U.S. Bishops Suggest Equality Act Would Harm Religious People and Mandate Abortions

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, offering support for the Equality Act in 2019

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a letter opposing the Equality Act, suggesting the federal legislation could “inflict numerous legal and social harms” on religious people and “be construed to include an abortion mandate.”

The letter, signed by the chairs of five USCCB committees, was sent to members of the U.S. Congress ahead of an expected vote on the Equality Act in the House of Representatives. In their letter, the bishops say they are supportive of “nondiscrimination principles,” but then proceed to oppose this Act that would provide such protections for LGBTQ people.

According to the bishops, there are numerous problems with the Equality Act, which they describe as seeking to protect “people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance.” They write:

“. . .the bill represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations. This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct. . . Tragically, this Act can also be construed to include an abortion mandate, a violation of precious rights to life and conscience.

“Rather than affirm human dignity in ways that meaningfully exceed existing practical protections, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith. It would also inflict numerous legal and social harms on Americans of any faith or none.”

The bishops continue with a list of alleged harms that could be caused to religious believers. These include: punishing religious charities, forcing people to support transgender people who transition, mandating public funding of abortion care, and forcing religious communities to choose between shuttering their public facilities or abiding by LGBTQ protections. The bishops also raise the myth that transgender people imperil student athletics and locker rooms.

Finally, the bishops write that the Equality Act would “exclude people from the careers and livelihoods that they love, just for maintaining the truth of their beliefs on marriage and sexuality (§ 3)” and “discriminate against individuals and religious organizations based on their different beliefs.”

The bishops who signed the letter are Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the Committee for Reeligious Liberty; Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, chair of the Committee on Catholic Education; and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, chair of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

This February letter is just the bishops’ latest assault on the Equality Act and federal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Most recently, the legislation was mentioned in USCCB communications after President Joe Biden’s victory last November. In 2019, the Act was passed in the House of Representatives with support from key Catholics. But bishops said they were “gravely disappointed” with the vote’s outcome, having argued ahead of the vote that the Act would be “to the detriment of society as a whole.” The USCCB has even objected to the Republican-led “Fairness for All Act” in 2020, which would establish much weaker protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity than the Equality Act and has garnered little support from LGBTQ advocates.

The Equality Act would neither discriminate against religious believers, nor would it mandate public funds for abortion care. When the bishops refer to “people of faith” in their letter who supposedly would be harmed by the Equality Act, they seem to be referring narrowly to people who promote Christian nationalism, rather than the diversity of religious traditions that compose our interfaith, pluralistic democracy. The bishops erase the many religious traditions which support non-discrimination protections (including their own church’s teachings) and the reality that millions of LGBTQ people are faithful believer, including in the Catholic Church. In a moment when truth matters greatly in U.S. civic life, leaders of the U.S. bishops are promoting distorted narratives and falsehoods that legislators would do best to ignore–as many Catholics already do.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 25, 2021

6 replies
  1. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    An abortion mandate? If what Democrats are proposing is so terrible, why do the bishops have to keep lying about it? A decade ago, Cardinal Dolan decried the marriage equality bill wending its way through the New York state legislature. He called it a threat to religious liberty while (as usual) conflating church law with civil law. He tried mightily to erase gay families while portraying himself and his fellow authoritarians as the victims. The bill was passed and signed into law on a Friday night, and the Pride parade was on the following Sunday. In the decade since, none of his imagined horrors materialized. All that happened was that more actual families were protected.

    I came out 43 years ago as a senior at Villanova University. From then until now, I have never gotten an answer from the bishops to my question: why are you so threatened by the prospect of my happiness?Why do you attack me for being as God made me, and for trying to live an honest life? If your idea of upholding the faith is to bully everyone else into conformity, how on earth do you expect to get into heaven?

    The bishops have strayed so far from the core elements of the faith that they don’t recognize their own betrayal. It is sad and pathetic.

  2. Lindsey Pembrooke
    Lindsey Pembrooke says:

    USCCB lost all moral authority after making excuses for Trump for four years. I don’t know what they are pushing now, but it frequently does not resemble behavior emulated by Christ in the New Testament.

  3. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    The USCCB is quite out of step with most rank and file Catholics. But then, how would they know ? The insulate themselves from and do disservice to many Catholics. An Equality Act does not cause anyone to act against conscience. There was a time when the U.S. Catholic hierarchy opposed inter racial marriage ,too. This is just more of the same. Memo to bishops: read the New Testament. Maybe that will help.

  4. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    I would suggest that it is actually the bishops who seek “the imposition”…” of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations.” Rather than spending their time pushing for the current Covid support bill going through Congress following Christ’s admonitions about feeding the hungry, they get their bright red knickers in a twist over civil gender freeing laws that will not effect their beliefs a bit and get them into areas Jesus never raised.

  5. Sarasi
    Sarasi says:

    From the USCCB letter:

    “As Pope Francis has reflected, however, “‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.’ …”

    This assumes, of course, that gender role story is “good” as it has been understood throughout most of history, the “correct” one–even divinely inspired according to the Church–and not the long, ugly saga of Women According to Men, which can’t conclude fast enough.

    The bishops speak from a bubble of total obliviousness … to women’s history, contemporary psychology, you name it. The longer they talk about these subjects, the more irrelevant they become. How they got abortion in there is beyond me, however, though I did read something recently that suggested some of them believe transgenderism generally is a rejection of sex roles and anatomical functions therefore linked to a high abortion rate, i.e., women who want to be like men and not bear children. Yes, the analysis was THAT clueless.

  6. Hank Mascotte
    Hank Mascotte says:

    Here is the start of a letter I sent to all 5 bishops: As a practicing Catholic with a gay son and a lesbian sister and with a degree in theology and active in supporting the LGBTQ community, I am disappointed that you are opposed to THE EQUALITY ACT presently supported by Congress….


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