U.S. bishops highlight religious liberty concerns with Equality Act

Ahead of a House of Representatives vote this week, the U.S. bishop’s conference denounced the Equality Act as a bill that “discriminates against people of faith,” and something that “can be construed to include an abortion mandate.”

NEW YORK — Ahead of a House of Representatives vote this week, the U.S. bishop’s conference denounced the Equality Act as a bill that “discriminates against people of faith,” and something that “can be construed to include an abortion mandate.”

The Equality Act, if passed by the House subsequently the Senate, would make sweeping changes to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Particularly, it would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public spaces, housing, education, federal funding, employment, credit, and jury service.

House Majority Leader Democrat Steny Hoyer announced they would vote on the bill in a letter to colleagues last week. Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin, Jeff Merkley and Cory Booker also announced last week they would reintroduce the bill in the Senate.

“The Equality Act represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations. This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as a social construct,” the bishops wrote in a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality,” they added.

The signatories of the letter are Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, chairman of the committee on Catholic education; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the committee on domestic justice and human development; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the committee for religious liberty; Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, chairman of the subcommittee for the promotion and defense and marriage; and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the committee on pro-life activities.

Five committee chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a Feb. 23, 2021, letter to members of Congress oppose the reintroduced Equality Act. The chairmen are Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Okla., Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Calif., Committee on Catholic Education; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., Committee on Pro-Life Activities; and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Committee for Religious Liberty. (Credit: CNS composite; photos by Paul Haring, Gregory A. Shemitz, Brendan McDermid of Reuters).

In 2019, the Equality Act passed by a 236-173 vote in the House, but was never taken up in the Senate by then Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Last week, President Joe Biden issued a statement in support of the bill. It was a campaign promise to sign the bill into law in the first 100 days of his presidency.

“Full equality has been denied to LGBTQ+ Americans and their families for far too long. Despite the extraordinary progress the LGBTQ+ community has made to secure their basic civil rights, discrimination is still rampant in many areas of our society,” Biden said. “The equality act provides long overdue federal civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

In the letter, the U.S. Bishops claim the bill would “inflict numerous legal and social harms on Americans of any faith or none.” Specifically, they argue the bill would:

  • Punish faith-based charities such as shelters and foster care agencies because of their beliefs on marriage and sexuality
  • Force people and organizations to speak or act in support of gender transitions even when it’s against their professional judgement
  • Risk mandating taxpayers to pay for abortions and healthcare workers with conscience objections to perform them
  • Force girls and women to compete against boys and men for limited opportunities in school sports
  • Expand the government’s definition of public places to include religiously operated spaces, such as church halls
  • Exclude people from careers and livelihoods for their beliefs on marriage and sexuality
  • Discriminate against individuals and religious institutions by partially repealing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

What’s different about this attempt is the Democrats now control both chambers of Congress – in 2019 they only controlled the House.

That said, the margins in both chambers of the 117th Congress are extremely narrow, which could make the legislation difficult to pass.

In their letter to House Representatives, the bishops also highlight the Catholic Church’s human services work.

“Each year the Catholic Church, as the largest non-governmental provider of human services in the United States, helps millions of people in need through its parishes, schools, hospitals, shelters, legal clinics, food banks and other charities,” the letter reads.

“The same core beliefs about the human person – made with inherent dignity and in the image of God – motivate both our positions on life, marriage, and sexuality, and also our call to serve the most vulnerable and the common good,” it continues.

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg

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