A chilling new front in the war on religious liberty

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.


  • Ian Shaw

    Same thing Strachan was talking about to Huckabee the other day. “It’s so rich with irony, it ought to be served with truffle fries”

    That was his quote, not mine. And it was gangbusters. How can you claim to be pluralistic, when your actions attempt to void any possible opinion from a different point of view?

  • Jane Dunn

    The rich irony is that Denny is calling out the LGBT groups for opposing a bill he also opposes. These groups did **not** say they opposed any and all religious exemptions in the bill. All they said was that they opposed the exemption as currently drafted. Conservatives had the opportunity to negotiate on this point but they wouldn’t even come to the table, as seen in Denny’s draft of the resolution to the Southern Baptist Convention that went out of its way to state opposition to ENDA.

    Not only that, conservatives argued in Hobby Lobby that the Obama Administration’s efforts to accommodate religious groups by creating exemptions showed that the government’s purpose wasn’t as “compelling” as the government claimed. Why are you surprised that conservatives’ no-good-deed-goes unpunished arguments are met with a lack of trust from LGBT rights groups? Why should they give any ground to people who won’t even come to the table, or if the do as in Hobby Lobby, use the compromises as evidence of the other side’s lack of a compelling interest.

    Bob Jones University lost its federal tax exempt status because of its segregationist positions, which it claimed were required by its religious beliefs. Are you really arguing that that SCOTUS decision should be overturned?

    • Roy Fuller

      Thank Jane, well said. Also ironic is the line near the end of Denny’s piece where he says, “They (Leftist groups) are ready to use the coercive power of the state to trample the religious consciences of their countrymen,” since this crowd wants to now claim that for-profit corporations (backed by the power of the state) have religious rights and can practice religion, and can use their power against their employees religious beliefs and practices. Anybody out there ever baptized a corporation? Anybody?

  • Michael A. Coughlin

    The idea of religious liberty is self-destroying, and goes against our Christian beliefs. The concept is what will be the downfall of the USA and Christianity.

    Look, we like the idea of it as we’ve conjured in our minds, but we don’t really believe it. We don’t believe a religion which practices prostitution or human sacrifice should be exempt from the law of the land. We don’t believe that polygamists should be exempt from traditional marriage laws. I certainly don’t think a pederast religious society should be taken seriously.

    What we need is Christian laws. We need a biblical basis for laws and a government which enforces righteousness and abhors evil. The fact is that our government doesn’t use the Bible as its basis for morality anymore – so we get what we get.

    The same thing will happen with abortion as is happening with ENDA. They will never be happy to only get to kill babies under 20 weeks, or only rape victim babies or down syndrome babies. “They” will only be happy when they can fornicate, kill, lie, slander and steal at will without (earthly legal) consequence.

    The façade of religious liberty is finally dying and we are seeing that there is no such thing as religious liberty as we tend to define it. What we really want is Christian morality imposed on all citizens – and I have no problem admitting that.

    Praise God for allowing so many wretched men over the past 2 and a half centuries to use the Bible even for the wrong reasons in order to make a country that was blessed so much. And praise Him for His patience as we turn away. Praise Him for His abandoning judgement on sinners in this country and praise Him should He choose to save even 1 more through the preaching of His Gospel.

    • Roy Fuller

      On one level, I can appreciate your honesty, even as your theocratic views are frightening. I can only assume that you had improper historical training, at least when it comes to American history. Religious liberty goes against Christian beliefs? Tell that to the long line of faithful followers of Christ from the Swiss Brethren (a.k.a. Anabaptists) wing of the Reformation, through 400 years of Baptist witness, and many others. Of course there are limits to religious liberty, as you enumerated. No liberty is absolute, and we are always negotiating the boundaries of our liberties. Christian laws, really! Do we need to go through the long list of biblical admonitions which practically no one would not wish to give the force of law? I think your real problem is with religious diversity.

      • Michael A. Coughlin

        Roy – Actually it is God who has the problem with religious diversity. And I’m not talking about within Christianity (necessarily), I’m talking about His hatred for idolatry.

        I think you understood my point, though. The point is that religious liberty as it is called is always still governed in some way – and the basis for that government must be Biblical or “everyone will do what is right in his own eyes.”

        And I would have no problem going through the Bible to determine law (if interpreted properly). In fact, I cannot think of a better book to start with. Can you? If so, then your real problem is with God and His Word and you need reconciliation through His Son, Jesus who died on the cross for sinners and rose again 3 days later.

