Wednesday, former U.S. Senator and current Senate candidate Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) said that actions taken against the Church of the Highlands “Represent an attack on both religious liberty and freedom of speech.”
“The actions taken by the Birmingham Housing Authority and the Birmingham Board of Education against the Church of the Highlands represent an attack on both religious liberty and freedom of speech,” Sen. Sessions said in a statement. “This cannot happen in America, and certainly should never happen in Alabama. Birmingham will not become Berkeley. “
Pastor Chris Hodges was criticized by some in the social justice and Black Lives Matter community for some of the conservative posts that he liked on social media. Due to those “politically incorrect” sentiments the Birmingham Board of Education voted on Tuesday night to end its leases with the Church of the Highlands. This followed similar actions by the Birmingham Housing Authority. The church paid an average of $12,000 a month each to rent Parker and Woodlawn High Schools for Sunday worship services. This agreement pays the city schools a total of $288,000 per year.
Hodges has deleted his social media accounts.
Sessions condemned the actions and is urging Birmingham to reverse their decisions.
“The First Amendment guarantees to every American the right to freely express their religious beliefs,” Sessions said. “Too often, this right has been ignored. This grave error must end. There’s also a very real free speech issue here. The withholding of public facilities and the refusal to allow a church to minister as a result of a social media “like” implicates freedom of speech in a profound way. It is intolerable for a government agency to deny access and discriminate against a faith-based organization, based on a political or religious disagreement. This is a dangerous trend we’re seeing today. It is the vicious and ugly side of political correctness. If this intimidation in the name of “tolerance” by the Birmingham government is allowed to stand, don’t be surprised if politically correct officials begin trying to condition government contracts, approvals, and permits on whether the applicant has ever “liked” a social media post that suggests support for President Trump or conservative causes.”
“Protecting religious liberty and freedom of expression and stopping the abuses of political correctness will be a top priority of mine when I return to the Senate,” Sessions stated. “Government resources cannot be used as a hammer to suppress personal viewpoints, but that is what is happening here: the Birmingham Board of Education and the Birmingham Housing Authority are using government power to coerce people into specific viewpoints. They are seeking to bludgeon faithful and service-oriented citizens to adopt certain viewpoints on issues, and demanding that Alabamians bow to politically correct viewpoints before they can serve the public or have access to public facilities. At its base, this action is outrageous, and amounts to a rejection of the American ideal of individual freedom. It must not stand.“
“The Housing Authority is an extension of the Mayor, and it is Mayor Woodfin’s responsibility to call for a reversal of the Authority’s outrageous action, and this he must do now,” Sessions stated. “The members of the Board of Education should likewise immediately reverse their blatantly anti-religious decision to terminate lease agreements with the Church of the Highlands. Make no mistake, the people of Birmingham and Alabama will not accept apparatchiks at the Housing Authority and officials at the Board of Education bludgeoning admirable citizens because of political differences. Alabamians will not be told what to do or how to think.”
Birmingham has an elected school board that does not answer to the Mayor and City Council.
Sessions said that the actions against the Church of the Highland reveal, “That the Housing Board, the Mayor, and even the government of Birmingham share the radically liberal and anti-religious and anti-free speech policies of places like Berkeley and Portland. We can never allow the government to dictate what American citizens say or believe. These actions, at a most fundamental level, are un-American.”
Sessions is running for the Republican primary runoff on July 14 against former Auburn head football Coach Tommy Tuberville. The winner will face incumbent Sen. Doug Jones (D-Alabama) in the general election on November 3.