the United States Capitol
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

DES MOINES, Iowa – On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 236 to 173 in favor of the Equality Act. Iowa’s Democratic members in the House: U.S. Reps. Cindy Axne, Abby Finkenauer, and Dave Loebsack voted in favor of the bill. U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, did not.

The Equality Act amends virtually all current federal laws covering employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service to include sexual orientation and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation.

Both Axne and Finkenauer championed the bill on Twitter prior to the vote.

The Equality Act shrinks religious liberty protections provided in federal law. “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 bill reads.

RFRA provides a legal resource for people of faith who are under compulsion by the federal government to act in a way that would violate their religious beliefs or personal conscience.

During the debate over the bill on Friday, Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia claims that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has been “used as a sword, not a shield.”

The Equality Act essentially nullifies RFRA as a defense in cases involving LGBT persons.

“Let’s call this bill what it is — the ‘Inequality Act’ — one of the most hateful bills to ever pass the House of Representatives. This is a direct attack on the rights of hundreds of millions of Americans. Parents, women, people of faith — almost every American stands to lose if H.R. 5 becomes law,” Terry Schilling, the executive director of American Principles Project, said in a released statement on Friday.

He’s not wrong.

“They voted to abolish conscience rights. They voted to end religious freedom as we know it,” he added.

“Laws should respect the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of every citizen, but the so-called ‘Equality Act’ that the House has passed fails to meet this essential standard,” Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, stated.

“Like similar state and local laws, it would also force Americans to participate in events and speak messages that violate their core beliefs, all in the name of an ‘equality’ that tolerates no dissenters. Many activists want to con Americans into believing that disagreement on important matters such as marriage and human sexuality is a form of discrimination that requires the government to enforce one view over another, but that is obviously wrong. This bill undermines human dignity by threatening the fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience that the First Amendment guarantees for every citizen. Americans deserve better than the profound inequality that this intolerant, deceptively titled legislation offers,” she said.

We know the Equality Act will have this impact because we have seen existing sexual orientation and gender identity laws in action. Congressman Scott said that RFRA is used as a sword, well, SOGI laws have been used as a club to beat out dissent.

Axne and Finkenauer who are expected to run for re-election in 2020, voted to strip Iowans of faith of a tool they can use when the government seeks to coerce them to violate their conscience.

They, their Democrat colleagues, and the eight Republicans who voted with them did not distinguish between discrimination and a legitimate act of conscience. A middle ground could have been sought, but this bill, in the words of Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia and a supporter of same-sex marriage, the Equality Act “is not a good-faith attempt to reconcile competing interests. It is an attempt by one side to grab all the disputed territory and to crush the other side.”

Caffeinated Thoughts reached out to Axne and Finkenauer’s offices and they did not respond.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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