        • Lauren Bertrand

          Well then you are well-aligned with the theocrats of numerous other faiths–far more than you are aligned with the mere conservatives of your own faith. After all, non-fundamentalist conservative Christians generally still recognize that religious liberty must have limits, even if those limits are merely nuanced enough to slice between the fine-grained differences between Southern Baptists and PCA. The supporters of Sharia would type similar sentences to the ones in your third paragraph, obviously replacing “Bible” with “Quran” and “His Son, Jesus” with “His Prophet, Mohammed.”

          But that’s why most people here still ultimately have to concede, “To each his own.”

    • Ian Shaw


      I would agree that there will come the point of people not being “happy” until they can commit great acts of evil and suffer no earthly consequence. I would agree with you there and the progression is pretty evident.

      What I would question would be your thoughts on implimenting Christian laws. We also have to remember that we don’t live in a theistic kingdom like ancient Israel. The U.S. is also not a modern day Israel nor was it intended to be. This is not a Christian country (cleary…..) and we should not act like it is one. We are a strange people and this is not our home.

      I know partisan politics both will use Biblical themes to make the U.S. to be the “city on a hill” (and both sides are wrong to do so). We also also have to remind ourselves that while we may agree that God will be patient with sinners and He will also keep a record of wrongdoing, laws cannot change the heart of man, but Christ can. No law has ever, nor will it ever change the sinful (flesh) desire of any man. But the transforming power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit can do incredible things.

      • Michael A. Coughlin

        It seems you and I are in agreement and you missed my point about Christian laws.

        Which was not well stated. In my attempt at brevity (in which I failed) I failed to be clear.

        The point was that unless a law is derived from a Christian, that is, Biblical and godly perspective, then it is probably evil. Consider abortion – the ONLY reason that “religious liberty” comes into play in the Hobby Lobby case is because abortion is legal (and thus, abortifacients). My point is that the battle is sorta already lost.

        For every “religious exemption” we get, we sorta lose something hard to describe, and we allow more and more for the idea that religious exemptions are valid.

        So then, the door opens for the religious exemption for people who think, for example, polygamy is a religious right. What would be better is if the definition of marriage was simply from the Christian wordview and there would be no need for a religious liberty. 1 man, 1 woman – very simple.

        And I agree that we are not a Christian country, nor a theistic kingdom and that no law will ever change the flesh. This is basically what I intend to get at – we’ve already lost the political battle. We no longer live in a society where we once enjoyed a concept of Christianity at a governmental type level. And so bandaids like winning a religious liberty battle are not exactly victories in many senses. Not that I think political involvement is a waste either…aye! Too much to try to say.

        • buddyglass

          Do you not consider that laws protecting “religious liberty” (for instance, the first amendment) are “derived from a Christian, that is, Biblical and godly perspective”?

          • Michael A. Coughlin

            Buddy – How about this. Can you show me a Bible verse to support that notion? Or at least make an argument from scripture to support that idea?

            I’m not saying you can’t, but until you can, I’m not sure it is worth engaging the idea.

            • Brian Holland

              Michael (and Ian) a very strong case can (and I would argue must) be made for freedom of religion, because it comes directly from God. The late, great Chuck Colson pointed out that freedom of religion comes from God, because He gives us the freedom to either obey Him or to reject and ignore Him. And so our rights are not granted by any government, but must be recognized by good government. That was the ingenuity of the founders. And this benefits all people in that it respects their dignity as human beings created in His Image. Theocracies (set up by man in this present age) are doomed to fail because we can’t force people to love God. But the founders also understood that freedom could not flourish without biblical morality, which is why Adams said “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

              Now on to the second point, laws certainly do influence behavior, and good laws promote human flourishing or the concept of Shalom. There are people today in Colorado and in Washington, who I can virtually guarantee will make the argument about their pot usage that they “aren’t doing anything illegal.” You and I understand that there is obviously a bigger picture, and that we will one day have to stand before Almighty God, but laws do shape peoples concept of what is right and wrong, and our laws should reflect the moral law, which God has revealed not only through His Word, but through revealed creation.

        • Lauren Bertrand

          But if the Bible is the inspired word of God, then it contains the Christian worldview. And the Bible also contains numerous references to polygamy (polygyny), upon which it nearly always views in a favorable right. So would a Christian theocracy based on the Bible make some allowances for multiple wives?

