Graphic by Mary Mone
Despite many religious organizations having major concerns of threats to their first amendment rights, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on Feb. 25. The Equality Act says it will prohibit discrimination but the act actually discriminates against innocent children and those with deeply held traditional or religious beliefs.
In addition to many non-church-owned groups that don’t support the new act, religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church, the Coalition for Jewish Values, the Evangelical Church and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, all vehemently oppose the Equality Act.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of human services in the United States, helping millions of Americans in need through its parishes, schools, hospitals, shelters, legal clinics, food banks and charities.” Since the Catholic Church helps millions of Americans via charities, one might ask why the Catholic Church opposes the Equality Act, which claims to be humanitarian. To clarify beliefs on the Equality Act, the USCCB released a statement saying “Human dignity is central to what we believe as Catholics. Every person is made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly, with respect and compassion. That means we need to honor every person’s right to be free of unjust discrimination.”
Beginning by saying the bill is well-intentioned but ultimately misguided, the USCCB resolves the act, “discriminates against people of faith, threatens unborn life, and undermines the common good.” They believe the act will not only force religious establishments to host functions violating their beliefs, but also jeopardize prohibitions on the use of federal taxpayer funds, which could pressure the performance of abortions by health care providers against their consciences.
The Evangelical Church also believes the Equality Act is an infringement upon religious liberty. The National Association of Evangelicals President, Walter Kim, mentions how the Equality Act favors one group’s freedoms over another’s. “Instead of offering carefully crafted win/win solutions that respect the needs of all Americans, the Equality Act pits LGBT persons against those who believe that God created humans as male and female, and that sexual intimacy is a precious gift from God reserved for marriage between a woman and a man,” Kim said.
In a statement released by the NAE, the concern of religious charities being regulated is raised. “The version of the Equality Act passed by the House of Representatives would pressure institutions to change their religious beliefs or withdraw from the public-private partnerships that make our charitable sector so dynamic. If it becomes law, it would tear up decades of contentious litigation,” nae.net states.
The Evangelical Church believes rather than promoting full equality for all Americans, the House action sets back the important work of overcoming the deep polarization in America.
Natasha Chart, an agnostic feminist leader, and Rabbi Yaakov Menken, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, spoke about the Equality Act on coalitionforjewishvalues.org. The Equality Act has been promoted as a fight against discrimination and bigotry. “In truth, it’s a fight against freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution — and observations so common as to be shared by both radical feminism and traditional religion,” Chart and Menken said on coalitionforjewishvalues.org. “We agree entirely that the Equality Act is a fatally flawed, and even hateful, piece of legislation,” they said.
Menken expressed his thoughts about the effects the act will have on Jewish practices. In addition to unfair athletic changes, Menken claims “the Equality Act similarly demands that biological men be given access to women’s bathrooms, changing facilities and shelters. Religiously motivated Orthodox Jewish practices, such as separate seating at public events and separate hours for exercise facilities (especially swimming pools) would be illegal.” In his opinion, the Equality Act specifically strips away protection of religious practice guaranteed under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which “prohibits any agency, department, or official of the United States or any State (the government) from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” according to congress.gov.
Chart and Menken also discuss the extremism of the Equality Act. According to them, civil rights legislation is intentionally a blunt legal instrument designed to fix ongoing racism against descendants of former slaves. “The Equality Act thus deems a religiously motivated refusal to participate in a same-sex marriage to be no different than a KKK member’s refusal to cater a multiethnic couple’s nuptials. This means that in a world where the Equality Act is law, traditional religious practices are just as unacceptable as Jim Crow.”
Also, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church opposes the Equality Act, according to AdventistReview.org. “While the Seventh-Day Adventist Church firmly believes that everyone is created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect, the church remains concerned that the Equality Act as drafted would further erode the religious liberty of faith communities and their members,” AdventistReview.org said.
The Adventist Review believes the legislation would make no allowance for communities or individuals of faith to hold traditional views of marriage and gender. They also state the act fails to provide protections that would allow social service, humanitarian and educational organizations to continue to serve.
The president of the North American Division of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, G. Alexander Bryant responded to the legislative developments. “People of faith play a vital role in our country, and I’m encouraged to see their values being considered in this important conversation. We need to find a way to protect the rights of all Americans in a fair and balanced way,” Bryant said.
According to Yonat Shimron, National Reporter and Senior Editor on religionnews.com, many groups are predicting what might happen if the Equality Act becomes law. Among the predictions, there are concerns of halting free and reduced-cost lunch programs for religious school children, concerns of threats toward federal security grants for Orthodox Jewish synagogues, and threats for students at religious colleges of no longer being able to receive federal student loans and grants because of their views on marriage. This wouldn’t only be a valid problem to students, but also to business owners.
“The bill would also limit people’s ability to defend themselves against discrimination claims by overriding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the 1993 law that protects the religious exercise of individuals and institutions,” Shimron said. “That means a bakery would no longer be able to deny its wedding cake services to a same-sex couple by using the RFRA defense, for example.”
Tom Gjelten, the correspondent for religion and belief at WVIK(90.3 FM), wrote the act would extend a provision under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act that explains institutions engaging in racial discrimination can be barred from federal funds to now cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “Many faith-affiliated schools, however, require that students abide by strict moral codes related to sexual conduct, or they have gender-segregated housing that does not accommodate transgender people,” Gjelten said. This obviously would take away the federal funding from these schools.
The Equality Act campaigns on equality for all, but if passed, will infringe upon the religious liberties of traditional groups who don’t believe in same-sex marriage or sex reassignemnt. No group should have its rights taken away, and citizens with differing opinions should practice respect instead of trying to have law conform to their ideologies. A middleground for people of opposing sides is the Fairness for All Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah. According to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, “This initiative seeks to find a way to simultaneously combine federal protections for religious freedom and for LGBTQ persons, two ‘sides’ that have often viewed their protections as being violated by the existence of protections for the other.” The Fairness for All Act creates legal protections for LGBTQ persons in areas of public space like employment, housing, stores, restaurants, financial services and jury duty services. While providing those protections for LGBTQ persons, the Fairness for All Act would add to the law the “full scope of religious rights ensured by the Constitution,” according to cccu.org.
The Equality Act currently being presented to the Senate is an oppression on religious freedom that needs to be opposed. To stop the Equality Act from being passed and hindering First Amendment rights, citizens should sign petitions, be open to conversation within their own communities, and when needed, protest. Respect for every human being is the main concern for each side of this issue, but even with disagreements, it’s important to treat others with dignity. According to Winston Churchill, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” If one feels strongly about this issue, speak up with respect, sign petitions and advocate for the rights of every human.