Christian leaders continued to express concern over the Equality Act as the Senate Judiciary Committee met to hear testimony from the bill’s supporters and opponents. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention submitted written testimony expressing concern the bill would contradict the “fundamental liberties” guaranteed in the Bill of Rights should it become law.
The ERLC said the far-reaching gay and transgender rights proposal “would needlessly penalize and discriminate against millions of Americans who possess no animus toward those this bill purports to aid. As law, the Equality Act would undermine pluralism, legalize coercion, imperil religious liberty, eliminate conscience protections, and erode the very freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.”
HR 5, the Equality Act, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Feb. 25. The vote was 224-206, almost totally along party lines. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was held March 17. Passage in the Senate would require a super majority of 60 votes to break an expected filibuster to bring it for a vote. President Joe Biden has endorsed the bill.
If the controversial legislation were to become law, it would eliminate the legal distinctions between males and females, amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include LGBTQ peoples, and take away religious liberty protections provided by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), its opponents summarize.
Concerned Christians also say the Equality Act would mean the loss of religious freedom, expansion of federal abortion funding, diminished protection for women, and negatively impact hiring practices by Christian organizations.
In a March 15 article for The Public Discourse, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler wrote the Equality Act “represents the greatest present threat to religious liberty in the United States.” Mohler, also an announced candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention in June, described the scope of the bill as so vast that “no aspect of American public life would be unchanged” and that it would also intrude on private lives as well.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin (D), chair of the Democrat-controlled committee, opened the hearing by remarking on why he felt the passage of the bill was necessary. “A recent 2020 study found that 1 out of 3 LGBTQ Americans—including 3 out of 5 transgender Americans—experienced discrimination over the past year,” said Durbin. “That’s why it’s critical to fill gaps in federal civil rights laws and strengthen protections.”
The way the Equality Act is currently written, without any religious protections, filling those gaps are what Mohler described as “a draconian threat of legal, political, financial, and cultural coercion” saying the “coercive powers of the new moral order will be directed—as the Equality Act makes clear—against any resistance.”
Mohler warned, “That coercion will be brought against religious schools, ministries, non-profits, and all religious institutions. The bill does not even acknowledge the sacred rights of religious congregations and denominations. Individual believers too will be coerced into compliance with the new moral regime, which is coming with a vengeance.”
The Senator from Illinois appears to share none of those apprehensions. In his closing remarks, regarding the question of religious liberty and HR 5, Durbin stated, “I’ll just say I don’t believe some of the things that have been suggested as the products of the Equality Act.”
However, he did note, “I do believe people who want to blatantly discriminate and use religion as their weapon have gone too far. We have to have limits on what they can do. I might remind us that in history the KKK was not burning a question mark, they were burning a cross. They were making a distorted connection with religion and God forbid anyone would buy that. We don’t need that in America.”
In his article, Mohler issued a warning against such statements as Durbin’s. “Evangelicals and Catholics, Orthodox Jews and Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists and Mormons all understand the radical theological differences that separate us,” Mohler wrote. “But the factor common to all is the claim of an authoritative scripture. That is actually the central fact that explains the antipathy of the moral revolutionaries and their willingness to deploy the coercive powers of the state against believers. Those religious texts are incompatible with the normalization of LGBTQ identities, behaviors, relationships, and gender confusions.”
The Explainer by the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
– with additional reporting by Baptist Press