WASHINGTON — In a March 20 letter to members of the U.S. Senate, three bishops warned that while the proposed Equality Act purports to address issues of discrimination, it would actually create new problems and threaten fundamental freedoms.
“This proposed legislation does not accomplish what its supporters assert, but rather creates new difficulties and will hurt more people than its designers want to help,” the bishops said, urging Senators to oppose the bill.
The Equality Act, reintroduced in Congress this month, would add anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to existing protections for race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion.
It would apply not just to employment, but other areas, like housing, jury duty, credit and education, as well as at retail stores, emergency shelters, banks, transit and pharmacies, among others. It would also specify facility access for self-identified transgender persons, such as access to male and female bathrooms.
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is the bill’s main sponsor in the House, NBC News reports. As of March 13, the bill had 239 co-sponsors in the House.
The March letter to the U.S. Senate was signed by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee; Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, head of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
“As a nation we have a laudable history of confronting and overcoming unjust discrimination and attempting to balance the rights of various groups,” the bishops said.
“As Catholics, we share in this work of justice. It is our firm belief that each and every person should be treated with dignity and respect,” including the right to gainful employment without discrimination and the right to services necessary to maintain health and safety, they said. “In this, we wholeheartedly support nondiscrimination to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.”
But instead of providing these protections, the Equality Act would create broad regulations that would harm society, they warned.
“The act’s definitions alone would remove women and girls from protected legal existence. Furthermore, the act also fails to recognize the difference between the person — who has dignity and is entitled to recognition of it — and the actions of a person, which have ethical and social ramifications. Conflating the two will introduce a plethora of further legal complications.”
The legislation would threaten the right to free speech, conscience and exercise of religion by making illegal certain beliefs about the human person held by many individuals and groups, the bishops said. It would particularly threaten religious freedom, a foundational principle of the American founding, by exempting itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a move that the bishops noted is “unprecedented.”
Also dangerous, they said, is the lack of criteria for “gender identity,” which could open the door for abuses in restrooms and locker rooms.
“This risk arises not so much from those who experience gender incongruence, but from others who would take malicious advantage of open-door policies in these private spaces,” they stated.
The Equality Act would also put many charitable organizations at risk, requiring that homeless shelters place biological men with vulnerable women and adoption agencies place children with same-sex couples, even if this violates their beliefs and the birth mother’s wishes, the bishops said.
“The resulting closures of such charitable services would be unconscionable — especially when the opioid crisis is leaving more and more children in need of foster care.”
The legislation could threaten professionals in the wedding industry, such as cake bakers, photographers and florists, who will serve all customers but cannot express messages to which they object. It would require health professionals to provide “gender transition” treatments and surgeries in violation of their medical and ethical judgments.
“Given all of these effects, we strongly oppose the Equality Act and respectfully urge you to oppose it as well,” the bishops wrote to the Senate. “We pray that wisdom will inform your deliberations on these matters, and we readily stand with you, and are willing to assist you, in developing compassionate and just means to eradicate unjust discrimination and harassment from our country.”