On Thursday afternoon (Feb. 25), Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act of 2021. This follows a heated debate among Republicans over the issue, saying that if the controversial bill becomes law, it will significantly narrow the scope of religious freedom and make it vulnerable.
This Equality Act prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Three Republicans joined all 221 House Democrats in supporting passage of the proposal, while the remaining 208 Republicans opposed it. The three Republicans supporting Democrats include Representatives John Katko and Tom Reed of New York, and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
In 2019, the Democratic-controlled House approved a similar version of the bill, but it failed to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. There is again some doubt that the bill will pass the Senate this Time. Because the Senate seats are currently tied between the two parties, and Vice President He Jinli (a Democrat) is the Senate president, she could cast the deciding vote in the event of a tie.
The debate in the House was lively almost from the start. After just a few minutes, Republicans accused the bill of being a threat to religious freedom. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., called the claim “ridiculous.
Maloney also argued that Republicans “consider LBGTQ to be morally inferior” (LGBTQ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, non-heterosexual or non-birth-identified). (first initial for gender)) and mocked the bill’s opponents: “Their real argument is that they support discrimination against homosexuals.”
Maloney’s outrage prompted the opposition’s representative, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, to stand up during the 90-minute debate, holding a stack of papers and saying, “Here’s page 25, which clearly says ‘The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 ( Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, should not be the legal basis for claims against allegations of discrimination.'”
He said, “The Founding Fathers said in the first right of the First Amendment to the Constitution that you may exercise your religion as you see fit. But just today, the Democrats said in their bill, ‘No. You can’t do that.'”
Jordan’s citation of the bill’s text, however, did not change the tone of the heated discussion. Minutes later in the debate, Rep. Al Green, a Texas Democrat, turned to Republicans and shouted, “You used God (in the name of) to enslave my poor Parents. You used God to put me in segregation in school. You used God to put me in the back of the bus. Are you not ashamed of yourselves?”
Similarly, Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat, declared near the end of the debate that the religious freedom arguments made by Republicans opposed to the bill were “transphobic, homophobic, hate-promoting.”
The 500-page bill redefines the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s “public accommodation” to include “any institution” that provides services, including churches, homeless shelters run by religious groups, and religious organizations. homeless shelters, adoption agencies, and educational institutions associated with faith-based denominations and associations.
And, as Jordan notes, the bill expressly provides a provision of the Religious Freedom Act that specifically protects the right of religious groups to conduct their activities and manage their affairs in accordance with their beliefs.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was the manager of the bill’s supporters and was one of the co-sponsors when it was approved by Congress. He echoed Republicans’ arguments about the Religious Freedom Act. He said the Equality Act “doesn’t violate religious freedom, but it does enshrine equality, and that seems to be what they’re worried about.
Republicans repeatedly pointed out during the debate that the bill was brought up for debate and eventual passage without prior committee hearings that would have allowed opponents and supporters to present witnesses and evidence to support their arguments.
Rep. Victoria Spartz, an Indiana Republican, said, “Unfortunately, this is another bill that did not go through committee proceedings or real debate. The Judiciary Committee should have had the opportunity to consider the H.R. 5 resolution in a legislative hearing. I don’t understand how we can pass major legislation without a committee and have a committee at the same time.”
After the vote, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Mike Kelly issued a statement saying, “All people deserve respect and no one should face discrimination in their daily lives, but this extreme bill would undercut the progress our country has made in women’s equality and threaten the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment. “
If this bill is implemented, it will have real-world implications, such as the ability of men in a biological sense to play women’s sports in this regard,” Kelly said. It’s shocking that Democrats see this as a benefit to both social and political priorities.”
Also after the vote, Kristen Waggoner, general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Phoenix, Arizona-based public interest advocacy group, said in an emailed The freedom to live in peace is a fundamental right according to our beliefs, a fundamental right in our human dignity, and codified by the First Amendment,” the statement said. Any legislation that hides behind ‘equality’ or ‘fairness’ but undermines these constitutional freedoms is, at best, misguided and, at worst, hostile.”
The statement said, “The House irresponsibly bypassed the committee markup process by omitting debate on this wide-ranging and mandatory legislation. In short, Congress has no authority to force every American to consent to a government-imposed, controversial or perceived illegal sexual ideology. For the good of all Americans, we ask the Senate to reject this dangerous bill.”
Religious liberty advocates interviewed by The Epoch Times prior to the debate said the measure, if it becomes law, would put religious institutions at a significant disadvantage in federal and state courts when facing charges of discrimination.
In an interview with the Epoch Times, Mike Berry, general counsel at the First Liberty Institute, said, “The Equality Act would weaken the protections that federal law provides for Americans who want to practice their faith in schools, businesses and communities, relegating people of faith people of faith down to the lower class.” Berry’s public interest religious liberty law firm is located in Plano, Texas.
In an analysis of the bill released Feb. 24, the Christian nonprofit Liberty Counsel said, “Religious and nonprofit schools that violate the bill could lose their tax-exempt status, the schools could lose their accreditation status, meaning they could no longer accept student loans and many graduates would not be accepted into graduate schools accepted.”
Orlando, Florida-based Public Interest Religious Liberty Counsel said, “The scope of the bill includes young people and/or students who spend the night at churches and universities, including dorms, sports, bathrooms, locker rooms, showers and more.”
In a separate statement issued Feb. 25, Liberty Counsel also predicted that passage of the bill would deal a serious blow to women’s sports, which are protected by the 1972 Ninth Act.
The statement said, “Title IX was enacted to ensure that women have equal opportunities with men, including the opportunity to participate in sports. That is now in jeopardy. Because H.R. 5 ignores the biological differences between men and women, it erases the unique talents and achievements of girls and women.”
The statement said, “Allowing biologically significant males who self-define as ‘female’ to compete with biologically significant females will disadvantage women and could cost female athletes titles, records and scholarships that should be theirs, and could even lead to serious related athletic injuries.”