When the Foundations Are Being Destroyed, What Can the Righteous Do?
The Equality Act and What it Means for You
Written by Richard C. Baker
At a time of great turmoil in Israel’s history, the psalmist wrote in Psalm 113, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” We are faced with a similar question today in our nation.
On March 13, 2019, a bill labeled H.R. 5 and known as the “Equality Act” was introduced into the House of Representatives. This bill was an urgent priority to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House’s Democratic majority. It passed the House of Representatives in May, 2019 and is now before the Senate as S. 788 where a slight majority of Republicans oppose it, but are under great pressure to vote for it. This legislation is designed to extend the anti-discrimination protections of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity in order to create a national uniformity of protections for LGBT people.
Supporters of this bill argue that all should be equal before the law and the Equality Act will simply empower the government to carry out its duty to protect all citizens from discrimination, including LGBT persons. The Chamber of Commerce has even given its support of the bill saying it’s good for business. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the main House sponsor of the Equality Act, has assured religious communities that they should have no reason to fear the bill, arguing that the current “Civil Rights Act does some very careful balancing between two important values: freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination…it strikes the right balance and the Equality Act will continue that.”
But those opposed to the Act, sound the alarm with a far different narrative. They too appeal to core civil rights. They argue that that from the days of the Founding Fathers, one of the government’s primary tasks has been to preserve the freedom for each person to follow his own conscience, freely exercise his religion in the society at large, and to speak without fear of governmental reprisal; all are understood to be inalienable rights given by the Creator.
As for religious freedom and freedom of conscience, Stanley Carlson-Thies, Senior Director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA), a division of the Center for Public Justice wrote the following in an article entitled A Better Way than the Equality Act:
Supporters of the Equality Act also claim that it protects religious freedom, but in fact it would severely constrain many faith-based organizations and persons of faith who simply desire to live by their convictions about human sexuality and marriage without harming others.
Just how would it severely constrain these faith based organizations? Carlson-Thies answers:
…the Equality Act goes far beyond that laudable [anti-discrimination] goal…the Equality Act would legally enforce the newly dominant view of human sexuality and marriage, while criminalizing actions that flow from what used to be the consensus view, even though the latter view is perfectly legal.
Of course that consensus view he is referring to is the Judeo-Christian view of sexuality rooted in the Scriptures.
As for the careful balancing between freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination in the current Civil Rights Act cited by Rep. Cicilline, Carlson-Thies points out that the Equality Act “would prohibit appeals to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when a religious person or organization is charged with violating a nondiscrimination rule.” Further explaining how the Equality Act strips away the protections of RFRA he says:
…the Equality Act explicitly undermines the main federal law that protects religious freedom…which applies to federal laws and actions, protects religious people and organizations from laws that would substantially burden their religious exercise, unless the government has a compelling interest to impose that burden and has no less restrictive way to achieve its aim.
John Stonestreet and Robert Rivera of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview sound the alarm in a similar vein. Writing in the Center’s e-newsletter dated May 10, 2019:
…The Equality Act does far more than outlaw discrimination. In the way Title VII would be amended, anyone who dissents from the new sexual orthodoxy would be comparable to the racists whose oppression of African-Americans made the Civil Rights Act of 1964 necessary. In the way the Equality Act would rewrite federal law, discrimination against LGBT people wouldn’t only be anything that would impede access to public accommodations; it would be anything, anything, less than fully affirming their sense of self.
Matt Staver, of Liberty Counsel wrote the following warning on May 22, 2019 in his e-newsletter after H.R. 5 was passed in the House and sent to the Senate:
The single greatest threat to religious liberty in our lifetime is now one step closer to becoming law…As the House bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), put it, “we cannot allow claims of religious freedom to be used to discriminate against an LGBT individual.”
As to why it is the single greatest threat, Staver joins others stating that it “…threatens religious liberty, speech, privacy, and women’s rights. It broadly imposes the LGBT agenda and does not exempt churches or religious employers, organizations or colleges.”
Are these alarms just more rhetoric in the ongoing culture wars? More hyperbole to drum up support and ‘stoke the base?’ If not, what is the basis for these alarmist claims in opposition of the Equality Act?
