the United States Capitol
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, introduced the Fairness For All Act on Friday, a bill he says will protect religious freedom and LGBT individuals.

His bill has received support among several groups such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, American Unity Fund, Center for Public Justice, 1st Amendment Partnership, The Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, among others.

U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Rob Bishop, R-Utah, John Curtis, R-Utah, Mark Amodei, R-Nev., David Joice, R-Ohio, Brian Fitzgerald, R-Pa., and Mike Simpson, R-Idaho are current co-sponsors of the bill. Currently, no House Democrat who supported the Equality Act has come out in support of the bill.

The bill also does not have support among conservative Christians.

The bill is an effort to find a compromise between LGBT Americans and religious conservatives who have found themselves targeted by local and state ordinances when attempting to exercise their religious conscience by not providing services for same-sex weddings and pride events.

The Fairness For All Act is modeled after legislation passed in Utah and supported by the LDS Church.

House Democrats recently passed The Equality Act that essentially nullified the use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and provided no exemptions or protection for religious liberty.

Like The Equality Act, the Fairness For All Act, would amend 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.

Also like the Equality Act, the Fairness For All Act also expands the scope of what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 considers “public accommodation” to include almost any business that serves the public.

Unlike the Equality Act, the Fairness For All Act preserves the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that requires the federal government to demonstrate in court that there is a compelling government interest for the action they are taking that substantially burdens a person’s sincere belief and that there is no reasonable alternative to the action they are taking.

The Fairness For All Act protects the tax-exempt status of religious organizations and religious colleges and universities. It also protects the right of religious colleges and universities to uphold their religious standards without jeopardizing the ability of their students to get Pell Grants or of their professors to compete for federal research contracts.

The legislation also protects the owners of small businesses whose religious and moral principles prevent them from participating in activities that are contrary to their conscience and beliefs. The bill also protects religious adoption and foster care agencies so they can continue to serve vulnerable children and willing couples, while at the same time ensuring the ability of LGBT persons to adopt and foster children.

“All of God’s children, regardless of sexual orientation or religion, deserve dignity, respect, and the right to pursue happiness. This legislation allows us to settle the legal questions and get back to the business of loving our neighbors,” Stewart said in a released statement on Friday.

Some applaud the effort to reduce the tension between LGBT individuals and people of faith.

“Fairness for All underscores that all persons are created in the image of God, implying dignity, value, and worth. This approach represents civic pluralism at its best, in a society where people with differences can live alongside each other with respect and understanding,” Shirley V. Hoogstra, President of Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, said in a released statement.

“(We are) committed to seeking solutions founded in principled pluralism–solutions that respect the rights and beliefs of all, while not limiting a person’s or organization’s core convictions “The Fairness for All legislation does just that. We urge Congress to pass this legislation that offers a way forward so that all citizens, regardless of religious beliefs or sexual orientation, can live side-by-side as good neighbors,” Stephanie Summers, CEO of Center for Public Justice, said in a released statement.

Others say the bill represents a “near total surrender” to those who pushed the LGBT agenda legislatively and in the courts.

“Like the Democrats’ so-called ‘Equality Act’ which it is seeking to replace, FFA would upend American society by radically altering civil rights law. And despite including some exemptions, it would still seriously endanger the conscience rights of Americans seeking to live by their faith, for whom relatively few protections are offered,” Terry Schilling, executive director of American Principles Project said in a released statement.

“Moreover, even the exemptions it does offer — which are already protected by the First Amendment — could easily be removed by future legislation. And why should we trust that Democrats will not do so in the future, when almost all of them already support a bill which would do just that?” he asked.

Schilling called the bill just a “dressed-up” version of the Equality Act.

Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, told Caffeinated Thoughts that the Fairness For All Act is a “legislative wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“Gay writer Andrew Sullivan, who pioneered activism for ‘same-sex marriage,’ said recently that ‘the gay left wants to persecute orthodox Christians.’ I’m sure that was sweeping with too broad a brush. But there can be no doubt that there are efforts on the left (and not just the gay left) to penalize people and institutions such as churches and religiously affiliated schools and social services agencies for dissenting from LGBT ideology,” he said.

“The so-called Fairness for All bill would, unfortunately, assist these efforts. If ever there were a legislative wolf in sheep’s clothing, this is it. In fact, the sheep costume is so laughable, so transparently a mere costume, that it’s hard for me to fathom why some religious people and groups are supporting the bill. That they mean well, I do not doubt. That they are making a terrible mistake, I am absolutely certain. The bill is not a shield to protect people from unjust discrimination; it is a sword to punish people who hold traditional beliefs about marriage and sexuality,” George added.

“Religious liberty is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, while no provision of the Constitution references sexual orientation or gender identity. ‘Fairness for All’ would turn that on its head by reducing religious liberty to a second-class right and making sexual orientation and gender identity equivalent to historically protected classes like race and sex, which they are not. Enshrining sexual orientation and gender identity in U.S. civil rights law would be a declaration that it is morally wrong to disapprove of homosexual or transgender conduct, throwing the full force of the U.S. government against the longstanding positions of all major religions in the world,” Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, said in a released statement on Friday.

The limited exemptions protecting religious liberty in the Fairness For All Act, religious conservatives fear, are limited not only in scope, but also the amount of time they will exist before they are repealed.

“Don’t think the carve outs for religious institutions in ‘Fairness for All’ would be sufficient or permanent. The LGBT lobby has demonstrated a rapacious desire to be not only tolerated but affirmed. Already politicians have suggested removing the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that do not affirm LGBT lifestyles – one of the few religious freedom protections currently in Fairness for All. This attempt at compromise will not satisfy their demands,” Perkins added.

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