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What do Americans really think of Equali …


Once a week or two I get a press release about the Equality Act. The theme is consistent: this bill is popular. Americans love it. They want it passed yesterday.

It’s a big complaint. If this is correct, it means that American views on religious freedom, sexuality and gender, and their intersection in non-discrimination laws, have undergone a rapid and drastic change. This means that Christians and members of other religions who take a more traditional view of sex are not just part of the cultural minority, but face challenges. legal changes in their religious, professional and educational life. But if the reality is more complicated – and, spoiler alert, I think it is – we may have fallen into a serious national misunderstanding on an important and contentious issue.

The Equality Act in its current form has been under consideration by Congress for half a decade. It has been passed twice by the House, never by the Senate. President Biden called for its passage in his April speech to Congress, but since then the bill has stalled as lawmakers’ attention turns to major spending programs instead. Yet this is not long-term legislation, and it will likely be reintroduced at the next Congress if it does not pass this one.

What happens if it becomes law? The main objective of the bill is “to prohibit discrimination based on sex, gender identity and sexual orientation”, and it works mainly by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some of the provisions of the Equality Act would be welcome in all policy areas, but four parties raised serious concerns about religious freedom.

The first is the broadening of the definition of the term “public institution” in the bill. The 1964 law defined this as hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and certain places of entertainment. The Equality Act adds “any establishment that provides a good, service or program,” a definition broad enough to potentially include places of worship. Massachusetts passed a similar law several years ago, and its initial regulatory guidelines treated churches as public places whenever they held “a secular event, like a spaghetti supper, which [was] open to the general public. This guidance was overturned after churches filed a lawsuit, but the Equality Act could nationalize it. A letter from a group of 57 black pastors warned that this would confuse places of worship “in constant litigation.”

The letter also raises the bill’s second religious freedom objection: it would prevent federal funding from going to any organization deemed to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Given how the bill defines discrimination, it would affect adoption agencies that do not work with same-sex couples and universities (which receive federal funds through student loans) with community living rules that prohibit homosexual relations.

The third problem is the rejection by the Equality Act of religious belief as a legal defense against the demands of the law. “It would be the first major piece of legislation to explicitly exclude the protection of religious freedom,” Shirley Mullen, a member of the board of directors of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, told CT recently. The current law does not make religion a general exception clause, but it tries to “balance competing claims,” ​​Mullen explained, and the equality law would remove that balance.

Finally, the Civil Rights Act recognizes that there are certain jobs in which sex “is a professional qualification in good faith”. The Equality Act agrees but says that “individuals [should be] recognized as qualified on the basis of their gender identity ”rather than biological sex. The same standard is applied for access to “washrooms, locker room and locker room,” which would pose a problem for conservative colleges with single-sex dormitories, among other institutions.

Does the average American support so ardently? At first glance, national surveys say yes. A March PRRI poll asked whether “a small business owner” should be allowed “to refuse to provide products or services to gays or lesbians if it violates their religious beliefs.” Six in ten said no. (White Evangelicals were the only one large religious group in which a plurality disagreed, but it was basically an equal division.) Another March poll found that seven in ten Americans (including half of white evangelicals) supported the equality law.

But how this second poll described the legislation is crucial here. This did not clearly explain these four key changes, and it implied that the issue in question was that LGBTQ people were denied service for basic necessities of life, such as bank accounts, public transportation, and healthcare. medical.

The IRRP results are also not as straightforward as they initially appear. Another PRRI poll from February captured an important nuance: the smaller an organization, the more private (that is, not funded by or working with the government) and more directly involved in worship practices, more Americans say she should be able to comply freely. to the religious beliefs of its operators.

However, the three surveys did not systematically make a vital distinction: denial of general service and denial of specific service. The February survey singled out for medical care, finding more Americans would require doctors to serve all groups of people in a general sense rather than providing a few specific procedures, like abortions or “health services.” reproductive technology such as contraception or sterilization for transgender people ”. (Christian physicians try to strike a delicate balance between sensitivity to gender identity preferences and maintaining personal beliefs around sexual ethics.) This distinction was not made for other lines of work. Respondents, for example, were not asked if they saw a difference between requiring a conservative religious baker to cook for a gay wedding and asking him to sell any generic cookie already in the business to a gay customer.

Other polls indicate many Americans dosee a difference there. A 2018 survey found that 43% believe denial of service on religious grounds should be allowed always or “only in certain cases”. A 2016 poll and a 2020 follow-up both showed Americans were equally divided when asked about marriage-specific services. This is a crucial distinction for religious freedom, but the equality law would flatten it.

The press releases I receive are correct in a way: Americans overwhelmingly support extending the basic anti-discrimination protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to cover sex, gender identity and orientation. sexual. When pollsters suggest this is what the equality law does, it is predictable that it receives wide approval. But this is not an exact description of the bill, which means the headlines touting the results of these polls are wrong and lawmakers considering this or a similar bill in the future could be misinformed.

Americans have complicated and possibly fluctuating views on these issues. I suspect that something like the Fairness for All Act – the compromise legislation approved in this letter from black pastors and attracting the interest of some conservatives – better reflects the national median opinion, which has shifted significantly to the left. , but nevertheless contains more subtleties than many surveys show. These are subtleties that the law should not ignore for reasons of principle, the Constitution and representative governance.

Culture warfare is so often in blitzkrieg mode: everyone wants a quick and maximum victory. However, this is not how our constitutional system is designed to work, nor with issues as deeply personal and important as religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. Americans can and, I believe, want to do better than this bill.

Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Christianity today.


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