ORLANDO, Fla. — After a gunman pledging allegiance to ISIS carried out the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union pointed their finger toward Christians in blame.
But leading Christians from organizations across the country rejected this characterization, stressing that while they disagree with “gay marriage,” they promote the dignity of every human life, no matter what someone’s sexual orientation is.
Early Sunday morning, 29-year-old Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Fla., opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando. He took hostages and engaged in an hours-long standoff with police, before being killed. At least 49 people were killed and 53 injured, the highest death toll of any mass shooting in the nation’s history.
Mateen had pledged allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call he made from inside the nightclub, authorities said.
He had “strong indications of radicalization,” according to FBI Director James Comey. President Barack Obama, in his remarks Monday morning, acknowledged that the shooting “is being treated as a terrorist investigation. It appears that the shooter was inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the Internet.”
In the hours after the shooting, ACLU attorney Chase Strangio skewered those who offered their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families. “You know what is gross — your thoughts and prayers and Islamophobia, after you created this anti-queer climate,” he tweeted.
He continued by lambasting “the Christian right” for pushing legislation to protect the conscience rights of individuals and business owners. “The Christian Right has introduced 200 anti-LGBT bills in the last six months and people blaming Islam for this. No.”
Another ACLU member, Eunice Rho, chastised GOP lawmakers for expressing solidarity and offering prayers after the shooting. Rho accused them of sponsoring the “extreme, anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act.”
Yet conservative Christian leaders rejected the idea that policies protecting the right to decline participation in same-sex weddings were somehow tied to the Orlando massacre.
Matthew Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, told CNA that upholding Christian teaching on marriage is not equivalent to violence.
“Christians who have resisted the redefinition of marriage, and who now want to be free to live what their faith teaches them is the truth about marriage, do not hate anyone, and legislation to protect their freedom is not ‘anti-LGBT,’ except in the minds of the intolerant enforcers of coerced conformity,” he told CNA.
“The worst response to an atrocity is to take it as validation of one’s own political passions and an excuse to demonize one’s political opponents,” he said. “Sadly, this is what some representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union have done.”
“In the wake of the horror in Orlando, the temptation to demonize any group making arguments for its rights in the public square — LGBT, Christian or Muslim — should be steadfastly resisted by all people of decency.”
Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, co-author of the book What Is Marriage?, agreed. “Anti-LGBT bigotry exists and is wrong. It should be condemned,” he told CNA. “But supporting man-woman marriage and male-female bathrooms aren’t examples of it.”
Robert George, a law professor at Princeton University and senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, said the accusations would normally be considered “outrageous and defamatory,” but “can be forgiven,” since they were issued shortly after a mass shooting that was a “truly traumatizing event” and at a time “when people are angry and grieving.”
Americans must mourn together and not point fingers at each other, he insisted.
“Now is not a time for returning rhetorical fire or trying to make a person who has said something regrettable look foolish. It is certainly not a time for people on either, or any, side of a moral or political dispute to attempt to score points or advance an agenda,” said George, who also co-authored the book What Is Marriage?
Rather, “it is a time for grieving” and “a time for prayer and a time for solidarity,” he said.
After the shooting, Christian leaders expressed their condolences for the victims and their families.
Catholic bishops have asked for prayers for all involved. Masses are being offered for victims, both in Orlando and around the country. “The merciful love of Christ calls us to solidarity with the suffering and to ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every person,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., head of the U.S. bishops’ conference, in a statement.
“We weep with those who mourn their loved ones, as we also weep with those who mourn the presence of such violent evil in the world. Rom 12:15,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, tweeted on Monday.
“Like all Americans, I am deeply saddened and outraged by the murder of 49 Americans in Orlando,” Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council, stated on Monday in a Facebook post.
“Our prayers go out to all those affected by the Florida shooting,” the National Organization for Marriage tweeted on Monday.
As Bishop John Noonan of Orlando also tweeted on Monday, “Jesus calls us to remain fervent in our protection of life and human dignity and to pray unceasingly for peace in our world.”