During the hearing on H.R. 5, the Equality Act, before the House Judiciary Committee, the committee chairman, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, confirmed that there are no religious exemptions in the bill that would expand the Civil Rights Act and several other federal laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes and expands the definition of public accommodations in the Civil Rights Act.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value and we do not have to choose between nondiscrimination and religious liberty. We have in our existing civil rights laws a roadmap on how to advance both. Religion is no excuse for discrimination as we have long recognized when it comes to race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. And it should not be when it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said during his opening remarks on Tuesday.

“Many of the arguments against the Equality Act are belied by the states and localities that have protections already,” Nadler said.

He also added that the Equality Act would not cause religious hospitals or non-profits to close. “New York has these protections. We have Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant hospitals and adoption agencies and everyone regardless of who they are and who they love is able to receive medically appropriate care and to be served by publicly funded organizations,” Nadler stated.

There are a number of problems with what Congressman Nadler said.

First, the Equality Act does not respect religious liberty, not even close. The text of the bill and his comments point to this.

The bill under “Sec. 1107. Claims” reads, “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.”

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not allow discrimination. It merely provides an avenue for judicial review if a person claims the state or a municipality have substantially burdened their free exercise of religion.

This bill removes that.

Nadler then said “religion is no excuse for discrimination.”

I agree. It’s not, but what Nadler considers discrimination is typically a legitimate exercise of religious conscience.

This leads me to the second point. Nadler said states and localities with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) protections “belies” many of the arguments.

That is not remotely true. The application of SOGI laws at the state and local levels is what drives concerns those of us who oppose this bill have.

People have lost their businesses and have to pay fines. People are compelled to violate their religious conscience or suffer the consequences because states and local government use SOGI laws as a club.

Because they refuse to serve LGBT people dinner or rent a hotel room? No. Instead, it punishes people, typically Christians, who do not want to photograph, provide floral arrangements, host, or bake a cake for same-sex weddings or make a custom t-shirt for a gay pride event because it violates their religious conscience. They do not want to spend their time, resources, and creative ability on an activity that celebrates what the Bible considers sinful.

Those who push SOGI laws do not distinguish between persons and events, and, as we saw in the case of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, are often hostile to people of faith.

Most of those penalized under SOGI laws have LGBT customers, and in several cases, the complaints come from customers they have served in the past.

It is not about the customer’s identity, it is about the activity.

A distinction that is lost on Congressman Nadler (and many others) I’m sure.

Then there is the case of religious hospitals and non-profits. Someone should tell Catholic Charities in Massachusetts that SOGI laws do not impact them. They no longer offer adoptions after the state compelled them to adopt to same-sex couples. A choice that several faith-based adoption agencies face.

It doesn’t matter that those couples could go to numerous different agencies; faith-based agencies are forced to comply.

The free exercise of religious conscience is not discrimination, but to those who push the Equality Act, it is. When religious liberty interests oppose LGBT interests, under SOGI laws and the Equality Act if it passes, people of faith lose.

Photo credit: American Life League (CC-By-NC 2.0)

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