Equality Act Assails Religious Freedom

Tony Perkins is President of Family Research Council. David Closson is Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Decision Magazine on April 1, 2021. 

Deceptively named bill antithetical to a Biblical worldview

In late February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the so-called “Equality Act” (H.R. 5), one of the most anti-life, anti-family and anti-faith bills in American history. The legislation passed by a vote of 224-206, with only three Republicans supporting it. As of press time, the bill had moved to the Democrat-controlled Senate, and President Joe Biden had urged Congress to pass the measure in concert with many of the executive actions he has already taken unilaterally.

The irony is that the Equality Act’s supporters claim that it would help eradicate discrimination in our society. This sounds nice. God’s Word teaches that everyone is created in the image of God; therefore, Bible-believing Christians believe everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. But the Equality Act does nothing to end discrimination. In fact, if 60 U.S. senators vote in favor of the bill, the new law would unleash an unprecedented assault on religious freedom and Biblical values, accelerating discrimination against tens of millions of Christians and people of faith. 

Here are a few ways the Equality Act threatens anyone whose beliefs about life, marriage and human sexuality are informed by Biblical teaching and, for that matter, by science. 

First, the Equality Act is radically pro-abortion. Sex discrimination would be redefined to incorporate language that includes access to abortion by expanding what constitutes a “public accommodation” under Title II of the Civil Rights Act. This redefinition jeopardizes longstanding federal conscience laws that protect those opposed to abortion. Additionally, the longstanding bipartisan Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal taxpayer funding for abortion, would be in grave jeopardy. 

Second, the Equality Act would be detrimental to women’s equality, privacy and safety, undermining real civil rights gains women have made. Resources and programs reserved for women, such as those provided by the Small Business Administration Office of Women’s Business Ownership, would have to be made available to biological men who identify as women. Also, biological males would be allowed to compete in women’s sports, despite laws like Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which were designed to ensure fairness for female athletes. Moreover, because the Equality Act would redefine sex discrimination to include gender identity, biological males who identify as female would have access to locker rooms, bathrooms and showers historically reserved for women and girls.

Third, this bill redefines religious freedom into something heretofore unrecognizable, ignoring the truth—ensconced in our First Amendment—that religious freedom isn’t just about what happens in our churches. It’s the freedom to determine what we teach our children and the freedom to live out one’s religious beliefs in society. The bill expressly exempts itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the government show a “compelling government interest” that is advanced in the “least restrictive” manner in order to infringe on any sincerely held religious beliefs. This would create a new hierarchy of rights that privileges sexual orientation and gender identity above the first constitutionally protected right—religion.

The implications of the Equality Act would affect many areas of American life, including churches and houses of worship, faith-based organizations, and religious schools and students. By expanding the definition of a public accommodation to include any establishment that provides goods, services or programs to their communities, any church and house of worship that operates food banks, homeless shelters and the like could be compelled to comply with the Equality Act’s requirements in how they run these programs. They would no longer be allowed to have sex-segregated services and programs or private facilities when operating these services and programs. While ministerial exemptions would continue (for now), some houses of worship could be prevented from ensuring that their clergy and employees abide by their doctrines or beliefs about marriage and sexuality. 

Even religious schools could be considered a public accommodation or an employer that falls within the Equality Act’s broad reach. Some religious colleges and universities could be bound in all aspects of their operation, including hiring, admissions, housing and athletics. Any of these schools that receive federal funding could not discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

The Equality Act’s consequences would be precedent-setting. Individuals with religious or moral views disfavored by this legislation would lose their most robust legal defense against a violation of their rights. And medical personnel exercising their best medical judgment risk discrimination litigation if they do not adhere to the gender identity ideology of the Equality Act.

If the bill becomes law, those who are already seeking to dictate what happens in our homes and what our children are exposed to will use the Equality Act as a legal cudgel and attempt to force us to acquiesce to the demands of their anti-Biblical worldview. The Bible tells us that the role of government is to punish evil and uphold justice. Romans 13 teaches that rulers and those in authority are not a terror to good conduct but evil.

As citizens, we should have a healthy fear of those in authority, a fear that encourages us to do what is right in order to receive approval. But the Equality Act calls for us to turn this principle on its head. Isaiah 5:20 warns us, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.” We are blind if we do not see that this is exactly what our government is doing through the Equality Act. And we cannot tolerate discrimination masquerading as equality.

The Equality Act demands conformity to a worldview antithetical to Christianity. It forces all Americans to go along with a lie about the innateness of biological sex. It opens the floodgates to abortion and tramples the religious liberty of anyone who disagrees with the ideology of the “moral revolution.” Therefore, it must be vigorously opposed.