House Panel Holds Hearing on ‘Equality Act’

NRB | April 5, 2019 | Advocacy

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday on a bill that NRB’s Board of Directors, a body of nearly a hundred leaders in Christian communications, just last week warned against based on its “coercive nature.” That sweeping legislation – titled the “Equality Act” – takes specific aim at the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.

The Equality Act would establish “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) in numerous areas of civil rights law. While NRB opposed its narrower predecessor, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, because it did not sufficiently respect deeply held religious beliefs, the Equality Act actually goes further by specifically forbidding any appeal to the broad balancing test required by RFRA in legal challenges that may arise. Supporters of the Equality Act like the ACLU say that this is to prohibit religious freedom from being turned into “a license to discriminate.”

RFRA was crafted to protect the equal rights of citizens whose religious beliefs are unpopular in America’s halls of power. The law does not guarantee outcomes in legal proceedings. It simply provides a courtroom test to ensure deference to the constitutional right of religious liberty unless there is found to be a “compelling government interest” achieved by the “least restrictive means.”

During this week’s hearing, Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) called religious liberty “a fundamental American value” and argued that current civil rights law provides a “roadmap” to navigate its advancement in the context of nondiscrimination provisions. Notably, Nadler referenced a key term of RFRA (in bold) when he asserted, “The Equality Act takes special care to maintain the careful balance long established between individual liberties and our compelling interest in promoting nondiscrimination.”

Ironically, the Equality Act actually takes special care to remove RFRA from the roadmap.

While conservatives and liberals in the past have worked together to prevent the undermining of RFRA’s reason-based shield when powers-that-be found its defense of America’s first freedom to be inconvenient, the elites of today’s Left appear to find the law to be an intolerable obstacle.

During its annual meeting last week at the start of Proclaim 19 in Anaheim, California, the NRB Board of Directors approved a resolution that lamented:

Powerful government, corporate, media, and other activist political forces are growing more intolerant of the freedom to believe and hold views contrary to their own, and their evident intention is to wield SOGI laws as debilitating swords against citizens – among whom have been a cake artist in Colorado, a florist in Washington, a fire chief in Atlanta, pastors in Houston, and adoption service providers in cities across the country – who have shown no malice to anyone, but merely wish to live faithfully in light of their religious convictions about marriage, sexuality, and gender.

The Board urged the rejection of “coercive proposals like the Equality Act” and “any legislation that does not indisputably uphold the fundamental freedoms of all ministries and individual citizens to live, believe, and speak faithfully their biblical convictions.”

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

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