Four chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have cosigned a coalition letter highlighting key religious freedom concerns with the Equality Act (H.R. 5 / S. 788). The Act would add the new terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the definition of “sex” in federal civil rights laws and have wide-reaching consequences for both employment and delivery of service standards in religiously-affiliated schools, shelters, foster care and adoption agencies, potentially houses of worship, and other facilities and ministries.
“[T]he Equality Act would devastate the core ministries of a wide range of religious groups, especially those ministries that serve the most vulnerable,” the signees cautioned. Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education; and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, joined representatives of numerous denominations, schools, and charities of faith in their letter to members of Congress.
Among other concerns, the signers pointed out that “[t]he Equality Act amends Title VI of the Civil Rights Act so that any recipient of any federal funds, even a small amount for a subsidiary service” would be affected and that “[b]y way of example, this includes thousands of Catholic, Jewish and other parochial schools with students who participate in the National School Lunch Program, which helps poor children whose families have selected these specific religious schools.”
They concluded that the Act “regulates a huge new swath of religious activity and facilities as ‘public accommodations’ and transforms the conditions by which hundreds of thousands of faith-based entities partner with the federal government to serve the common good. It accomplishes these goals while bringing the daunting power of the federal government to bear against religious people and groups with non-conforming views about marriage, sexuality, and gender.