As the Employment Non-Discrimination Act edges closer to a Senate vote (promised by Harry Reid to take place before Thanksgiving), GetEQUAL is raising concerns about the broad religious exemptions contained in the bill.
While many LGBT organizations insist that ENDA maintains the same exemptions as the Civil Rights Act, there is a key, important difference between ENDA and the CRA. While the CRA offers religious exemptions that ostensibly protect the religious liberty of those who “perform work connected with the carrying on” of religion (as disgusting as the idea is of refusing to hire a person of color or a woman simply because of who they are might be), ENDA’s religious exemptions are much broader:
This Act shall not apply to a corporation, association, educational institution or institution of learning, or society that is exempt from the religious discrimination provisions of title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Though it might seem like semantics, there is a vital difference in this language. ENDA exempts entire organizations and institutions that have a religious affiliation, while the Civil Rights Act exempts specific employees — a far narrower exemption that protects the religious liberty of clergy, while also protecting the jobs of those who might work at a religiously-affiliated institution doing non-religious work (i.e. a nurse, a teacher, a janitor, etc.). (For reference, see Zack Ford’s helpful analysis here: http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2013/09/13/2616951/religious-organizations-allowed-discriminate-lgbt-people/.)
Everyone from Evan Wolfson, President of Freedom to Marry, to Julian Bond, Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP, has expressed opposition to these broad religious carve-outs for a variety of reasons — but primarily because it establishes a bad precedent for future civil rights legislation. One of GetEQUAL’s co-directors, Heather Cronk, also wrote an op-ed describing the potential negative consequences for our allies in the reproductive justice community: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heather-cronk/we-deserve-more-than-aste_1_b_4101183.html.
Legal groups like the ACLU, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Transgender Law Center share similar concerns about the precedent this sets up for current and future legislation (link here), and those concerns continue to simmer now, even as the legislation heads toward the Senate: http://www.metroweekly.com/poliglot/2013/09/simmering-divide-over-endas-broad-religious-exempt.html.
The New York Times wrote a blistering op-ed about the senselessness of the religious exemptions, also arguing that they are unnecessary: http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/12/an-unholy-religious-exemption. The New York Times is right in calling these religious carve-outs “unholy” — in fact, the exemptions are simply a way to package “religious bigotry” (which religious bigots know is quickly going the way of the dodo) as “religious liberty.” And the New York Times is correct in calling out this re-packaging of religious bigotry for what it is.
In fact, one of the c0-founders of the National Organization for Marriage, Maggie Gallagher, basically telegraphed this strategy recently, stating: “I believe the Supreme Court is going to impose gay marriage in all fifty states within the next two years. I think the battle’s going to shift to religious liberty and we’re gonna need politicians with backbone. What happened first in the gay marriage issue is liberals used their dominance in the mainstream media to persuade GOP pundits that they should be silent on the issue and retreat.” (Link can be found here.)
To combat this attempt to write discrimination into a non-discrimination bill, GetEQUAL is calling on progressive champions in the Senate — including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown — to speak out against these exemptions when ENDA comes up for debate on the Senate floor. Please join our call here: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6535/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15653.