On Wednesday morning the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a full committee hearing on the Equality Act called, "LGBTQ Rights are Human Rights." Multiple members of Congress testified arguing for or against the provision which the House recently passed, including Senator James Lankford (R-OK).
In his testimony, Lankford described just how the Equality Act will hurt religious liberty:
"No persons should be discriminated against in America. No one. That's who we are. It's a basic Constitutional principle. We are all equal under the law. All of us. We don't oppose equality. But we do oppose legislation when you take the rights of one and dismiss the rights of others…"
Lankford went on to explain that the legislative response to the Supreme Court decision, Employment Division v. Smith was called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a provision that ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected.
"This bill, the Equality Act, for the first time since 1993, would exclude the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Congress would be taking affirmative action to not include religious protections," Lankford said. He explained it protects all religions, not just Christianity, the United States' dominant religion.
He continued to explain that under the Equality Act, houses of worship could be deemed as public accommodations—"this subjects them to needless litigation and the Equality Act would strip them of the defense they received via the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," he said.
Lankford also said this bill would also "mandate that churches pay for healthcare coverage for abortions without this RFRA coverage."
He concluded, "I believe we can respect each other and we can have real dialogue over these issues that are complicated and difficult and we can find a way to pass something that honors every American but doesn't discriminate against people of faith."
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty submitted a written statement for testimony that also underscored Lankford's points.
"The Equality Act would have serious negative consequences for religious freedom. The Supreme Court in Bostock expressly relied on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to balance the interests of religious believers and the LGBTQ community. Congress has never before exempted a bill from RFRA.
"But the Equality Act would do just that, removing bipartisan-supported protections while at the same time exposing religious people to new legal threats. The Equality Act would subject synagogues and mosques to lawsuits for having single-sex prayer rooms. It would remove the ability of religious groups of all sorts to have single-sex bathrooms. It would allow litigants to bypass the carefully crafted protections in Title IX and sue religious schools, including K-12 girls' schools, for having women-only spaces."
Mary Hasson also testified on Wednesday in front of the Committee. She is the Kate O'Beirne Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. In powerful comments, she described just how the Equality Act will undermine women's privacy and safety and religious liberty.
"The Equality Act reaches far beyond Bostock (which pertained to workplace discrimination) by expanding 'public accommodations' to permit discrimination claims wherever Americans 'gather,' even virtually. The result? Churches, synagogues, temples, faith-based schools, soup kitchens, and shelters for battered women will be subject to government coercion pressuring them to compromise their religious beliefs or risk endless litigation.
"Recipients of federal funds, including houses of worship, religious schools and other faith-based organizations are litigation targets under the Equality Act as well—even for something as simple as maintaining sex-segregated bathrooms. This means a Muslim food bank, Catholic homeless shelter, or Christian center for female survivors of domestic violence will be punished for doing good while following their religious teachings."
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