If you want to know the specific ways the Equality Act will affect you, keep reading. Carlson-Thies sets out six ways that the Equality Act would harm religious organizations, houses of worship, charities, schools, hospitals, and more. The first is that the Act would vastly expand the definition of public accommodations:
Public accommodations provisions in civil rights laws are meant to ensure that everyone has access to basic goods and services. The Equality Act proposes to dramatically expand the definition of public accommodations in federal law to include not only just about every kind of facility and service provider, but even many individual professionals.
Having expanded the definition of accommodations he asks:
Under the Equality Act, will churches, synagogues, and mosques be declared to be public accommodations and thus be subject to strict SOGI nondiscrimination requirements in everything they do, including if they ever invite into worship non-members as well as members, if they ever rent out their facilities, or if they occasionally host public events such as voting on election day? It is not difficult to clearly protect these holy spaces so that they can remain faithful to the requirements of their respective religious traditions, but the Equality Act has no such language.
Stonestreet and Rivera agree and add with regard to creative professionals and their businesses as we have already experienced in Colorado, Washington, New Mexico, Georgia and many other states:
[The Equality Act] would target creative professionals who willingly serve everyone, like photographers, videographers, florist, and bakers, and force them to promote messages and celebrate events that conflict with their beliefs. Local laws like the Equality Act have been used to punish business owners like Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, and Blaine Adamson.
Secondly, Carlson-Thies says that the Act might affect employment by religious organizations:
Title VII, the fundamental federal employment law, includes an exemption that protects the ability of religious schools, charities, and houses of worship to consider religion when hiring and firing. Moreover, according to the courts, this legitimate religious decision-making can include assessing whether a job applicant not only professes, but lives, according to a religion. The Equality Act does not touch this religious exemption. But if the bill becomes law, will the courts, for example, consider it a legitimate exercise of religious discretion when a Catholic school declines to hire a teacher who professes to be Catholic but is in a same-sex marriage? Or will it instead consider the school’s decision to be an illegal act of SOGI discrimination? The need for clarification on dilemmas like this is routinely acknowledged in employment law and religious freedom circles, but the Equality Act offers no assurances at all to religious employers about this vital matter.
Next Carlson-Thies cites the Act’s effect on hospitals and medical practices:
The Equality Act proposes to treat any “establishment that provides health care” to be a public accommodation and thus subject to its SOGI nondiscrimination requirements. It offers no protection for religious hospitals or medical facilities staffed by doctors and nurses who for reasons of religion or conscience are unable to perform sex-change operations or gender identity transition treatments. Health care professionals, including religious providers, should be willing to provide regular care for transgender persons, from heart surgeries to treatment for the flu. But it is unethical to make them violate their most deeply held beliefs.
Stonestreet and Rivera similarly write with regard to conscience rights and abortion:
- [The Equality Act] would force doctors, counselors, and healthcare practitioners to violate their conscience by prescribing puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and sex-reassignment surgery to otherwise healthy children who are struggling with their gender identity even though such treatments cause grave and often irreversible harm. It could even force pro-life hospitals and doctors to perform or facilitate abortions.
Fourthly, as for adoption and foster care, Carlson-Thies raises this concern:
Much of the funding that supports foster care and adoption services comes from the federal government and would be subject to the Equality Act’s prohibition on SOGI discrimination in federally funded services. This part of civil rights law (Title VI, dealing with government funding) has never included religion as a protected class and it correspondingly has no religious exemption. Thus, under the Equality Act, all private organizations that accept federal funding to support the services they offer—faith-based organizations along with secular nonprofits—will be subject to a new nondiscrimination requirement that will apply not only to the services funded with federal dollars but also to every other service they offer, even when these other services are privately funded. When a faith-based adoption or foster care provider, exercising its professional judgment about the best environment for children needing new homes, declines to place a child with a same-sex couple or LGBT person, it may well lose vital government funding or even the ability to operate at all. Yet there are many agencies ready to serve LGBT persons, and shuttering those with different convictions does not expand the number of families ready to foster or adopt.
