Synod joins court brief for judge under fire for marriage view

By Roger Drinnon

The LCMS has joined in an amicus brief in defense of a Wyoming judge whom state officials seek to remove from her judiciary duties for her faith-based beliefs about marriage.

Neely

Neely

It all began when Judge Ruth Neely, a member of Our Savior Lutheran Church — an LCMS congregation in Pinedale, Wyo. — indicated to a local reporter in 2014 that her judiciary duties do not involve solemnizing marriages and that she holds the biblical view of marriage as between one man and one woman.

Neely is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). ADF’s publicized case summary notes, “In December 2014, a reporter in Pinedale who suspected that Judge Neely’s religious beliefs prevented her from serving as a celebrant for same-sex marriages asked her whether she was ‘excited’ to perform same-sex weddings. A few days later, an article appeared in the Sublette Examiner quoting Judge Neely as saying that, because of her religious beliefs, she would ‘not be able to do’ same-sex marriages and that she had not ‘been asked to perform’ one.”

Not long after the article was published, state officials began an investigation followed by the ongoing proceedings to remove Neely from her vocation as a local judge. She has served in Pinedale as a municipal judge for more than 21 years and as part-time circuit court magistrate there for over 14 years.

The case brings to light public concerns over whether LGBT advocacy has become a de facto litmus test for those seeking to hold public office, obtain professional licensing and certifications for a variety of other vocations as well as for the accreditation of academic institutions.

Also a concern for faith communities is a statement made by a member of the state’s commission seeking to remove Neely. In a transcript of hearings held in December 2015, one of the state attorneys in the commission is quoted as saying the LCMS position on marriage is “repugnant.”

Critics of the state’s position, including some religious-freedom advocacy groups, reportedly have stated that the commission’s proceedings violate the state’s constitution while also being unconstitutional on a national level.

“In America, the government doesn’t get to punish people for their religious beliefs — especially not for beliefs that the U.S. Supreme Court itself, in the very opinion that recognized same-sex marriage, said were ‘decent and honorable’ and held ‘in good faith by reasonable and sincere people,’” said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in a recent press release.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty submitted its own amicus brief defending Judge Neely May 6.

Roger Drinnon (roger.drinnon@lcms.org) is director of Editorial Services and Media Relations for LCMS Communications.

Posted May 26, 2016

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26 Responses to Synod joins court brief for judge under fire for marriage view

  1. Pr. David Mueller May 26, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    Just how does the LCMS file an amicus brief on behalf of a person? Who or what synodical entity did that?

    • LCMS Church Information Center June 1, 2016 at 9:36 am #

      Thank you for your comment. You may review policy 5.8.1 in the LCMS Board of Directors’ Policy Manual that is found online at http://www.LCMS.org/BOD.

  2. Carmen Kuntz May 26, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    I will pray for this judge, I agree with her,

  3. Russell Mains May 26, 2016 at 7:37 pm #

    No, the government does NOT get to punish folks for their religious beliefs in this country, but if a CIVIL servant, such as a judge, is asked to perform a CIVIL service, such as marrying a same-sex couple; they ARE REQUIRED to do so; otherwise they should not work for the GOVERNMENT. Of course, no one should be prevented from gaining employment in government on religious grounds, but if their religion prevents them from performing a “civic duty”; that is a problem. As a Christian, I stand against same-sex marriage, but once again, we live in a pluralistic Democracy! Government should not infringe on religious rights, just as religion should not infringe on the CIVIL rights of people who do not hold particular religious beliefs. This system has worked for over 200 years, and yet we have an LCMS president who seems to have an inability to understand that you cannot FORCE people to believe as you do in a Democracy, with his “Freedom to be Faithful” initiative. His calling is to preach God’s Law and Gospel, and not invade the CIVIL realm with political proclamations, rather than “speaking God’s Truth in love.” The LCMS recently posted the treatise by Martin Luther that explained the role of the Church and the role of the government VERY clearly. We are not called to legislate or FORCE people to believe as we do. As I have said MANY times before; it is unacceptable in the Theocracies of the Middle East, and it should certainly not be practiced in our DEMOCRACY. We witness, and the Holy Spirit changes hearts. LEAVE GOVERNMENT TO THOSE WHO GOVERN. I would certainly be curious to know Dale Meyer’s views on the role of the CHURCH in government. We are in need of a change of leadership. The LCMS can still stand true to God’s Holy Word and our doctrine, without electing the SAME leaders to our Synod term after term. THE REFORMATION IS AN ONGOING PROCESS, AND SOMETIMES FRESH IDEAS AND LEADERSHIP ARE NEEDED!!!

