Equally Blessed Urges Senate to Pass ENDA Without Broad Religious Exemption

­­This letter was sent by the Equally Blessed coalition to members of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

September 16, 2013

United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Washington, DC 20510

 

Dear Senator:

You are in receipt of a letter dated July 9, 2013 from Archbishops Salvatore J. Cordileone and William E. Lori and Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, explaining why the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes S. 815, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 (ENDA). We write to make it clear that the bishops do not speak for the majority of your Catholic constituents, many of whom believe, as we do, that the religious exemptions in the current draft of the legislation are not too narrow, as the bishops contend, but far too broad.

Evidence that the bishops do not speak for the vast majority of Catholic voters on issues relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is copious. According to a March 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), 73 percent of U. S. Catholics support laws that would protect gay and lesbian people from discrimination in the workplace. That same survey found that compared to other religious groups, Catholics are significantly more likely to give their church poor marks for how it is handling the issue of homosexuality.  A November 2011 survey by PRRI found that 93 percent of U. S Catholics believe that transgender people deserve the same rights and protections as other Americans. The current draft of ENDA falls far short of this goal.

As you know, the legislation before your committee contains a three-part “religious exemption.” The third part of this exemption would allow religiously affiliated institutions to require employees to conform their lives to religious tenets designated by the institution. If this provision becomes law, religious organizations would have grounds to discriminate against LGBT employees, particularly those in relationships or who are living in accord with their true gender identity. Religiously affiliated hospitals would have grounds to fire LGBT doctors. Religiously affiliated universities could fire LGBT faculty. Religiously affiliated social service and relief agencies could fire LGBT social workers and program officers.  Such actions would not only harm individual employees and their families, but also potentially diminish the effectiveness of these institutions, thereby harming the wider society.

Further, giving religious leaders such wide latitude in the hiring practices of educational, health and social service institutions could make it difficult for LGBT people in those fields to earn a living and support their families in significant swaths of the country.

In their letter of July 9th, the bishops assert that the Constitution grants the church “the right to teach what it holds to be the truth concerning homosexual conduct—and to act as an employer consistent with that truth—without the threat of government sanction.” This is not the case. A church that taught that slavery was just, that child labor was central to the divine plan, that flogging was an appropriate motivational practice, or that women by their nature deserved lower wages than men would not be free to “act as an employer consistent with that truth.” 

Nor is it clear that the bishops’ views are in accord with the Pope’s. Responding in August to questions about gay priests, Pope Francis said: "If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?" The pope, in other words, has no plans to discriminate against the gay men who, in secular terms, might be thought of as his employees. Yet Archbishops Cordileone and Lori and Bishop Blaire seek that power over LGBT people who work in Catholic institutions, and they claim to speak for the church as they do so.

Our nation’s history teaches us that sometimes the church moves a recalcitrant society toward a deeper respect for the dignity of every human being, but that sometimes those roles are reversed. Unlike our bishops, a significant majority of U.S. Catholics support legislation that guarantees LGBT people equal protection under the law. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is not currently such legislation, but it easily could be. 

We urge you to remove part three of the religious exemption from the current draft of the bill. Our nation’s religious institutions have nothing to fear from legislation that treats every citizen as though they were equal in the eyes of God.

Sincerely,

 

Jim FitzGerald

Executive Director, CTA

 

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Executive Director, DignityUSA

 

Casey Lopata

Co-Founder, Fortunate Families

 

Mary Ellen Lopata

Co-Founder, Fortunate Families

 

Francis DeBernardo

Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

 

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL

Founder, New Ways Ministry

 

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