The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has sent a supportive letter to the U.S. senator who introduced a “license to discriminate” bill, which would allow business and nonprofits to deny services to LGBT people.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and Bishop James Conley, in their respective roles as chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious and Committee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, sent the letter to the bill’s sponsor, Utah Senator Mike Lee, in mid-March. Lee had introduced the latest version of the First Amendment Defense Act earlier in the month. The bishops said in their letter:
“As a non-discrimination act, FADA would provide significant protection for religious freedom at the federal level. It would be a modest and important measure protecting individuals and organizations from federal government discrimination. In a climate of increasing intolerance, these protections are urgently needed.”
Lee’s 2018 version of the First Amendment Defense Act is more restrictive than a similar bill from 2015, which never moved out of committee. The new bill still provides sweeping license to discriminate against LGBT people and other communities with which a business or organization might disagree over marriage and family issues. The Advocate explained:
“The bill would prevent alteration of federal tax treatment, denial of or reduction in grants or contracts, denial of access to federal property or institutions, and a host of other actions against individuals and entities that refuse service based on these views. The bill ‘reframes the original wording to exclude publicly traded for-profit companies, federal employees and contractors, and health care facilities from the list of protected entities,’ notes HuffPost, but does give its OK to discrimination by privately held for-profit companies. And the contractors’ exclusion extends only to ‘for-profit contractors acting within the scope of their contract,’ according to the bill itself, so apparently nonprofits could discriminate without penalty.”
The latest version does not specifically name LGBT people as objects of discrimination as it had in 2015, reported The Advocate. The American Civil Liberties Union noted the irony of this move. The change, designed to improve the bill’s passage, allows for more people to be discriminated against.
LGBT advocates sharply criticized Lee’s bill, saying it would allow for widespread discrimination, even against the most vulnerable communities. The Human Rights Campaign said that the language in the bill, it would allow federally-funded nonprofits to deny services to people in same-gender marriages who are experiencing homelessness or who are victims of domestic violence. Others, such a single parents or unmarried couples, could also be denied services for not conforming to a nonprofit’s definition of family.
Instead of acknowledging marriage equality as an established reality, U.S. bishops have moved to violate their own social justice teachings by actively seeking to discriminate against LGBT people and others with whom they disagree. It is especially sad that the bishops have so little concern for society’s most vulnerable people who could be harmed by such a law. I cannot imagine how church teaching supports denying shelter to a victim of domestic violence because that person is in a legal marriage which the bishops do not support.
The bishops’ claim that the First Amendment Defense Act is a non-discrimination effort is disingenuous. The bill is precisely the opposite. Rather than fervently seeking to cause pain, the bishops should instead listen to the rest of the U.S. faithful who are widely supportive of protecting LGBT people and their families from discrimination.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 26, 2018