by John McGowan, Esq.
On February 25, the United States House of Representatives passed the “Equality Act”, a law that its proponents say is necessary to prevent people from being discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The final vote in the House was 224-206, with three Republican lawmakers joining every Democrat. The bill now heads to an evenly divided (50-50) Senate for consideration. Despite its pleasant-sounding title, the Equality Act is a serious threat to liberty, and religious liberty in particular. Here is what Christians, including Christian homeschool families, should know.
In general, the Equality Act seeks to make gender identity and sexual orientation protected classes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bill defines “gender identity” as “the gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth.” The implications of eliminating the distinctions between “male” and “female” in society are substantial, even more so when done through threat of law. According to Alliance Defending Freedom, the Equality Act could “prohibit employers, preschools, and even religious schools and organizations from making choices based on basic biology, bodily privacy, and their beliefs about the nature of marriage.” If passed in its current form, the law would open bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams according to a person’s self-determined gender identity.
Moreover, abortion access would be greatly increased, even to the point of allowing the use of taxpayer funding to pay for it. This is because the Act provides that “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition shall not receive less favorable treatment than other physical conditions.” The term “related medical condition” has been understood in other legal settings to refer to abortion. Hospitals, doctors, and nurses may all find themselves running afoul of the law by refusing to participate in the act of an abortion. Certainly, that’s bad enough, but that’s not all.
Of particular importance to religious organizations, including private Christian schools, is the fact that the Equality Act would supersede the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which currently provides individuals and religious organizations with important religiously based conscience rights. In other words, the Equality Act would not only expand areas where LGBTQ+ individuals will be able to make claims, it would, at the same time, prohibit a religious organization, or religiously devout individual, from defending itself by raising any current protections they might have under RFRA.
While all the ways the Act could be applied would take many years to unwind and fully understand, it is a certainty that, should the Act pass, all sorts of religious organizations, including schools, will find themselves in the cross hairs. New curriculum standards and content could be mandated. Religious organizations and ministries could ultimately be precluded from requiring their employees, volunteers, and members to adhere to that organization’s statement of faith or code of conduct. If the Act is found to apply to private schools, then admissions practices and student codes of conduct would also be subject to scrutiny under the Act. Specifically, organizations professing, and expecting those individuals associated with them, to observe Biblical standards of sexuality, marriage, and gender would be in violation.
The ability of Christian organizations to operate according to their guiding principles, rooted in Biblical truths, will be severely diminished. The ultimate purpose of any true Christian ministry or organization, be it a small private school satellite program or a multinational charity, is to highlight and preserve to the next generations the saving truth of the Gospel. The Equality Act would say that Christians must change their message if they wish to participate publicly in society. The spread of the Gospel necessarily suffers where religious freedom is not respected.
So, what’s next with the Act? The Act is now waiting to be argued and voted on in the Senate. There is reason to be optimistic, but not complacent, about its chances there. In addition to the razor thin margin the Democrats have there (50-50 with Vice President Harris providing the tie breaking vote), the Senate operates under a parliamentary rule known as the filibuster requiring 60 Senators to agree to close debate on a bill and bring it to a floor vote. It appears unlikely that 60 senators will vote to close debate on this bill in its current form. Although many Democrats are calling for the eradication of the filibuster, that doesn’t currently seem likely. It is more likely that the Senate will make modifications to the current bill, perhaps offering some changes in an effort to address the religious liberty concerns addressed here.
The bill would then go back to the House of Representatives to be considered again in its new form. Many groups will be paying close attention to this process and providing updates, including here. In the meantime, in addition to praying for our elected officials, we can contact our United States Senators and voice an opposition to the Act and be ready to reach out to our representatives in the House should the time come for them to reconsider the bill there.
While the Equality Act was being debated on the House floor, and in response to a colleague’s reference to the Bible in opposition to the Act, Congressman Jerry Nadler (NY) stated, “What any religious tradition describes as God’s will is no concern of this Congress.” I for one am grateful that the members of the Second Continental Congress in 1776 did not subscribe to Mr. Nadler’s view. When the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, they made sure to recognize not only the laws of nature but of “Nature’s God.” That prior congress also understood that it is the Creator that endows all men with unalienable rights. These truths, and others, persist no matter the change in culture, or even law.
“When our Founding Fathers passed the First Amendment, they sought to protect churches from government interference. They never intended to construct a wall of hostility between government and the concept of religious belief itself.” – Ronald Reagan
John is an attorney with his own litigation practice in Los Angeles and is also an allied attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a leading national legal organization advocating for the right of people to freely live out their faith. He and his wife, Juleene, have 2 boys, ages 11 and 12, who have been schooled in the home since birth. John is especially passionate about CHEA’s mission to protect the God-given right of parents to direct the education and training of their children. He serves as Vice President on CHEA’s Board of Directors