Corporations Support Equality Act, Threaten Religious Liberty

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Over 400 corporations have joined a coalition in support of the Equality Act, according to an April 27 statement by the Human Rights Campaign, one of the most influence LGBT advocacy groups in the country. Those corporations include American Airlines, Levi Strauss, Dow Chemical, IBM, Apple, Coca-Cola, Smirnoff, Google, Intel, Lyft, Microsoft, Nationwide, Northrop-Grumman, Pfizer, Target, UPS, CapitalOne, Carnival, Lexus, Nike, and Nordstrom. The Equality Act, the passage of which President Biden called for in his recent address to Congress, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of catagories protected against discrimination in federal law. The bill forbids discrimination on the basis of “sex stereotypes” and defines the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman as a “sex stereotype.” However, the legislation prevents individuals and churches from claiming protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 as a defense when accused of discrimination, even on grounds of religious faith and principles. The bill includes the following language: “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.) shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.” This is fascinating. A bill being considered by Congress to protect LGBT and trans persons against discrimination specifically disallows the application of a law that was passed to protect religious believers against discrimination. Dr. Gabrielle Girgis, a postdoctoral fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) says, “In that respect, [the Equality Act] is certainly the biggest and most aggressive effort so far to push traditional religious believers out of the public square.” I guess the supporters of the Equality Act are making it clear that LGBT and trans protections trump religious liberty protections, even though religious liberty is the first right designated in the Bill of Rights. As such, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other religious groups have raised concerns that the Equality Act could be used to punish churches, religious institutions such as schools, hospitals and adoption agencies, and individuals who do not recognized same-sex marriages or support gender ideology.

According to Ryan Anderson, president of the EPPC, by offering protection against discrimination to gender ideology, the Equality Act would, for all intents and purposes, outlaw the Catholic Church’s teaching on the human person. The Equality Act, Anderson says, “would make acting on a true anthropology, a true vision of the human person — in many circumstances, it would treat that as unjust discrimination.” Also, by excluding protections under the RFRA, Anderson says, the Equality Act extends to religious believers “the same religious liberty protections as [the Civil Rights Act] does racists.” Suddenly, centuries of Judeo-Christian doctrine on the human person, sexual morals, and the meaning of marriage and family life are rendered by law as abhorrent as the rantings of White supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Robert Vega, a policy advisor to the USCCB, claims that “the Equality Act … would mandate how we serve others.” Vega explains that Section 3 of the Act expands the definition of public accommodations to include essentially any public gathering, business, or service. So, the requirements of the law could apply to shelters, hospitals, schools, and possibly even churches and funeral homes. This would mean that these institutions would be required to allow biological men who identify as women to use shelters, bathrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms designated for females. Greg Baylor, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) recounts the case of Downtown Hope, a women’s shelter in Anchorage, AK. A biological man who identifies as a woman sued Downtown Hope because, as a women’s shelter, they do not accommodate men. The ADF represented Downtown Hope, which won an exemption from the local non-discrimination statute. If the Equality Act passes, however, the shelter would lose their exemption because the Equality Act’s, “definition of a public accommodation,” Baylor says, “is much broader,” and, “explicitly includes shelters.” So, women who enter shelters hoping to escape abusive men may be forced to share their living space with men. Also under the Equality Act, a church hall that is used to serve people of all faiths and backgrounds, such as a location for providing food to the poor, and even church property used to host community events, would be considered public accommodations and forced to host events opposed to their religious tenets or doctrines. Catholic hospitals that, of course, serve all people, would be forced to provide sex-change operations and, perhaps, even abortions, since “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition” are some of the protected catagories in the bill.

There has been a cultural and political campaign, of sorts, in recent years, to redefine religious freedom as the freedom to worship only. In other words, the government cannot tell you what to belief, personally, or tell you where you must go to church or if you may go to church, or how you practice your faith inside the confines of your own residence. But, once you step outside your home, the government has the power to dictate your actions in the public square, even if it demands that you act contrary to the dictates of your conscience or the doctrines of your faith. According to this definition of religious liberty, there is no right to actually live and work according to your religious beliefs. There is only a right to worship in your own home, or in church on Sunday morning, or whatever day your religious tradition worships. In the workplace, or even in your church, if your church happens to have ministries that exist to meet the needs of anyone whether they are members of your faith tradition or not, then the government has uninhibited power and authority to dictate how you must act and what positions you must support. Government has adopted policies, sometime supported by the courts, that impede religious activity or ministries, based on the notion that religious liberty takes second place to other social values, even if those social values are not Constitutionally mandated, such as religious liberty. Some states even redefine a religious organization as one that serves or employs only members of that particular religious tradition, thus giving the state authority to dictate the practices of traditionally religious institutions that serve all people regardless of faith because, by serving people regardless of faith, they no longer fit the definition of a religious institution. According to such a definition, even Jesus and His Apostles were not a religious group!

Attempts to limit religious liberty cannot go unchallenged. Being a person of faith does not mean meekly standing by while those with little respect for faith trample on the rights of believers. Embracing the commandment to love God and love one’s neighbor does not preclude a genuine love and respect for one’s self and a willingness to defend rights and dignities given one by God, and not by the state. While governing bodies and elected officials may regard themselves as arbiters of rights and authorized to extend or deny respect for individual and social rights, the intrinsic dignity of the human person is given by God. The state, as much as any other individual, is bound to respect that dignity. Part of respecting that dignity is respecting the conscience and religious convictions of persons and religious institutions. As Americans, and as human beings, we deserve nothing less from our government and its representatives.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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