

    BTW- I have a Masters in Chemistry so apply my scientific discipline to reviewing studies from many fields and we in science have major problems with the need to publish. That, too often, leads to the need to go with the flow so the papers are accepted. It even happens in Chemistry.

  6. Comment by Robert Hulse on March 5, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    I could equally apply your reasoning to the issue of “slavery” or the “ordination of women” as it relates to “substitution”. Both of those have clear (seemingly) biblical interpretations and yet, as a world, we have come to see that the patriarchal and misogynst roots of those interpretations no longer hold and so we back off of things like holding slaves (at least in some parts of the world) and the “silencing” of women in the church (at least in some parts).

    So the question for you is, “Do you not believe in the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today?”. I don’t think you honestly believe that the worldview and scientific perspective that undergirds the biblical texts of nearly 2,000 years ago continues to hold sway in this day and age. So what do we do with that knowledge? Continue to interpret scripture in light of a flat earth notion? Continue to regard women as nothing more than “vessels” for children (disregarding basic reproductive understanding)? Continue to regard blacks as inferior because of their “racial intelligences and abilities”?

    Here’s the bottom line – nobody is asking YOU to believe anything different. You are being asked to allow OTHERS to live in THEIR faith and THEIR relationship with Jesus Christ without interference and judgement based on YOUR personal views of what “normal” gender and sexual orientation looks like. Period.

  7. Comment by Rick Plasterer on March 2, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    Mr. Hulse,

    The point of my article is not to defend traditional sexual morality as correct, but to say that it is fundamental to world religions. Whether or not it should be revised in light of modern thought is another question. In a regime of religious freedom, people are free to criticize traditional religious beliefs, but the government is not free to require people to comply with those criticisms in their religious belief and practice. Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws, as they are interpreted to include accommodating sexual behavior, do just that – they require complicity in actions many religions declare to be immoral. To require action believed to be evil is not a minor, but a severe violation of religious liberty.


  8. Comment by Robert Hulse on March 5, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    So it’s ok for the IRD to advocate for a “hedge” around the religious sensibilities of its adherents it’s not ok for other Christians to advocate for the same “hedge”? It’s ok for conservatives to impose their narrow-minded bigotry on an entire country (“You have to accept our views and our way of thinking or you are heretics”) and yet when people of faith seek simply to expand the kingdom, y’all get your knickers in a bunch?

    Is not the hypocrisy of criticizing people for (what you believe to be) a “my way or the highway” approach to gender identification and sexual orientation by those who are dedicated to the notion of “my way or the highway” not at all evident to you? It is to those who watch what you do…

  9. Comment by Rick Plasterer on March 6, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    Mr. Hulse,

    To repeat what I said in my original comment “people are free to criticize traditional religious beliefs, but the government is not free to require people to comply with those criticisms in their religious belief and practice. Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws, as they are interpreted to include accommodating sexual behavior, do just that – they require complicity in actions many religions declare to be immoral.”

    It is traditional religious people, “fundamentalists” if you like, who are being imposed on when they are required to bake cakes for same-sex ceremonies, provide flowers, or plan weddings for the same, told that their educational, medical and charitable institutions must provide benefits for same-sex spouses, retain or hire people engaged in homosexual behavior, open their rest rooms to the opposite sex, surely eventually told that they cannot discipline church members for their sexual behavior, and may not teach traditional Christian morality, which is condemnatory of LGBT behavior, to their children. It is the cultural left which is imposing its will on the entire country.


  10. Comment by Rick Plasterer on March 9, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    I should add to my comment of March 6 that LGBT identifying persons are not being required to take any action to violate their consciences, as traditional believers are. We saw that clearly in Colorado where Jack Philips was required to bake a cake for a homosexual ceremony, but a homosexual baker was not required to bake a cake requested supporting Biblical morality


  11. Comment by Andrew Hughes on March 1, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you for your diligence in protecting religious freedoms brother Plasterer.