          • John Kreiner

            When is polygamy viewed in a favorable light in the Bible? Certainly not with Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. Genesis highlights all kinds of sibling rivaly and wife rivalry because of it. If anything, Genesis frowns upon it. As far as Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar are concerned, same thing. I and II Samuel doesn’t say much about David’s multiple wives Deuteronomy 17:17 directly says the king should not multiply wives or they will lead his heart away from the Lord, which is exactly what happened to Solomon and led to the splitting of Israel between two kingdoms. Not to mention the problems between David’s children from multiple wives (the Tamar episode and Absalom’s rebellion, as well as conflict after David died between Solomon and his brother). And of course, in I Timothy 3, elders of the church are required to be the husband “of one wife”. God “tolerated” it in the Old Testament, but did not spare his children from the bad consequences of it. If there’s a passage I missed where the Bible clearly refers to polygamy in a good way, please point it out.

    • Chris Ryan

      Its odd that God would want us to have Biblically-based laws while during his entire time on earth Jesus never once called for such a thing. In fact you could make the argument that much of his mission was to correct the fallacies of the God based law the Israelites had crafted. This modern fascination by some on the right w/ a theocracy is abt nothing other than controlling others & a refusal to live and let live.

  • Bob Marean

    Religious Liberty as defined by the constitution is all about protecting an individual’s right to practice his religion as he/she believes, and to congregate with others who believe the same way without fear of retribution for having those beliefs. It is NOT about imposing one’s religions beliefs upon others and specifically was included in the constitution to prevent the kinds of discrimination that drove many people to the new world in the first place.

    The Hobby Lobby decision returns us to a time (agreed in an over simplification) where a noble could impose his will upon the serfs who worked on his property. I think we all agreed as a society that that kind of imposition of will was intollerable, and by extension, it should NOT invade the work place where an owner (noble) can impose his will just because he wants to or believes it correct when in other work environments the employer is required by law to provide services for his employees because it IS the law.

    When that will imposition impedes an individual’s rights it becomes discrimination. It becomes the kind of thing that the founding fathers specifically did NOT want to happen.

    I have zero problem with anyone believing and acting upon his beliefs as long as those actions do not impose upon MY right to believe and act as I do.within legal limits.

    • Ian Shaw

      Bob, but at this point, who doesn’t know the principles on which Hobby Lobby was started? The employee’s of it’s stores aren’t contract employees. If they desire to not work in that kind of an environment or for a company that holds to certain views, they can also pursue another job can’t they? There are plenty of jobs out there.

      That’d be like working at a Christian bookstore and saying that people talking about Jesus to you are imposing their will on you and you then cry foul. To think that companies are completely “amoral” is naive (not saying you said it).

      • Bob Marean

        You are certainly correct.They can get work somewhere else. But that isn’t the issue. Rather, the issue is…shouldn’t they be covered by the same law as everyone else in the land? And secondly, should someone be imposing their religious beliefs upon them? Is that the basis of our Freedom Of Religion? I think not.

        • Ian Shaw

          I understand your point. I guess I just take it from a worker point of view. If my employer started giving money to an organization that supplies financial gifts to organizations that offer abortions, I would have serious qualms about continued employment and after asking them to cease the donations, I would most definitely pursue new employment opportunities. Some might call that extreme and just say that “you donn’t have to financially support it”, but to me it’s bigger than that. For me, as a believer, that would greatly weigh on my heart.

          To that end, I think all people should educate themselves what kind of organizations their employer given donations to.

        • Johnny Mason


          “shouldn’t they be covered by the same law as everyone else in the land?”

          There were already exemptions given to non-profits religious institutions. Quite many, actually. So that boat already sailed.

          “And secondly, should someone be imposing their religious beliefs upon them”

          The only one imposing is the federal government. If you came to me and demanded that I pay money to fund your abortion and I said no. Would I be imposing my religious beliefs on you?

          Many companies decide to provide health care to their employees. Among these decisions are what things they cover, how much is the deductible and the co-pays, who is in-network, compensation for out-of-network care, and how much the employee must contribute. Now if the company decided to make the deductible $2000 instead of $1000, is that company imposing it’s beliefs upon you? Your out-of-pocket is going to be higher with the higher deductible. How is this any different then what contraceptives are covered?

          • Jane Dunn

            Johnny —
            “There were already exemptions given to non-profits religious institutions. Quite many, actually. So that boat already sailed.”

            — That’s incorrect. Only the actual churches, synagogues, etc. were given an “exemption” from complying at all with the HHS mandate. The religious non-profits were given an “accommodation” that allows them to self-certify that they meet the requirements of the accommodation, which shifts he burden to the insurance company or third party administrator to provide the birth control coverage. That means that employees of religious non-profits are supposed to get the same rights as everyone else. Only church/synagogue employees (a tiny percentage of the workforce) will not get the coverage. Some religious non-profits object to having to fill out the federal form. That’s what the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Wheaton College cases are about.

