USCCB: Equality Act not equal

Five committee chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a Feb. 23, 2021, letter to members of Congress oppose the reintroduced Equality Act. The chairmen are Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Okla., Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Calif., Committee on Catholic Education; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., Committee on Pro-Life Activities; and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Committee for Religious Liberty. (CNS composite; photos by Paul Haring, Gregory A. Shemitz, Brendan McDermid of Reuters)

Statements by U.S. bishops and other Catholic leaders have addressed a bill set to be considered by the U.S. Senate, nicknamed the “Equality Act,” saying it presents a real threat to society’s understanding of the true nature of the human person and to religious freedom. 

The Equality Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 25. Its intention is to ban discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, but Church leaders say, as a result, it also discriminates against people of faith. 

The bill would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and it also expands the areas in which protections against discrimination apply. 

Opponents of the bill are concerned that it will result in serious harm to religious freedom because it could force business owners, religious health care providers, schools, and other institutions to choose between operating and following their beliefs.

For instance, a baker could be forced to make a cake for a same-sex wedding or face a lawsuit, or a Catholic doctor could face severe consequences if he or she refused to perform sex-change procedures. The Equality Act also prevents individuals or groups from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to defend themselves against discrimination claims. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement that stressed the importance of dignity and compassion for all people, but also described the bill’s threats to religious freedom. 

“The Equality Act purports to protect people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance from unjust discrimination. Although this is a worthy purpose, the Equality Act does not serve it,” the statement read. “Instead of respecting differences in belief about marriage and sexuality, the Equality Act discriminates against people of faith precisely because of those beliefs.” 

The USCCB statement went on to say that the Equality Act threatens the Church’s status as the “largest non-governmental provider of human services in the United States” through schools, parishes, hospitals, charities and other programs because it could force providers to choose between continuing operation and following their faith. 

“By running roughshod over religious liberty, the Equality Act directly undermines the Church’s ability to fulfill that call,” they wrote.  

The USCCB also released a statement describing how the Equality Act, with its broad provisions against discrimination, could even eventually undercut the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funding for abortions. The bishops argue that the Act could, for instance, lead to a situation where a woman who is denied an abortion could sue for discrimination.  

Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary Church in Greenville, described the problems that the Equality Act presents to people of faith in a Feb. 28 sermon that was also published in Catholic World Report. 

Father Newman echoed the USCCB in calling for compassion and justice for all individuals, including those dealing with issues of gender dysphoria.

“We should all be compassionate, patient and understanding of those who feel existentially out of place in their own bodies and extend to them the same respect we give to all persons, every one of whom should be protected by law from genuine injustice,” he said. However, he noted that compassion also must not lead to denial of the reality of God’s creation of two biological genders. 

“The Church must oppose the so-called Equality Act not because this legislation seeks equality of persons before the law, but because it denies an essential truth of human nature,” he wrote. 

Like the USCCB bishops, he said the law also threatens the personal liberty of anyone whose religious beliefs disagree with the bill’s perspective on gender identity and leaves them few options under the law to defend their beliefs. 

“In a very short time, every religious institution in this country could find itself forbidden by the state to run schools, hospitals or charitable activities of any kind unless we are willing to agree that men can become women, that women can become men, and that girls should be permitted … to change themselves with surgery and chemicals into boys and vice versa,” Father Newman wrote. 

Concerned Catholics are asked to contact their representatives to ask them oppose the bill: