Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Mike and Jenet Erickson with their daughter LaDawn join traditional marriage supporters gathered Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at the Utah State Capitol to celebrate marriage.

Few can deny the central role religion and a belief in God has played, and continues to play, in the civic life of this nation.

From the promise "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights," to the First Amendment's decree that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," religious belief and action have been vital forces.

The founding fathers understood the wisdom of forbidding a national church. But from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, they understood the power of and need for religion.

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports,” Washington declared in his farewell address.

In recent decades, however, an aggressive secularism has twisted these arguments against their core.

These critics “insist that the First Amendment actually proscribes governmental partiality not only to any single religion, but to religion as such," commentator M. J. Sobran wrote presciently in 1978.

“What the secularists are increasingly demanding, in their disingenuous way, is that religious people, when they act politically, act only on secularist grounds. They are trying to equate acting on religion with establishing religion. And the consequence of such logic is really to establish secularism. It is in fact, to force the religious to internalize the major premise of secularism: that religion has no proper bearing on public affairs.”

This appears to be the philosophy of the Human Rights Campaign and some other proponents of same-sex marriage.

This group, which advocates for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals, on Wednesday slammed the attorney hired by the state of Utah, Gene Schaerr. He resigned from his prestigious law firm, Winston & Strawn, to accept this case. In an e-mail to his former colleagues, he said he accepted the responsibility "so that I can fulfill what I have come to see as a religious and family duty: defending the constitutionality of traditional marriage."

HRC said that "Schaerr’s entire motivation for taking this anti-equality case is to impose a certain religious viewpoint on all Utahns – and that’s wrong. When you become an attorney, you take an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, not any particular religious doctrine.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was quick to react this nonsense: “Any intimation that [Schaerr] was hired for reasons other than his qualifications, his understanding of the Constitution and his mastery of the legal issues in this case are offensive and detract from the civility this case merits."

In Thursday's Washington Post, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh wrote that HRC’s argument “strikes me as badly wrong, and indeed deeply unfair to religious believers. Lawyers decide to take cases based on their personal moral values all the time. Lawyers decide to take government cases based on their personal moral values, and indeed seek out certain government jobs based on their personal moral values. Pro-gay-rights lawyers might choose to take pro-gay-rights cases based on their personal moral values — including ones that seek to impose a certain moral viewpoint, such as that embodied in various antidiscrimination statutes, on all citizens."

Unfortunately, this isn't the first case in which HRC has attempted to impugn or intimidate people of faith, or attorneys representing clients who hold to a traditional view of marriage.

Former Solicitor General Paul Clement's law firm, King & Spalding, withdrew from its representation of the Defense of Marriage Act after being pressured by HRC. Clement moved to another law firm and continued to represent DOMA.

"Threatening lawyers out of defending [the law] is both shortsighted and wrong," Slate legal correspondent Dahlia Lithwick wrote at the time of HRC’s actions.

We call on HRC to respect the rights of believers, the rights of attorneys and the rule of law as Utah defends the constitutionality of its marriage law. It should apologize for its statement to Schaerr.