ANALYSIS: Shame on First Liberty

America is at a pivotal moment in its history. Leftist Tyrants in California (and other Democratic controlled states around the Union) are attacking the very fabric of Christian freedom. This requires a maximum effort and clean hands. So, naturally, one of the important defenders of religious liberty decided to defend the indefensible—Kevin Ezell and the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) sinful conduct against Will McRaney.

The short backstory: Kevin Ezell allegedly intimidated a state convention to fire McRaney. Then to show how petty “Christian” leaders can be, Ezell or someone acting on his behalf attempted to prevent McRaney from speaking at various conferences. In other words, Ezell or someone one acting on Ezell’s behalf attempted to keep McRaney from earning a living.

Ezell’s conduct was at best sinful (there is public evidence exposing Ezell as a liar) and at worst illegal. So, the case ended up in court.

Because Ezell and the Southern Baptist Convention’s NAMB refused to repent, apologize or even offer restitution the legal process ended up before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. NAMB lost.

It was a strong rebuke.

The First Amendment claims made by NAMB were rejected at this point in the legal process.

Why? Because the First Amendment doesn’t cover slander. Cloaking this dispute under the First Amendment weakens such claims for real issues—like what is happening in California.

This dispute involving NAMB is all about money and power.

And that seems beyond the understanding of First Liberty.

First Liberty offered a bizarre defense for signing on to the case and a request for an en banc hearing before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. First Liberty does not understand the facts of the case or the structure of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that the Constitution protects religious organizations’ independence and their right to choose their own leaders and ministers,” said Hiram Sasser, Executive General Counsel for First Liberty Institute.  “There should be no doubt that religious denominations have the freedom to choose who is best suited to lead their organizations and fulfill their religious missions.  The Fifth Circuit should dismiss this case immediately.”

First Liberty does not understand that the Southern Baptist Convention is not a denomination—it is not a hierarchical structure. It is a cooperative.

Of course, the state convention and NAMB each can pick their own leaders free from outside interference. However, what they cannot do is commit actions that are illegal. And that is what McRaney’s lawsuit alleges and based on the publicly available evidence will easily prove in court.

Think about it this way, two different churches have a property dispute. They cannot resolve it. One decides to build over what the other believes to be the property line. Is this dispute justiciable or not? Does the First Amendment protect Church A building over the property line and on the property of Church B?

Can one steal property under the guise of the First Amendment?

The state has the legal powers to arbitrate this type of dispute.

And this is what is at stake in the McRaney case. One independent religious corporation allegedly interfered in a business relationship involving another independent religious corporation. Claiming First Amendment protection does not grant one the right to behave unethically and illegally.

First Liberty should understand this is not a theological dispute—it is a dispute between the petty and failed NAMB leadership against anyone who challenges their autocratic interference in the state conventions.

And if First Liberty doubts this is a pattern of behavior for Kevin Ezell and NAMB, someone should ask former Michigan Baptist Convention State Executive Bobby Gilstrap about his experience with Ezell.

Or, even better ask Larry Cheek about what Ezell did to discourage the hiring of Gilstrap.

Such discussions would reveal just how sinful Ezell and NAMB really are.

And it would reveal what shame comes on the name of First Liberty through association with these types of “Christian” leaders running NAMB.

First Liberty should do better.

It should redeem itself and back out of this lawsuit before further damaging precedents are rendered.