    • LCMS Church Information Center May 27, 2016 at 9:08 am #

      Please note that, per the article, Judge Neely’s judiciary duties do not require her to perform or to solemnize marriages of any kind. You are encouraged to learn more about Luther’s doctrine of the “two kingdoms:” As some Lutherans might struggle to grasp how to apply Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms regarding matters of church and state, the staff of the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) offers some clarification:

      One God rules the world (1 Tim. 1:17), but in two different ways in two different “realms.” This twofold reality produces tensions for the Christian that are not easily resolved.

      In His “kingdom of grace,” where Christ reigns, He uses His Word and Sacraments to bring people to faith without coercion and to glad acceptance of His rule and authority (see John 3:3; 18:36; Col. 1:13-14; 2 Peter 1:11).

      In His “kingdom of power,” His temporal or earthly kingdom, God uses governments to maintain order, stability and justice in this sinful, imperfect world (see Rom. 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14, 17).

      Thus, Jesus Himself tells us to render to Caesar and to God (Matt. 22:21). And, even as Christians honor and obey governing authorities, they must boldly disobey government when it usurps God’s authority (Acts 5:29).

      In short, just as Christians respect human authority, they are also free to engage with government to prevent governments from acting unjustly.

      • Jason Kelly May 27, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

        @Russell I disagree with your view of this important issue. You call for a change of leadership, yet I am not sure you would be satisfied with the change you are seeking. President Matt Harrison does well to preach Law and Gospel and he does well direct us to Christ Crucified for the Wicked. He steers clear of the illegitimate practices of church growth theology.

        Concordia Seminary, under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer, directs its Specific Ministry Pastoral students to church planting conferences, including the FiveTwo’s Wiki Conference. According to Lutheran Layman Tim Wood, this organization directs SMP students away from the Lutheran Confessions and denies the Power of Gods’ Word. This is very concerning to those who hold to the Confessions and God’s Word. Be careful what you wish for.

        I think it is important for Christians to have a forum to discuss and act as Citizens. That’s also part of our vocation, to be citizens. President Harrison isn’t seeking to impose Christian rule in the United States as you seem to suppose. He is rather calling for our society to recognize the religious pluralism in our nation and to permit Christians to exercise their faith without fear of retaliation. There is ample opportunity for those seeking civil service to engage another servant who doesn’t have a moral conviction against gay marriage.

      • Ken May 30, 2016 at 4:50 pm #

        Your fist comment is not accurate. She performed many marriages. Her authority to marry was revoked in January 2015 because of her comments. Read the filed complaint. http://wypastors.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/15-0304-Notice-of-Commencement-of-Formal-Proceedings.pdf

        • LCMS Church Information Center May 31, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

          Thank you for your comments. The LCMS understands that Wyoming law gives her the authority to celebrate marriages as a magistrate but does not obligate her to. In her municipal judge position, she has no authority to perform marriages.

    • Grayfox May 27, 2016 at 10:35 am #

      Kind of like “ethnic cleansing. ” Your position violates my and the judge’s inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. How dare you! If a member of the lgbt faction wishes a civil marriage let them find a judge willing to perform that function. The lgbt lobby and friends have turned their beliefs into a Salem Witch Hunt. That is truly repugnant in today’s society.

    • Marlene Clausen May 27, 2016 at 7:03 pm #

      Aptly stated. Anyone serving in a public capacity should resign if their religious beliefs prevent them from carrying out any of their duties. The attempt to remove this judge seems to be the result of a deliberately misleading article.

      What is so concerning is the tendency I have seen for the LCMS, who has always stalwartly defended the separation of church and state, to defend those who would deny civil rights to anyone who does not believe as we do. Everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law, not just people who believe as we do.

    • Barb Salter May 28, 2016 at 9:04 pm #

      They are not infringing on civil rights. These people can go elsewhere..there are plenty of others who will officiate these fake weddings, just as they can go elsewhere or make their own wedding cakes. No one is “forcing” others to follow their beliefs, no one is holding a gun to their head. And you know that reporter was setting her up. She is still a citizen with her first amendment rights. God still rules in the civil realm too. You are buying into the leftist myths and propoganda.

  4. Leilani May 26, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

    How can we help this judge and the synod? I have and will continue honorary but is there anything else we can do?

  5. SIDNEY LOGGINS May 26, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

    the American battlefield of the 21st Century… study each case well.

  6. Sonya Lyman May 27, 2016 at 8:36 am #

    God help us.

  7. Terri May 27, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

    Why do people of LGBT community make such a big deal out of those who did Green with them? Go ask another judge to marry you. Surely she isn’t ghe only one around. Makes me think they do things just to stir up trouble. God help us all.

  8. Terri May 27, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    Sorry…”who don’t agree…”

  9. Jordan May 27, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

    Thank you for standing with this judge.

  10. Paul Haynes May 27, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    This is strictly a witch hunt. Let them go find a judge who will do it instead of this why anyone can be a Pastor over the Internet and marry someone. This is the way this dark world is going. If Lutheran schools do not provide transgender bathrooms they loose their federal lunch money program. All students should have to produce a birth certificate it says either male or female then use that respective bathroom

  11. Paul Haynes May 27, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

    I stand beside President Harrisom

  12. Rev. Daniel Carlson May 27, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

    I think that since the judge is a member of a Missouri Synod church, we have an obligation to stand by her and protect her. Granted, it’s not our job to “judge the world” as St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, and that we would do well to concern ourselves for the sin within the church. I mean let’s face it. The world will be the world and God will deal with all that in His time. BUT, when the world tries to infringe on the freedom we have in Christ and our bold confession, the Church Militant steps forth and defends the faith, at least we ought to, and we also ought to defend our faithful brothers and sisters who stand before the dagger of the pagan world.

    I pray that is how we all see this, because as a church body, doing nothing is not acceptable. We don’t have to take to the streets in protest and riot, but where we CAN defend her (and by extension anyone in her situation) we should in a peaceful and Gospel-driven way.

    I do believe that we are coming to the Day when our Sure Defense returns to judge the living and the dead, and when we shall join Him in judging the world as well. Until then, Maranatha!

  13. Steven May 27, 2016 at 9:42 pm #

    I am correct in my understanding that the state government is trying to remove her from office for expressing an “incorrect” opinion and NOT for any improper action?

  14. Mike June 1, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

    I found Russell’s comments very interesting as I also have concerns about our leadership; however, my concerns appear to be directly opposite Russell’s. I have been questioning if our leaders have become too comfortable – unwilling to go out of their comfort zone. I was disappointed at the responses I heard from LCMS pastors concerning the County Clerk in Kentucky who was jailed for refusing to perform same sex marriages. One said (but later recanted) that the clerk didn’t have the right to refuse. Another was mainly concerned that provisions were not made whereby she could perform her duties without compromising her conscience. Another pastor talked about amicus briefs and lobbyists. I am in favor of amicus briefs and lobbyists, but I don’t believe they are effective. I believe we should take a more direct, and a more public stand against same sex marriage. I heard a couple of pastors talk about how much we have done in this regard, but the actions they mentioned, all sounded to me like “preaching to the choir.” I think that when that Clerk was jailed, every church in this country should have sent a bus load of people to stand outside the courthouse in support of her. Not to call for overturning Obergefell, or express disgust with LGBT practices, not to try to force people to believe what we believe, or even to demand the clerk’s release, but to make a public, visible, statement that we stand behind our God. It’s true that He doesn’t need our support, but we are not ashamed of Him, his Gospel, or His law. “. . . the God we serve is able to save us . . . , and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.” (Dan. 3: 17 – 18). That’s the statement I think we should be making. I’m not a pastor or a politician and my approach may be all wrong. I am not asking for a change of leadership, however, I agree with Russell that fresh ideas are needed. There will be court hearings and decisions regarding Judge Neely’s case. The State of Texas indicated that state would sue the federal government over transgender bathrooms. The federal government and the state of North Carolina are suing each other over laws intended to protect religious practice in light of the Obergefell case. We need our leaders to plan ahead for these events. Tell us when they are coming and what we can do to make our voice heard. We need our leaders to organize more than academic exercises and press releases that only we read. Tell us what you want us to do. We want to stand behind our God!

  15. Hal June 7, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    The problem with Christians getting together to protest anything is we don’t have a George Soros billionaire to fund it. If we had that kind of organization and funding, we too, could make a difference in this lost world.

    • john June 16, 2016 at 3:54 pm #

      The problem with Christians has nothing to do with funding for protests. The problem has nothing to do with perceived restrictions on religious liberty. The problem with Christians is that they don’t exercise their religious liberties enough. More time spent spreading the Gospel message is what is needed.

  16. Mike June 9, 2016 at 11:29 pm #

    I think many, if not most, people agree with Hal’s comment; however, while we may not have a billionaire, we have Christ. If Christ thinks we need financial support, He will provide it. So, maybe we don’t need the billionaire. We already have organization and leadership through the LCMS. There are already lawyers, lobbyists, reporters, etc. working on LGBT concerns. I am not aware of it, but the Synod, and/or the districts, may already have some commission, task force, committee, or individual charged with looking at what additional efforts are needed and how to implement them? If so, that’s great! Let’s hear from them! If not, it may be worth looking into. I think faith will be more important in this matter than extreme financial resources. It’s not our responsibility to make a difference in this lost world. Christ will do that, if it’s what He wants. It seems appropriate for His church to be prepared to step up, should He wish to use us for that purpose.

  17. John J Flanagan June 16, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

    The Synod did the right thing. We, as Christians, can also use the same court system as the LGBT crowd does, and in today’s anti-Christian climate, it is essential to do so. We are not obligated to stand by silently in the face of Injustice. We have biblical examples, for example, Paul “appealed to Rome.”

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