Making this real practical, Stonestreet and Rivera state with regard to kids in foster care:
- [The Equality Act] would harm the over 400,000 children in our nation’s foster care system by forcing faith-based adoption and foster care providers who believe that children thrive best in a home with a married mother and father to stop helping kids.
Regarding the effect on religious schools and colleges, Carlson-Thies argues:
These are key institutions for transmitting religious beliefs to the next generation, places where religious perspectives are put into action in analysis and in dialog with other perspectives, and locales where a religion’s convictions are embodied in community life. Yet the Equality Act makes no effort to ensure that such institutions—places where staff, faculty and students all enter voluntarily—will remain free to be faithful to their respective religious convictions about sexuality and marriage.
Stonestreet and Rivera also point out the Act’s impact on religious colleges and churches:
[The Equality Act] would deny federal financial aid to students at faith-based colleges and universities unless they abandon policies and practices reflecting their sincerely held beliefs about marriage and sexuality. It could even forbid houses of worship from ensuring their clergy and other employees abide by their doctrines or beliefs about marriage, sexual behavior, and the distinction between the sexes.
Carlson-Thies’ sixth concern is regarding FEMA, historic preservation and security grants:
As noted, the Equality Act adds a SOGI nondiscrimination requirement to federal funding, with no accommodations for religious institutions that hold dissenting views. It is thus likely that, to avoid having to compromise their convictions, many parochial schools will have to cease participating in the National School Lunch Program, to the detriment of poor children whose families selected these schools. Synagogues, parochial schools and other morally and theologically conservative religious institutions may be deemed ineligible to continue participating in the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, a federal program to help organizations protect themselves against possible terrorist attacks. Additionally, many houses of worship and other religious institutions may be unable to win FEMA disaster assistance aid or federal historic preservation grants.
Finally, one additional concern raised has been the Act’s effect on women’s’ opportunities, privacy, and safety. Kristen Waggoner, Senior Vice President at Alliance Defending Freedom, stated that the Act “…would be used to set back protections for women in the locker room and on the playing field by decades, as well as inhibit the ability of Americans to live consistently with their beliefs.”
Based on the all too often already occurring incidents Stonestreet and Rivera point out:
But that’s not all. The Equality Act is not only bad for people of faith and anyone else who objects to the new sexual orthodoxy. It’s bad for women. So bad, in fact, radical feminists are now joining with conservative Christian women to fight it. Yes, you heard that right.
In a recent article at Real Clear Politics, Natasha Chart, board chair of the Women’s Liberation Front, teamed up with Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America to warn us, “Under this bill, men and boys [who identify as women and girls] will take away women’s small business grants and hard-won spots on sports teams; they will be allowed to live in women’s domestic violence shelters and use our locker rooms. And united as women, we are just not going to stand for it.
Thus, Stonestreet and Rivera conclude:
It would mandate that men who self-identify as women be allowed to compete as women for spots on female sports teams, women’s scholarships, and even business opportunities created exclusively for women. It would also violate women’s privacy and dignity by forcing women’s only shelters and other private, intimate spaces, like locker rooms and restrooms, to be open to men.
Matt Staver bluntly concludes that under the broad new anti-discrimination provisions of the Act: “…women and girls will face increased risk of harassment and violence by predatory males who will use gender identity to invade their private spaces.”
In light of these negative effects coming from a bill that is supposed to strengthen equality, Alliance Defending Freedom sums up the opposition succinctly by saying “…though ‘nondiscrimination’ sounds good in the abstract, in practice this law poses a serious threat to women’s rights and religious freedom.” So again we ask, what can the righteous do? What can you do?
As with the psalmist in Psalm 113, we must be mindful that no matter what we face, God is still on the throne and His Kingdom is unshakable. With that in mind, never stop praying. Do your homework and learn the facts. Do not be intimidated to speak out publicly. One very necessary way to do that is to contact your elected federal officials, especially those in the Senate and in the White House. Given that this bill is still pending, do it right now. If you’re not sure what to say, check out this article from USA Today, or find out how to contact specific elected officials here.