The Word From Lansing: So-called ‘equality Act’ Threatens Society and Religious Communities
In 1776, future president Thomas Jefferson composed a few simple words that changed the world: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” The American fight for independence emerged from the idea of equality for all people; however, in retrospect, equality had not even begun to be realized at that time for Blacks, Native Americans, and women. Yet, the ideal remains: equality for all.
Understanding the role equality has played in the nation’s history, it may seem counterintuitive for Catholics to oppose the “Equality Act” currently before the U.S. Senate. When looking past the legislation’s name, the measure is far more dangerous than the bill’s supporters will discuss publicly.
Introduced as HR 5 by Representative David Cicilline from Rhode Island, the Equality Act would amend federal anti-discrimination laws, adding new regulations for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression.” Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon has introduced a similar Senate bill, S 393. Proponents have sought support by arguing that the bill prevents discrimination against those experiencing same-sex attraction or questioning their biological gender in housing, employment, education, and federal programs.
The Catholic Church has long taught that everyone deserves respect, compassion, and support, regardless of their affiliation. In truth, the “Equality Act'' oversteps its stated intention under the guise of bringing about a more equal society. If passed, the “Equality Act'' will discriminate against citizens and people of faith for their longstanding beliefs about marriage, sexuality, the nature of the human person, and the place of religion in society. As written, the legislation would encourage legal and social hostility toward religious persons and institutions, and would result in unjust changes to U.S. communities, such as:
- Requiring taxpayers to fund elective abortions, pressuring doctors and hospitals to perform abortions, and forcing many employers to cover abortions in their health insurance plans.
- Forcing girls and women to share locker rooms, showers, restrooms, and dorms with biological males who identify as a female, as well as to compete against them in school sports.
- Hindering the ability of shelters to provide safe washing or resting spaces for girls and women who have experienced trauma.
- Mandating doctors and counselors perform and promote gender transitions, as well as requiring religious organizations to pay for the procedures in their insurance plans.
- Making it difficult for faith-based colleges to hire staff that uphold their religious mission.
- Attempting to force religious charitable or educational institutions out of the public square by making them choose between closing down services or abandoning their moral beliefs.
These sweeping changes are not only concerning for people of faith, but all who believe in protecting human life, upholding the truth about marriage, and ensuring religious institutions continue to serve the poor and suffering. The U.S. bishops recently joined hands with other religious organizations to demonstrate this point in a letter to Congress.
One of the most insidious provisions of HR 5 is exempting its provisions from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a bipartisan 1993 law that protects the free exercise of religion from government overreach. RFRA has secured protections and advanced religious tolerance primarily for minority religious communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, and Native Americans.
Earlier this year, HR 5 passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 224-206 vote. All of Michigan’s Democratic representatives voted in favor of the measure, while all the state’s Republican representatives voted against it. It is highly discouraging that the rampant partisanship in politics today is also present on this issue. With President Biden already indicating he will sign the so-called “Equality Act” into law, the only option that remains to stop the legislation is by defeating it in the U.S. Senate.
It is critical that lawmakers hear from Catholics and people of goodwill, clarifying that such legislation is incredibly harmful to religious communities, promotes a culture of violence in the womb while dismantling religious protections for those in the medical field, and continues the effort to prevent religious agencies from providing needed service. We must also reaffirm our Christian teaching and offer respect and compassion to all persons, including those in the gay community.
Please take a moment to contact U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters. Despite their support for the bill, urge them to reconsider at WWW.VOTERVOICE.NET/USCCB/CAMPAIGNS/80967/RESPOND.
The Word from Lansing is a regular column for Catholic news outlets and is written by Michigan Catholic Conference President and CEO Paul A. Long. Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.