BY TOM STRODE
The Equality Act will explicitly contradict the “fundamental freedoms” guaranteed in the Bill of Rights if it becomes law, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told a US Senate committee on Wednesday.
In testimony written for the Senate Judiciary Committee, the ERLC said the far-reaching gay and transgender rights proposal would “unnecessarily penalize and discriminate against millions of Americans who hold no animosity toward those they bill claims to help. As law, the Equality Act would undermine pluralism, legalize coercion, jeopardize religious freedom, eliminate conscience protections, and erode the very freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.
The ERLC submitted its analysis the same day the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Equality Act (HR 5), which would add ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ to the classifications protected by federal civil rights law. “Sexual orientation” includes homosexuality, bisexuality and pansexuality, while “gender identity” refers to a person’s self-perception, regardless of their sex at birth.
The Democratic-controlled House approved the bill in a vote of 224 to 206 in late February, and President Biden endorsed the legislation. The measure faces a rocky road to approval in the Senate, where supporters will need 60 votes to overcome an expected filibuster.
After the House vote, ERLC President Russell Moore called the Equality Act “misnamed because, among other negative effects, it would punish faith-based charities for their core religious beliefs.” Every human being should be treated with dignity, but government policy should continue to respect differences in belief.
In its testimony, the ERLC gave three main reasons for its opposition to the proposal. He said the Equality Act:
• “[W]would bring sweeping and historic changes to religious freedom with devastating effects on this fundamental freedom.
•“[W]would be the most pro-abortion bill ever passed by Congress.
•“[U]n jeopardizes decades of hard-fought civil rights protections for women and girls.
The proposal fails to protect the freedom of religion and conscience of faith-based adoption and fostering agencies, as well as religious hospitals and healthcare workers, according to ERLC testimony.
This “would force faith-based child welfare organizations either to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs [on such issues as marriage and family] or be shut down,” the ERLC said. When it comes to health care, faith-based providers typically serve people from all walks of life, including those who identify as gay or transgender, according to the testimony. But those with moral or religious beliefs ‘cannot perform all procedures requested by a patient’, such as sex reassignment surgery, and ‘would risk losing their jobs’ if they refused to do so, the official said. ‘ERLC.
The Equality Act would “explicitly curtail” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the ERLC said. The 1993 law, which was passed almost unanimously by Congress, requires that the government have a compelling interest and use the narrowest means possible to interfere with a person’s religious exercise.
The bill would violate the conscience rights of healthcare workers who oppose participation in abortions by redefining “sex” as “pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition,” according to the testimony of the ‘ERLC. It would also threaten the Hyde Amendment, a 45-year-old ban on federal abortion funding, the ERLC said. “There is nothing equalizing about forcing Americans to fund abortions with taxpayer dollars.”
Moore joined more than 60 other pro-life leaders in a separate letter sent Wednesday to the leadership of the Judiciary Committee in opposition to the legislation, which they described as potentially “the biggest setback for the pro-life movement since Roe v. Wade”, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
The ERLC also said the measure “disregards the privacy and security concerns” of women by removing legal protections for single-sex spaces such as changing rooms and shelters. In addition, the proposal would threaten the progress of women in athletics and academics under Title IX by allowing biological men to compete against them, according to the ERLC.
The bill would dissolve “clear boundaries around” governmental authority, “bringing the full weight of government against religious institutions and individual Americans simply for holding to their core beliefs about anthropology and personality” , said the ERLC.
In its testimony, the ERLC cited a resolution endorsed by the messengers at the 2018 SBC annual meeting which reaffirmed “the sanctity, full dignity and dignity of Christian respect and love for every human being, without reservation”.
The Democratic-controlled Judiciary Committee hearing — titled “The Equality Act: LGBTQ Rights Are Human Rights” — consisted of oral testimony from supporters and opponents of the congressional bill and from outside organizations.
Equality law advocates say there is a need to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) people across the country in categories such as employment, housing and public housing – which includes establishments that provide goods, services or programs, as well as, according to the bill, health care providers.
Opponents, including some feminists, say they oppose unfair discrimination but argue the Equality Act would have harmful effects such as those described by the ERLC.
In June 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision regarding federal labor law by deciding in a 6-3 opinion that the “sex” category of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is applies to LGBTQ employees.