Analysis

4 Ways The ‘Equality Act‘ Could Damage Religious Freedom In America

   DailyWire.com
Members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community take part in the annual Pride Parade in London on July 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / NIKLAS HALLE'N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images)
NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images

After days of debate, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on Thursday in a 224-206 vote. 

The Equality Act would insert “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into the Civil Rights Act of 1964, thereby extending the power of the federal government to enforce nondiscrimination laws in cases related to LGBT individuals.

The legislation also supersedes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which “prohibits any agency, department, or official of the United States… from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.” Less than thirty years ago, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — which was sponsored by then-Representative and current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) passed the House and Senate almost unanimously and was signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Democrats lauded the passage of the legislation; Rep. David Cicilline (RI-1) stated that “the House has again affirmed that LGBTQ people should enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as all other Americans.” On the grounds of effects upon religious freedom, Republicans sharply disagreed; Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) said the bill “is trampling the rights of the people in the name of ‘equality.’” He vowed to “keep fighting it in the courts and beyond.”

With its revision of keystone civil rights and religious freedom statutes, the Equality Act would have considerable effects upon Americans who operate under religious conviction in their daily lives. 

From private businesses and educational institutions to churches and adoption care providers, the Equality Act would grant legal powers to those who wish to advance the LGBT agenda at the expense of religious Americans.

Businesses

The Equality Act would compel religious business owners to potentially violate their consciences in hiring employees and providing services.

The Civil Rights Act disallows an employer to “fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The Equality Act would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to this list.

The revision could potentially touch every private business in the United States. For example, medical providers would lose the right to refuse particular services, as Ryan Anderson of the Ethics and Public Policy Center describes in an editorial for the New York Post.

“Medical doctors, secular and religious, whose ­expert judgment is that sex-reassignment procedures are misguided would now run afoul of our civil-rights laws,” he wrote. “If you perform a mastectomy in the case of breast cancer, you will have to perform one on the teenage girl identifying as a boy. All in the name of equality.”

The legislation also treats refusal to provide abortion-related services as “pregnancy” discrimination, which provides grounds to erode “decades of conscience protections against abortion extremism at the federal, state and local levels.”

Adoption

The Equality Act includes language that would justify violating the consciences of religious adoption care providers.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer… people commonly experience discrimination in securing access to public accommodations — including… adoption and foster care providers,” reads the Equality Act’s findings and purpose section. “Forms of discrimination include the exclusion and denial of entry, unequal or unfair treatment, harassment, and violence. This discrimination prevents the full participation of LGBTQ people in society and disrupts the free flow of commerce.”

As the Heritage Foundation details, laws about sexual orientation and gender identity at the state and local level have already forced the closure of several faith-based adoption and foster care providers across the United States. In 2018, for instance, the Philadelphia Department of Human Services halted foster care intake with Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Social Services. The decision came in the wake of Bethany Christian Services turning away a same-sex couple attempting to foster children and Catholic Social Services affirming the decision.

The Heritage Foundation refers to similar situations in New York, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, and other Democratic states. However, the Equality Act would provide legal grounds from the federal level for more closures of faith-based adoption services.

Currently, nearly half a million American children are in the foster care system.

Education

The Equality Act prohibits “sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination” in the hiring of education providers.

Many religious educational institutions presently do not hire openly homosexual teachers due to their doctrines about marriage and sexuality. The Roman Catholic Church’s Indianapolis Archdiocese, for example, ceased to recognize a Jesuit high school after it refused to dismiss a teacher engaged in a same-sex partnership. Archbishop Charles Thompson stated that the school had “chosen not to implement changes in accord with the doctrine and pastoral practice of the Catholic Church.”

Beyond hiring practices, the Equality Act would provide inroads for LGBT education to enter public schools. 

A coalition called Promise to America’s Children — which is backed by the Family Policy Alliance, the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, Christian Medical & Dental Associations, and other advocacy groups — notes that the Equality Act would “pave the way for sexualized curriculum across the nation while overriding the authority of parents and penalizing Americans who dare to disagree with its agenda.”

Churches

Many protections for churches will remain under the Equality Act. However, the legislation would still carry important implications for places of worship and demand vigilance from ministers.

John Litzler — the director of the Church Law Division of Christian Unity Ministries and a Baptist General Convention of Texas legal consultant — wrote for the Baptist Register that “ministerial exemptions” under the Civil Rights Act would not be affected by the Equality Act. 

However, Litzler states that “when hiring a staff member who doesn’t serve an important religious function for the church — such as a custodial staff member — that employee may not fall under the ministerial exception.” 

The recent Bostock v. Clayton County Supreme Court opinion — which ruled that “the protections guaranteed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex also extend to discrimination against lesbian, gay, and transgender Americans” — would be codified by the Equality Act. Litzler writes that an employee may therefore “bring against the church a claim of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Still, the Equality Act would bring some changes for churches,” Litzler adds. “While churches are not generally considered places of public accommodation, they will need to remain vigilant in connecting the rental of their facilities to the church’s religious mission and behaving in a manner that doesn’t put them in competition with secular rental venues.”

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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