WASHINGTON (BP) — Nothing has changed for Southern Baptists’ public policy entity when it comes to the Employment Non-discrimination Act — it still opposes passage of the controversial proposal despite efforts to address religious freedom concerns.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), reiterated Southern Baptists’ continued opposition to the proposal in a Nov. 19 letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner. The Employment Non-discrimination Act (EDNA) would grant workplace civil rights on the basis of homosexual, bisexual or transgender status.
The Senate passed ENDA Nov. 7 in a 64-32 vote, but the House of Representatives has not voted on the legislation. Boehner is opposed to the bill and has refused to bring it to the House for a vote.
In his letter, Moore thanked Boehner on behalf of Southern Baptists for his opposition to ENDA despite calls from the bill’s advocates for him to hold a floor vote. Moore also told the speaker that Southern Baptists remain opposed to the bill in spite of attempts to enhance religious liberty protections in the measure.
“We do not believe it is in the interest of our country for government officials to make bad legislation better, but rather, to oppose any and all legislation that restricts religious freedom, marginalizes free speech, and destabilizes the pursuit of a healthy pluralism,” Moore told Boehner.
The ERLC, as well as some other foes of ENDA, point to the threat to the conscience rights of employers as a major problem in the proposal. The bill’s promotion of a view of sexuality that not only conflicts with Christianity but harms human prosperity is another reason for its opposition, according to the ERLC.
Moore told Baptist Press in a written statement, “I’m not for any injustice, but ENDA doesn’t remedy anything. The bill is ambiguous and riddled with dangers for conscientious objectors to the sexual revolution. We’ve seen, in the very recent past, so-called accommodations to religious liberty that were no such thing. That’s why we oppose ENDA outright.”
The Obama administration issued an accommodation for its abortion/contraception mandate but religious freedom defenders criticized it as inadequate. The mandate is a rule instituted to implement the 2010 health-care reform law that requires employers to provide contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, for their workers.
President Obama, who supports ENDA, has called for the House to vote on the legislation. Some ENDA backers have urged the president to issue an executive order for ENDA-type workplace protections among federal contractors if the House does not pass the bill.
ENDA supporters have criticized Boehner for not allowing a floor vote on the bill. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), said the House would approve ENDA immediately if it were permitted “to vote its conscience.”
HRC is the country’s largest political organization advocating for homosexual, bisexual and transgender rights.
ENDA would make discrimination based on “an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity” illegal in such areas as hiring, firing and compensation in both the private and public workplaces. The measure would treat “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in a fashion similar to other federally protected categories, such as race, gender, age and religion. “Sexual orientation” normally encompasses homosexuality and bisexuality, while “gender identity,” or transgender status, includes transsexuals and cross-dressers.
In reaffirming Southern Baptists’ view of ENDA in his letter to Boehner, Moore said the ERLC opposes the legislation “while also upholding the dignity of our fellow [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] citizens and the command of our Lord Jesus to love our neighbor.”
Before approving ENDA, the Senate voted 55-43 against an amendment by Sen. Pat Toomey, R.-Pa., that sought to address religious freedom concerns. Senators passed an amendment, however, from Sen. Rob Portman, R.-Ohio, that was designed to protect religious organizations from retaliation by government officials, but some religious liberty advocates said ENDA still lacks an adequate safeguard for the religious liberty of employers.
In explaining the ERLC’s opposition to ENDA, Andrew Walker, its director of policy studies, has said the bill’s language could enable a person to claim his status “has been adversely affected by the mere presence of a Bible on an employer’s desk.”
“We are deeply concerned by the potential chilling effect this language will have on the ability of religious employers to conduct their personal lives,” as well as their businesses, according to their faith, he said.
The Nov. 7 roll call marked the first time the Senate has approved ENDA. Its only previous vote came in 1996, when senators rejected the bill by 50-49.
The House approved ENDA in 2007, but that version did not include protection for transgender status. With President George W. Bush opposed to the measure, the Senate never voted on ENDA that year.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).