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OPINION

Miami supt. backs down; church can meet

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MIAMI (BP) -- The superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools has backed down in his threats to evict a Southern Baptist church because of the pastor's views on homosexuality and now says the congregation has a constitutional right to express its beliefs.
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In a July 30 memo, Supt. Alberto Carvalho told the school board "there will be no action" to terminate the contract of Impact Miami, a Southern Baptist church that rents space inside North Miami High School. In July Carvalho had told a local TV station, WPLG Channel 10, that pastor Jack Hakimian's sermons on homosexuality "appear to be contrary to school board policy as well as the basic principles of humanity." At the time Carvalho "asked for immediate legal review to seek the termination of the contract." Hakimian had preached that, though Christ, people could overcome homosexuality.

After the legal review, it was determined the church was within its rights Carvalho said.

"The school district acknowledges the constitutional right of all persons to express themselves freely," the memo stated. "Our firm belief is that, under the law, constitutionally protected freedom of speech for all, including those who lease our facilities, must be observed even when it may be perceived as offensive to some. It is this obligation to protect those freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution which forms the basis of our decision."

Liberty Counsel, a legal group that defends religious liberty, had sent a letter dated July 24 to Carvalho saying the church and pastor "have violated no law or policy." The letter also noted the pastor believes "no one should be bullied, and that all people should be treated with dignity and respect."

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"The District cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of viewpoint," the letter, signed by Liberty Counsel's Mathew Staver and Richard Mast Jr., stated. "Any attempt to modify, change or revoke the lease agreement would therefore be unconstitutional. ... The District must respect the First Amendment rights of Pastor Hakimian and the Church. We will be prepared to take whatever legal action is necessary to protect these rights."

The controversy, the letter said, involves nothing more than the "Church's Biblical position on homosexuality" -- a position the letter said is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The church released a statement thanking its "friends all over the world who have been praying, contacting us with encouragements and helping us in the fight for freedom."

Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net

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