Acton Institute Powerblog

Bishops: The Equality Act will destroy Christians’ careers

(Photo credit: Public domain.)

The bishops of the world’s oldest Christian church have condemned the proposed “Equality Act” – not just based on its threat to religious liberty – but also the danger it poses to Christians’ ability to make a living. The “Equality Act” could bar faithful Christians from serving their fellow citizens and improving the lives of people from all sexual orientations.

The foundations of the Eastern Orthodox Church stretch back to apostolic times. In this country, the jurisdictions coordinate their work through the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America. The Assembly has rightly cautioned its faithful against the so-called Equality Act.

The Equality Act (H.R. 5) would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its list of as protected classes. Unlike most other groups protected by the law, neither condition is immutable nor innate. Although lawmakers si n 1964 certainly had no conception of granting special rights to these groups, Justice Neil Gorsuch’s ruled that the law’s definition of “sex” applied to them, anyway, in Botock v. Clayton County.

The Equality Act would go beyond his decision. Gorsuch noted that questions of religious liberty and the exact terms of how these newly discovered rightly apply would have to be thrashed out in court through subsequent litigation, and religious institutions retain robust conscience rights protections.

This proposed law obliterate conscience rights For the first time ever, the bill would exempt itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – asserting that sexual rights trump religious rights and barring Christian (or traditional Jewish and Muslim) believers from defending themselves from government intrusion and costly civil lawsuits.

The act radically expands the definition of “public accommodation,” explicitly including battered women’s shelters. An abusive boyfriend or potential rapist could avail himself of its terms to gain unguarded access to his ex-girlfriend – or his next victim.

Of course, the measure will give biological males access to female restrooms, showers, and dorm rooms. It forces girls to compete against males in sports, costing women scholarships and their attendant opportunity for advancement. And the bill could overrule Christians’ faith-based objections to participating in an abortion, declaring respect for life discriminates based on “pregnancy status.”

“This is not a good-faith attempt to reconcile competing interests. It is an attempt by one side to grab all the disputed territory and to crush the other side,” said University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, who supports same-sex marriage.

The Orthodox Church has spoken out against this violation of the Constitution. The bishops’ statement begins by noting, correctly, that “the principle of human equality has its origins in Christianity.” However, the Equality Act “would erode religious liberty for both individuals and organizations, including Orthodox Christian jurisdictions, parishes, and faithful.”

While the statement notes that religious ministries and nonprofits will be “directly and negatively affected” by the Equality Act, it incorporates the threat posed to the economic lives of the laity.

“[T[he expansive nature of the [Equality] Act would affect the lives and careers of many thousands of religious people in America, including Orthodox faithful,” it notes.

This affirmation is important, legally and theologically. Legally, it recognizes the harassment campaign of lawfare leveled by pressure groups against Christian floristsbakers, and photographers, among many other professional individuals who cannot in good conscience participate in a same-sex ceremony without scruple of sin.

Theologically, it recognizes that the gifts that we offer one another in the workplace contribute to our sanctification, as do moments of family life or other devotions. Any licit activity that Christians undertake is capable of redemption. Work life is spiritual life, if we open every moment of our lives to the influence and blessing of the Holy Spirit: To use the precise Greek term, even the most minor decision aids the process of theosis.

Aside from the numerous other harms this bill would impose, no government should seek to curtail holy and beneficial efforts of service and love – to circumscribe our sanctification. Those who propose such a course reveal less their love of sexual minorities than their malice toward believers.

The full text of the bishops’ statement follows:

Statement of the Executive Committee on the Proposed Equality Act

We, the Executive Committee of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America, affirm that all human beings should be treated with dignity and respect, as all are made in the image of God. Indeed, the principle of human equality has its origins in Christianity and is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, which rightly prescribes that every person must receive equal treatment under the law.

Consequently, we are deeply concerned about the proposed federal “Equality Act,” which would erode religious liberty for both individuals and organizations, including Orthodox Christian jurisdictions, parishes, and faithful. The supporters of this Act, in their desire to promote equality, ultimately infringe upon the religious liberty of Americans to live according to their faith – a right protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Throughout the United States, Orthodox jurisdictions and parishes have ministries, organizations, and facilities through which they provide many beneficial services to the public. All of these ministries, organizations, and facilities would be directly and negatively affected by the “Equality Act” as written.  Furthermore, the expansive nature of the Act would affect the lives and careers of many thousands of religious people in America, including Orthodox faithful. All of this is in addition to the broader impact that the Act would have on American society, moving it further away from the traditional and normative moral and ethical foundations, as well as deepening painful divisions that already exist in the country.

As Orthodox Christian bishops, charged by our Savior Jesus Christ to shepherd His flock, we will continue to uphold and proclaim the moral teachings of the Church. We call upon all Orthodox Christians to remain firm in the Orthodox Faith. We also call upon our nation’s civic leaders to uphold, and not infringe upon, the religious freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and to continue to extend the protections afforded by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.