Caleb M. S.—Columnist
Evangelical and Reformed Christian circles alike have decried House Resolution 5, more commonly known as the “Equality Act,” as a threat to religious freedom in recent weeks.
Former Dordt University professor and now Representative Randy Feenstra called the proposed legislation an “infringement on religious liberties” and warns that “pushing an extreme, progressive agenda that further divides us is wrong.”
Likewise, Dordt University President Erik Hoekstra took to Twitter to denounce the Equality Act, saying, “The Equality Act sounds as American as ‘apple pie’, but it’s not,”.
Hoekstra also retweeted an opinion article from Agudath Israel of America’s director of public affairs Rabbi Avi Shafan, asserting: “The Equality Act as written insults our nation’s foundational commitment to the rights of religious believers.” The group Rabbi Avi Shafan represents has spoken against LGBTQ people’s right to marriage in the past, as well as fought against mandatory vaccinations, the ability of women to minister in religious settings, the right to physician assisted suicide, and have taken the side of traditional Zionist values.
In one of the tweets sent by President Hoekstra, the top university official urged constituents to read the slanted article by Rabbi Shafan before making conclusions or public comments. I decided to go a step further and read the Equality Act, and the alternative “Fairness for All Act,” which President Hoekstra endorsed, in their entirety.
The Equality Act weighs in at twenty-eight pages, most of which set out to determine the definition of gender and identity as they pertain to the bill. Additionally, H.R. 5 expands protections for women– especially those pregnant or breastfeeding.
The singular goal of this legislation, as worded in the bill itself, is to “Prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.” The description sounds innocent and simple enough, and the bill is straightforward in its wording. For all intents and purposes, the Equality Act is a re-wording of the 1964 Civil Rights Act– passed by President Johnson to protect African Americans and other Americans of differing national origins and races– to include civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in places of employment, entities public and private, and in the accessibility of services dominated by religiously affiliated groups.
What is causing conservative Christians to scream “Religious Freedom!” is found in Section 1107, where the authors included “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993…shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”
Despite the complex wording, the inclusion of this small subsection is straightforward. The named act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States, and only remains relevant because former Pres. Donald Trump issued an executive order in the last portion of his term in office re-instating the law. By specifically disallowing the use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to form an appeal against the Equality Act, the bill authors are ensuring the Constitutionality of the law remains intact.
The fact of the matter is, as conservative commentator and lawyer David French points out, religious freedom in the United States is well protected and affirmed by a decade of Supreme Court decisions.
The “Fairness for All Act,” alternatively, clocks in at seventy-eight pages, and provides more avenues of discrimination for private entities. The proposed piece of legislation allows adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ persons, undermines Supreme Court precedent-setting cases defending the LGBTQ community, and most dangerously does not afford LGBTQ persons the same level of protection as other protected classes. The Fairness for All Act expands religious freedom beyond its constitutionally defined bounds. Religious freedom that infringes on the rights of others is not freedom—it is a dangerous blurring of the lines between church and state.
Christians are not oppressed in the United States, nor are we a class needing protection. Our right to worship in a way we see fit is protected by the Constitution and always will be. The fear of those who oppose the Equality Act can be simplified into a single issue: money.
If the Equality Act were to pass the senate and be signed into law by President Biden, institutions like Dordt could potentially lose federal funding if we did not update our policies to be more inclusive of LGBTQ persons. The issue at hand is not about “religious freedom,” and never was. In the same way some private schools opposed the 1964 Civil Rights act decades ago, modern critics of the Equality Act fear they will have to let the “other,” participate fully in their sphere.
On March 10, Calvin University issued the following statement embracing their LGBTQ students:
“We at Calvin University believe in the God-given dignity and worth of all people, and we acknowledge and mourn the ways in which our nation, our churches, our communities, and Calvin University have not always defended the worth and dignity of the LGBTQ+ community. As fellow image bearers of God, we write today to affirm the image of God in our LGBTQ+ friends. We want all of our students to know that they are loved.”
In the same post, Calvin University noted they hold to the teaching that Christian marriage is between one man and one woman, but their statement showed no measure of degrading the LGBTQ community on their campus.
A “principled pluralism,” is possible, but requires painful self-examination.