The ACLU and other groups supporting gay rights have announced that they are withdrawing their support for the Employment Non-discrimination Act of 2013 (ENDA). ENDA is a controversial measure because the bill would make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or sexual identity.
Why would the ACLU and gay rights groups remove their support for such a measure? Because the current form of the bill provides an exemption for religious employers. The ACLU et al. have decided that the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision gives too much ground to religious liberty. To curtail that trend, these groups will not support the bill as long as it offers broad exemptions to religious employers.
What does that mean? Until the Hobby Lobby decision, these groups were fine with religious exemptions. In fact, ENDA’s exemptions are based in part on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But now, that has changed. Christian Colleges, charities, hospitals beware. It does not matter if your organization has a religious mission. The Left is now declaring that you must not discriminate against employees that violate the religious principles of your organization.
Here’s an example of how this would work. Last year, Azusa Pacific University (a Christian school) asked a female theology professor to leave after she began to assume a transgender identity (read about it here). Gender identity is protected under ENDA. If ENDA were the law of the land with no religious exemptions, then it would have been illegal for this Christian school to dismiss this professor. Under ENDA, Azusa would have been in violation of federal law if they were to follow Christianity’s teaching about gender.
ENDA is problematic even with the current religious exemptions, and that is why the House of Representatives has not taken up the version of ENDA passed by the Senate last year. That being said, the ACLU et al. are objecting even to the modest religious exemptions contained in the current version.
What does this mean? It means that the ACLU and company are pursuing a zero-sum strategy against religious groups and individuals. They have declared an all-out culture war and will offer no quarter to sincere religious dissenters. They are ready to use the coercive power of the state to trample the religious consciences of their countrymen. This is radical and chilling. Let’s hope and pray this intolerant strategy does not become the new orthodoxy among the American Left. It is toxic.
UPDATE – 7/10/14: In light of some of the comments below, I invite readers to read the ACLU’s full statement explaining why they are withdrawing support from ENDA The key sections to me are the following:
ENDA’s discriminatory provision, unprecedented in federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, could provide religiously affiliated organizations – including hospitals, nursing homes and universities – a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people. The provision essentially says that anti-LGBT discrimination is different – more acceptable and legitimate – than discrimination against individuals based on their race or sex. If ENDA were to pass and be signed into law with this provision, the most important federal law for the LGBT community in American history would leave too many jobs, and too many LGBT workers, without protection…
Our ask is a simple one: Do not give religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT people when they have no such right to discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Religiously affiliated organizations are allowed to make hiring decisions based on their religion, but nothing in federal law authorizes discrimination by those organizations based on any other protected characteristic, and the rule should be the same for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Religious organizations are free to choose their ministers or faith leaders, and adding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression will not change that.
Notice that they are specifically targeting Christian colleges, hospitals, nursing homes and the like. Under such a regime, Azusa Pacific University would indeed have been violating federal law for dismissing the transgender professor. World Vision’s recent policy against hiring practicing homosexuals would also constitute a violation of federal law. (World Vision also faces potential problems with a forthcoming executive order.) Those are just two examples. The point is that the ACLU et al. propose a religious exemption that would be far too narrow for Christians and other people of conscience who wish to employ people who share the values of their organization.