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LGBT RIGHTS, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND THE DEMOCRATS
The Democrats have a problem with religious people, especially Catholics and Evangelicals-- and it is substantially their own fault.
Many Catholics and Evangelicals (including yours truly) find themselves closer to Democratic positions on many issues including racial justice, economic justice, creation care, combating global warming, tax policy that demands more of the rich, health care for all. But on religious freedom and abortion, many if not most Democrats stubbornly refuse to acknowledge and care for valid concerns of deeply religious people. (In this blog I deal with the first issue; I will discuss abortion later.)
Especially since states and then the Supreme Court in 2015 declared gay marriage to be law, huge conflicts have emerged between the rights of religious people and organizations on the one hand and the rights of LGBT citizens on the other. After the state of Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, the state forced Catholic Charities (a big social service provider in the state) to make a painful choice. Catholic Charities operated a large adoption agency in the state, but because of Catholic theology, they would not place children with gay couples. The state declared that Catholic Charities would lose its license to do adoptions unless they agreed to place children with gay couples. There were many other adoption agencies in the state actively placing children with gay couples. But instead of acknowledging society’s pluralism, and accepting Catholic Charities’ right to live by its theological principles in its adoption work, the state withdrew its license to do adoptions. Score one point for liberal bigotry and intolerance, and one defeat for pluralism, choice and religious freedom.
Especially since the 2015 Supreme Court decision (Obergefell) on gay marriage, more and more liberal intellectuals have argued that any faith- based organization that refuses to hire LGBT persons should lose all government funds, even its 501©3 status. That would mean that religious colleges and universities and faith-based social service agencies would lose both government funds (for example, Pell grants, work-study funds), and even their tax exempt status (that enables people to donate to them and receive a tax benefit). If that view prevails, it will vastly weaken and perhaps destroy a vast range of faith-based organizations.
After winning control of the house in 2018, the Democratic majority voted unanimously to pass the Equality Act. Significant parts of this legislation are legitimate and important. LGBT citizens, like all citizens, should have their civil rights (eg., access to employment, housing, financial credit, social service programs funded by government, service in business establishments, etc.) protected by law. Unfortunately, still today, there is no federal law that does that. And in a number of states, an employer can legally fire a person because that person has identified as LGBT or entered a same sex marriage. That is wrong!
Christians who believe in religious freedom; Christians who know that God created us free to embrace or reject God’s will, should be leaders actively advocating for the civil rights of everyone-- including LGBT people, some of whose behavior we may disapprove.
But the law should protect everyone’s civil rights and also at the same time protect religious freedom. Sadly, the Democrats’ Equality Act does not do that. It makes no effort to protect the religious freedom of parochial schools, religious colleges, religious universities, religious hospitals and social service agencies. If this bill becomes law, faith-based organizations will likely lose any court case where they seek to argue that in a pluralistic society where many divergent views exist, government should allow all views and organizations reflecting those views to exist, flourish and hire on the basis of their religious beliefs –and have equal access to government programs.
There is an alternative: the Equality For All Act promoted by the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities and the National Association of Evangelicals. This bill both guarantees in federal law LGBT rights, and at the same time protects the religious freedom of faith based groups that still affirm the traditional view of marriage. (This bill is modeled on a bill in Utah where the Mormon church and the LGBT community worked together in 2015 to develop and pass a law that protects the rights of both LGBT citizens and religious people.)
(See Stanley Carlson-Thies’ excellent analysis of both bills: http://www.irfalliance.org/a-better-way-than-the-equality-act/)
The Equality For All Act will probably be introduced in Congress very soon. Write your congressional representatives urging them to support it.
If Democrats truly understand religious freedom; if Democrats want to build bridges to Catholics and evangelicals, they will support the Equality For All Act. Failure to do that will increase the chances of Donald Trump being reelected in 2020.
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