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The “Equality Act” Specifically Targets Religious Freedom

By Gregory S. Baylor posted on:
May 23, 2019

The badly misnamed “Equality Act” was introduced in both houses of Congress in March, and it was passed by the House of Representatives in May.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law, it would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes to existing laws banning discrimination in places of public accommodation (like hotels and restaurants), employment, housing, and by recipients of federal financial assistance (among other things).

But what many might not realize is that this legislation specifically targets our constitutional right to religious freedom.

Churches, religious schools, and other faith-based organizations that hold beliefs about marriage, sexual morality, and the distinction between the sexes would be punished if they refuse to give up policies and practices reflecting these beliefs.

Unlike many state and local sexual orientation/gender identity (SOGI) laws, the “Equality Act” has absolutely no exemption whatsoever for houses of worship and other religious entities. Even more, the “Equality Act” strips the faithful of the protections they possess under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Churches and other religious organizations will violate the “Equality Act” if:

  1. they require their employees to refrain from homosexual behavior;
  2. they refuse to open up women’s restrooms to men who identify as women;
  3. they use pronouns consistent with an employee’s biological sex rather than their professed gender identity; or
  4. they refuse to include puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and “sex reassignment” surgery in their health plans.

The “Equality Act” will also forbid college students from using their federal tuition assistance at religious educational institutions that “discriminate” on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Schools like Wheaton College, Biola University, and Taylor University will lose federal student aid if they continue to prohibit homosexual behavior or decline to let biological males who identify as women to play on women’s sports teams.

Women’s shelters will lose federal funding if they decline to let biological men who identify as women to share communal sleeping facilities with women, many of whom have been subjected to sexual abuse. Faith-based adoption and foster placement agencies will lose federal funding if they follow their religious beliefs and place children only with married, opposite-sex couples.

The “Equality Act” also would dramatically expand the definition of “place of public accommodation,” thereby subjecting a virtually unlimited number of organizations to new SOGI obligations. Counselors and medical professionals will face potentially ruinous liability if they decline to “affirm” a patient’s gender confusion, including by prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, or performing sex reassignment procedures. That a health care provider might object on religious grounds would be wholly irrelevant.

In short, the “Equality Act” is one of the most serious threats to religious freedom in American history.

The proposal’s drafters, by refusing to include any religious exemptions and by partially repealing existing religious freedom protections, plainly intend to punish religious organizations and individuals who dissent from elite orthodoxy on questions of marriage, sexual morality, and the distinction between the sexes.

In other words, the “Equality Act’s” assault on religious liberty isn’t a bug—it’s a feature.

To learn more about the “Equality Act” visit

Gregory S. Baylor

Gregory S. Baylor

Director of Center for Religious Schools, Senior Counsel for Government Affairs

Gregory S. Baylor serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is the director of the Center for Religious Schools and Senior Counsel for Government Affairs.

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