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Supreme Court of the United States

Why Does the Senate’s Infrastructure Bill Include “Equality Act” Language?

By Natalie Allen posted on:
August 20, 2021

Earlier this month, the Senate passed the long-awaited infrastructure bill. While pundits on both sides of the aisle have spent months debating and covering the numerous provisions of this 2,700-page bill, one not-so-small piece of troubling language has been flying under the radar.

Tucked into the Digital Equity Act, which was included as a provision in the infrastructure bill, are sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination requirements. Basically, in order to receive funding under the new “digital equity” program, participating organizations must agree not to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

While “nondiscrimination” may sound good in the abstract, the end result of this language may be that faith-based organizations who adhere to sincerely held beliefs about marriage and sexuality will be excluded from the program.

If this nondiscrimination language sounds familiar, it should: it is similar to language found in the “Equality Act.”

The deceptively named “ Equality Act” would elevate sexual orientation and gender identity to protected class status in several federal nondiscrimination laws, including those governing places of public accommodation, employment, housing, and recipients of financial assistance.

And while the language included in the infrastructure bill isn’t as far-reaching as that found in the “Equality Act,” it remains problematic—both in its immediate application to the affected grants and in its implications beyond the digital equity program.

By attaching sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination requirements to the digital equity grants, the infrastructure bill could prevent faith-based organizations from being eligible to receive these grants simply because of their beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

This potential exclusion sets a dangerous precedent for other government programs.

Time and time again, laws and ordinances like the ones found in the infrastructure bill and the “Equality Act” have been used to prevent faith-based organizations from being able to simultaneously serve the disadvantaged while adhering to their sincerely held beliefs.

For example, in New York, the state is trying to use a similar regulation to shutter the adoption ministry of New Hope Family Services, which has been placing children in loving homes for over 50 years, because of its faith-grounded belief that children thrive best in a home with a married mother and father.

And in Alaska, Anchorage city officials used a similar ordinance to investigate the Downtown Hope Center’s women’s shelter—an overnight shelter that primarily serves women who have survived sex trafficking, rape, and domestic violence. City officials tried to force the shelter to allow men who identify as female to sleep just three feet away from the women it serves.

While Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) doesn’t take a position on the underlying policy of the Digital Equity Act, the bill’s sponsors assert that it is designed to provide internet access to underserved communities across the country.

So the question remains: why would the bill’s authors include language that could exclude willing participants in its programs because of their religious beliefs?

Faith-based organizations provide a wide variety of services and programs in their communities, selflessly serving the most vulnerable among us. The infrastructure bill is yet another example of the dangerous trend from the Left to force faith-based organizations to bow to sexual orientation and gender identity ideology in order to receive equal treatment.

Sexual orientation and gender identity ideology does not belong in a bill about infrastructure. Doing so harms the very people many of these bills intend to help, while posing a devastating threat to religious freedom.

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Natalie Allen

Natalie Allen

Legislative Communications & Initiatives Coordinator

Natalie worked as a lobbyist at the Family Foundation of Virginia and a grassroots associate at Heritage Action for America before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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