  12. Comment by Ted R. Weiland on March 5, 2019 at 7:29 am

    Christians are so intent on making sure they get their due scraps under their masters’ table by means of the First Amendment that they fail to consider the flip side to religious freedom. They fail to recognize they’re not only promoting Christian freedom but freedom for all other religions to build their Mosques, Synagogues, and Temples devoted to gods not Yahweh, the God of the Bible, an unequivocal violation of the First Commandment.

    It’s one thing to allow for freedom of conscience and private worship. It’s another matter altogether to allow for other religions to flourish and proselytize our posterity to their false gods. Case in Point: The First Commandment violating, polytheism-enabling First Amendment.

    Furthermore, religious *freedom,* by its very nature, includes those whose religion would include whatever their proponents decide is sexually accepted or even required.

    In other words, without the parameters of the Bible’s immutable/unchanging triune moral law (the Ten Commandment and their respective statutes and judgments), the First Amendment’s freedoms of religion, speech, and press are a toxic brew and one of the principle reasons America finds herself teetering precipitously on the precipice of moral depravity and destruction.

    For more, see online Chapter 11 “Amendment 1: Government-Sanctioned Polytheism” of “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective” at

    Then find out how much you really know about the Constitution as compared to the Bible. Take our 10-question Constitution Survey in the right-hand sidebar and receive a complimentary copy of the 85-page “Primer” of “BL vs. USC.”

  13. Comment by Robert Hulse on March 5, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Your fear is palpable.

    You think the God you worship needs defending? You think God is incapable of surviving against what you consider to be “imposters?” You think the God you worship hasn’t experienced “competition” from a whole host of other “gods”?

    That’s a pretty weak God.

    If there is truth in your God, then that God will be just fine.

    Or is this about something else entirely? Perhaps your politics are of greater concern? Perhaps the imposition of your personal opinions and worldview is of paramount importance in your mission?

    Honest questions.

  14. Comment by Jane K on June 9, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    Mr. Plasterer,

    Your point about governmental interference in how European/Western- Christian people express sexual morality according to their religious beliefs is broadly valid. I wish you kept it there.

    Other than conflating gender identity with sexual orientation, the blatant use of other world religions with a European/Western-Christian understanding is particularly egregious. Any argument based on world practices should also include cultural context as well. In this case, it should be noted that small groups of people or clans/tribes usually prioritize the birth of children as a continual mark of prosperity. Any sexual relationship that doesn’t provide children would be villainified and give rise to homophobia. It would also seep into religion. In this modern age, whether you think such priorities are still valid or if you think it’s outdated barbaric clannishness is another topic.

    The most harmful is the European/Western Christian understanding of other religions. Not only are some excluded (many Native American and African religions accept more than two genders and homosexual relationships), the view of Hinduism and Buddhism are especially misleading. Hinduism, for example, is very broad and holds many beliefs depending on the sect or region. Generally, older Hinduism was tolerant of homosexuality and even more accepting of transgendered individuals, believing they were the closest embodiment to their androgynous gods. It’s only recently that the “sexual morality” you describe has become similar to that of Western Christians. That’s mainly due to the scarring of European colonialism as a mechanism to survive. There are some untouched parts that still follow older beilefs and there are new waves trying to revive that tolerance.

    Please don’t bury a valid argument with such a narrow view on world religions. Christians, especially Western Christians have a bad habit in that they use other religions when it’s convenient for them and raves against them otherwise.

  15. Comment by Rick Plasterer on June 12, 2019 at 4:28 pm


    Doubtless there are complexities and nuances in non-Western religions, and differences between groups within non-Western religions and between individuals. This is also true of Christianity and Judaism. I would trust sources cited in the article to indicate the sexual condemnations similar to those in Christianity are not uncommon in non-Western religions. I would note in particular that the recent decision of India’s Supreme Court to legalize homosexual behavior brought widespread condemnation from across the very broad religious spectrum in that country, although doubtless there were religious groups and individuals who thought otherwise. But these differences are why we need religious freedom not to take religiously forbidden action in sexual matters.


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