Employment Non-Discrimination Act seen jeopardizing religious freedom

WASHINGTON – A letter from the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has stated the bishops’ opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because of the bill’s potential to “jeopardize our religious freedom to live our faith and moral tenets in today’s society.”

The bishops added that the measure, known as ENDA, could be used to justify legal protection for same-sex marriage, based on similar state-based nondiscrimination laws.

The bill would add sexual orientation to the list of individual characteristics that would bar employers from discriminating against.

“We cannot support any bill – such as ENDA in its current form – that would legally affirm and specially protect any sexual conduct outside of marriage,” said the letter, dated May 19 and sent to individual members of Congress.

The bishops restated “two basic tenets”–of the church – that “persons with a homosexual inclination” must be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” and that under no circumstances can homosexual acts be approved.

The letter was signed by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage; Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine.

They said the church is “ardently opposed to all unjust discrimination” against people based on sexual orientation, but said the church also teaches sex outside of traditional marriage between a man and a woman is morally wrong.

The nondiscrimination bill had languished in both chambers of Congress for a half-year or longer, with no votes scheduled, although a House committee may consider the bill the first week of June.

The House version, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has 202 co-sponsors. A hearing was held last September by the House Education and Labor Committee. A companion Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., has 45 co-sponsors. A hearing was held last November by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, with no vote taken by the committee.

“Because the passage of such a bill could be used to punish as discrimination what the Catholic Church teachers, the USCCB has always sought as comprehensive religious exemption as is achievable, in order to protect the religious freedom of the church, and of all others who hold similar views,” the bishops said.

Even so, they added, “recent experience teaches that even covered institutions may face government retaliation for relying on such exemptions. Without such additional protection, ENDA would be applied to jeopardize our religious freedom to live our faith and moral tenets in today’s society.”

The bishops said, “Just as every other group in our society, the Catholic Church enjoys the same rights to hold to its beliefs, organize itself around them, and argue for them in the public square. This is guaranteed by our Constitution. This includes 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.”

The letter referred to one section in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which said that “no one should be an object of scorn, hatred, or violence for any reason, including sexual inclination,” and that the church stood committed to avoid “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard.” But Catholic teaching cannot be “equated with ‘unjust discrimination,’ ” it added.

The bishops said they would be interested in discussing a bill “that would protect persons with a homosexual inclination from unjust discrimination, without protecting homosexual conduct.”

Were the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in its current form to become law, the bishops said, “we would expect lawyers to invoke it in federal court under the federal constitution, just as they invoked analogous state laws in state constitution litigation.”

“If this strategy were to succeed, it would represent a legal and moral disaster comparable in many ways to Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 Supreme Court decision which permitted abortion virtually on demand, the bishops said.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.