The Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality has sent evangelicals scrambling to find ways to protect themselves from what they see as pending threats to their religious freedom. Adding to their fears, LGBT rights groups have introduced legislation that calls for “fully-inclusive non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.”
Named The Equality Act, it may be the biggest piece of legislation in support of LGBT rights in U.S. history. Currently, 31 states lack inclusive protections from housing and job discrimination for LGBT citizens. LGBT people can be married one day and fired from their jobs the next day with no legal repercussions for employers.
This is different than ENDA, The Employment Non Discrimination Act, which was signed into law through executive order last year. That order protects LGBT people from getting fired from federal contractors. The Equality Act aims to extend those protections throughout public life.
The legislation will amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This will extend protections to the LGBT citizens in protecting against discriminations in including employment, housing, and public accommodation.
The same religious exemptions the current Civil Rights Act of 1964 will be in place. Religious organizations will continue to be able to hire, and fire, based on their faith tradition. However, Religious Freedom Restoration Acts will not be able to be used to deny the protections in the Equality Act.
And that doesn’t sit well with Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Last week, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee hosted Gospel and Politics, an event centered on how faith can be used in public policy and what is currently threatening religious liberties.
“I think the Equality Act is even worse in terms of religious freedom issues than ENDA was,” Moore told me in a press conference prior to the event. “I had great concerns with ENDA as well. The Equality Act is not the way to go,” Moore said.
Evangelicals are worried about all of the protections this bill would include but it’s the public accommodations portion that really stands out. That portion would mean LGBT people couldn’t be denied services in public spaces like restaurants, health care, and stores. As we’ve seen with wedding cake, florists, and photographer debacles – this will be a point of contention for evangelicals.
What way Moore believes is the “best” way for LGBT people to move forward in securing our rights isn’t clear. He, like many evangelicals, isn’t concerned with the rights LGBT people lack but instead focuses on imaginary threats to religious liberties from LGBT rights.
For example, a major talking point for the conference was the threat of losing tax exemption. The IRS issued a statement saying they had no plans to take away tax exemption from religious nonprofit organizations that opposed marriage equality.
Still, Moore said he wasn’t convinced and we should all be worried:
“The power to tax is the power to destroy,” Moore said in a press conference. “So, tax exemption is an essential feature of the separation of church and state. A state that removes tax exemption for churches, ministries, and religious institutions is a state that is now big enough to destroy those institutions through that taxing power.”
Moore’s statement on tax exemption is nothing short of fear mongering. No one is suggesting taking away religious organizations’ tax exemptions.
Those “threats” to religious liberties from LGBT rights are conjured to continue the narrative of a “militant gay agenda” out to get people of faith.
Unlike those imaginary threats, LGBT people face real injustices. And people who truly incorporated Christian faith in their politic would actually advocate for the protections of LGBT rights alongside with religious liberties.
If Moore and ERLC truly believe that all law abiding, tax paying, citizens in the United States should be treated the same; they would be vocal in the fight to gain LGBT non-discrimination rights.
They would sit down with LGBT groups and find the balance in promoting LGBT protections with religious liberty carve outs. They would advocate not only for the rights of straight Christians but of LGBT people -- who are actually facing discrimination.