Is the Equality Act Biden's dragonnade?

Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Christian Post on February 25, 2021.

Unity has been an early theme of President Biden’s term. However, one of his early legislative priorities is the Equality Act, one of the most divisive pieces of legislation ever seriously debated.

It’s inconsistent to call for unity while threatening the schools, businesses, and non-profit organizations of those you disagree with, but not unprecedented.

16th century France was divided between Protestant and Catholic factions. Theological disagreements between Catholics and Protestants now broached over beverages were then solved with swords.

But French King Henry IV united Catholic and Protestant factions to successfully repel a Spanish invasion. Having found peace abroad, he sought peace at home by issuing the Edict of Nantes in 1598, which granted the Protestant minorities the freedom to worship under certain conditions. Protestants were free to live and worship as their conscience dictated and Catholics were obligated to tolerate it. The Edict of Nantes was to remain in force forever or until religious agreement was reached.

Eighty years later, Louis XIV was king of France. Protestant communities still flourished under the Edict of Nantes. However, Louis XIV was less willing than his predecessors to tolerate Protestantism and determined to end the Edict of Nantes.

The Edict obligated him to respect religious freedom unless there was religious agreement within France. So, Louis XIV determined to hasten that religious agreement by an evangelistic effort — of sorts. 

His brand of evangelism involved something called dragonnades. Glenn Sunshine, in his book Slaying Leviathan, describes the dragonnades this way.

In a dragonnade, a company of dragoons (i.e., mounted infantrymen) would move into a village and would be billeted in Protestant homes. The dragoons were instructed to do as much damage to the house and family as possible. Stores were ruined, property stolen, furniture, household goods, even buildings were damaged or destroyed, members of the family attacked. In short order, the family would be bankrupted or worse, and then the dragoon would move on to the next Protestant household. To keep from being forced to billet the soldiers, all you needed to do was convert to Catholicism.

Many Protestants converted or fled the country. Eventually, Louis XIV was satisfied that religious agreement had been achieved in France and the Edict of Nantes was no longer necessary. Unity at last.

What does any of this have to do with the Equality Act? More than you might think.

While the disagreements in 17th century France may have been over the authority of the Pope, today’s disagreements are over the definition of marriage and whether men can become women. On paper, the Equality Act merely adds civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In effect, the Equality Act, like the dragonnades, employs economic terrorism against those who hold beliefs the government doesn’t like.

Many Christian universities would close their doors because their beliefs would disqualify them from receiving federal student aid. It would be “discrimination” to, for example, provide married student housing only to students in heterosexual marriages, and access to federal student aid would no longer exist.

Adoption and foster care agencies who believe it’s preferable for kids to have both a mother and father would similarly be forced out of ministry. They would be disqualified from partnering with the government, disqualified from grant programs, and potentially denied licenses.

Medical professionals who refuse to remove healthy body parts or damage fertility of those who experience gender dysphoria would face significant legal liability or the loss of professional licenses.

Any private company that wanted to compete for government contracts would be required to agree to a “non-discrimination” policy that conflicts with the deeply held beliefs of hundreds of millions of Americans. If they refused, they’d be ineligible to compete in the market.

These are just a few of the economic impacts. Other harms are not financial but just as real.

Women and girls who wish to participate in athletic competitions with biological females will not be able to. Women will lose college scholarships and, more simply, the chance to win. When it happens, we will all be expected to cheer.

Abuse victims who might seek safety in a women’s shelter would be required by the Equality Act to share spaces with men who claim to be women. Any shelter that considered the potential trauma this might cause to someone fleeing an abusive relationship would be in violation of the law.

While these impacts might be troubling to some, proponents of the Equality Act will be quick to point out that there is a simple solution. If you want to avoid the harm of the Equality Act, all you have to do is change what you believe. Just convert.

Some Christian institutions likely will, imitating some so-called versions of Christianity that have made peace with the culture by rejecting all Christian distinctives that offend the culture. Those who do not convert may become less visible. After all, they won’t be allowed to do the things that would allow them to be seen.

Perhaps one day soon, after the businesses of all the “bigots” have been denied licenses, their schools closed, and their voices removed from every communication platform, Joe Biden and his friends will look around and conclude there is no longer a need for religious freedom because, as far as they can tell, everyone agrees. It worked for Louis XIV. All it took was a little convincing.

Alas, unity.