JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — First Baptist Church in downtown Jacksonville recently asked its members to sign a statement confirming they only believe in "biblical sexuality" or risk an "interruption" with their membership.
Is First Baptist's decision to only allow people who identify with biblical sexuality to be members legal?
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Equality Florida
- City of Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance.
WHAT WE FOUND
Let's start with the big picture, federal law.
According to the ACLU, there is no national law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public accommodations, like restaurants, theaters and other businesses.
Narrowing in a bit, let's take a look at the State of Florida. Currently, there is no law.
According to Equality Florida, there hasn't been any movement on the Florida Competitive Workforce Act (FCWA), which would prevent businesses from discriminating against people based on sexuality.
However, according to a 2019 version of the bill that died in the Florida Senate, there would be provisions for religious institutions.
Now looking right at home in Jacksonville Laws, the city council passed a Human Rights Ordinance three years ago, however, it only protects against discrimination in employment and lodging, not receiving goods or services.
It also includes exemptions for religious organizations and very small businesses.
After taking into account local, state and federal laws, we can verify Yes, First Baptist Church is within its legal rights to revoke membership based on sexuality and gender identity.
The church hosted a community open mic about the statement Sunday evening.
A security guard told a First Coast News crew they weren't allowed in and had to set up across the street.
The church sent a statement, saying that was a miscommunication, stating in part:
Unfortunately this was an oversight among our team. We did want you guys to have access but there was obviously a misunderstanding.
First Baptist did live stream the event on its website, so that gave a look at what the conversation was like.
The pastor told the crowd he views the idea as a message of love, saying the church needs to do its part to tell sinners what they need to hear before they are judged.
He says the statement doesn't just rule out homosexuality, but all sexual sins.
Many members of the crowd agreed with where the church was coming from, but several expressed they felt the idea is homophobic and adds to the divide many in the LGBTQ community feel with the Christian Church.
First Coast News checked in with a few folks on their way out, and regardless of which side of the issue they were on, they mentioned they were glad to have an opportunity to debate the church's decision.
"It's okay for us to disagree, but to say there's a gay agenda to try to come in and tell them what they can't do is not so," said Northeast Florida Development Officer with Equality Florida Mason Manion. "It's them who are trying to tell us what we can't do. We can't get married. Can't have equal housing. Can't have equal opportunity. That's the problem."
"I love people that proclaim to be part of the LGBTQ community," said First Baptist Church Youth Minister Mark Rutzen. "I have family members in that community, but I also think it's my responsibility to tell them what the Lord thinks and what the Lord's guidelines are. He's the Creator. He gets to decide what's right and wrong."
Members of First Baptist have until March 19th to sign the statement if they want their membership to continue without issue.
Although, the pastor pointed out they don't check memberships at the door, and that everyone is welcome to come to the church if they need to talk about this more.