        • Brian Holland

          Two things to consider here Bob: 1) I would argue that this is an imposition of secular fundamentalism on business owners. The government is saying that Hobby Lobby has to fund abortifacients, against their will. It’s important to understand that key distinction. And 2) An “easy” solution to this would be to get employers out of providing insurance all together, and more importantly get the govt out of health care as well. This would allow people to have as much choice about buy whatever plan would fit their needs, and or desires. And that way, no one could accuse anyone else of trying to “control women’s bodies” and religious freedom would be preserved with regards to this issue anyway.

      • James Stanton

        Good points, Ian. I think one could make a similar argument for situations like that with Brendan Eich.

        This whole situation was the inevitable outcome of granting rights and giving protected status to a previously powerless minority interest group. There was no need for religious liberty laws in the past as it was legal to fire or discriminate against people for being on the wrong side of a religious belief. Denny is right that this is a war and both sides are trying to solidify wins whether it is in the realm of religious liberty for Christian business owners or freedom from discrimination on a religious basis for employees.

        • Ian Shaw

          If not for the tax deduction, Eich could have always given them cash and not claimed it on his taxes….but that’s neither here nor there. 🙂

          You are right, prior to, you could terminate employment for being on the wrong side. Example, my alma mater made the news about 10+years ago for firing a professor that publically declared himself as transgendered. His was fired and filed a lawsuit against the Christian university (private). The lawsuit was settled out of court for the mere fact that in the contract that all employees and students have to agree to, there was no mention of transgendered in the code of conduct (while homosexuality was mentioned). If it would have been mentioned, I believe the professor had no legal action.

          But the same thing, in this instance (and I have seen the hiring forms as I was once offered a positon as an adjunct there), you are offered employment at a private institution and there is a code of conduct. If you read it and agree to it, you should desire to keep the vow/promise/agreement you said you’d keep. If you don’t want to do that, you should be cordial and decline employement there. No harm in that.

          Similar to what Strachan said about non-christians getting involved in christian organizations on college campuses in leadership positons and be able to dictate the mission of these groups No issues with being involved wiht the group, but in a leadership role?That’s backwards. Would a pro-choice college group have no qualms about a pro-life member having a leadership role in that group? Mr. Magoo could see that makes no sense.

  • Ryan Davidson

    I’m not sure that the post provides an accurate description for the reasons for withdrawal. As I understand it, the bill was withdrawn because the exemption could be construed to provide private for-profit employers, like Hobby Lobby. I don’t think there’s any desire to withhold the exemption from private non-profits like Christian colleges.

    Besides, it’s worth remembering that the Hobby Lobby win was based entirely on a statute–a statute that can easily be amended by Congressional vote and a Presidential signature. So, if a political situation arises similar to that of 2009-10, expect RFRA to go away. At which point, a lot of women’s groups will view it as payback time for so-called religious businesses.

    • Jane Dunn

      Ryan — I agree. It’s also worth noting that when ENDA was drafted, the LGBT rights groups and allies agreed to a broader religious exemption than that which is included in the racial discrimination civil rights laws. That version of ENDA is what passed the Senate. Before Hobby Lobby, and all the efforts by the religious right to pass state level RFRAs expressly to deal with the wedding cake issue, the LGBT groups were willing to compromise and agreed to that broader religious exemption.

      They are not now taking the position, as Denny asserts, that they oppose any and all religious exemptions, but in light of the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished approach that the religious right took in Hobby Lobby, they are no longer willing to support a broader religious exemption than they have to. One spokesperson said today that the easiest thing would be to just substitute in the religious exemptions that are already in the federal civil rights statutes for racial discrimination. That’s not chilling at all. Churches are not now required to hire anyone of a race they don’t want to mix with.

  • Chris Ryan

    This is hardly chilling and certainly not an attack on religious liberty. Instead its a return to religious liberty properly understood. Religious liberty is meant for individuals to practice their faith in peace, not for corporate chieftans to impose their religious views on others. I can’t wait to see how the Right reacts when a Jehovah’s Witness tells their employee they can’t get a blood transfusion. We’ll sure hear howling then!

    • buddyglass

      “I can’t wait to see how the Right reacts when a Jehovah’s Witness tells their employee they can’t get a blood transfusion.”

      A Jehovah’s Witness employer would have no basis to tell an employee, “You can’t get a blood transfusion,” just like Hobby Lobby can’t tell its employees, “You can’t use Plan B and Ella.”

      What they could (maybe) do is say, “We’re not going to subsidize your blood transfusions in our health insurance plan.”

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