AU Urges Senate Not To Alter Gay-Rights Bill To Please Religious Right

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged the U.S. Senate not to cave in to Religious Right demands by changing proposed legislation expanding gay rights.

The pending legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), would allow churches and other non-profit religious institutions to refuse to hire gay applicants if the groups are currently allowed to discriminate on religious grounds under provisions of the Civil Rights Act.

The National Religious Broadcasters and other Religious Right forces, however, are pressing the Senate to broaden the exemption in the bill (S. 1584) to allow just about any businesses or individual who claims a religious tie to discriminate against gay people.

AU says an exemption that broad goes too far. In a Nov. 4 letter to the Senate, AU said existing law strikes the right balance.

“But expanding it to include a broader array of organizations – even religious business owners engaged in commerce – not only disturbs that delicate balance, but could nearly swallow the bill’s protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination entirely,” observed AU.

Americans United said the current language, which is found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, is fair and will provide consistency.

“The religious exemption as currently drafted in ENDA – a blanket exemption – is sufficiently broad and sufficiently defined using Title VII’s definition and decades of case law,” the AU letter asserted. “There is no legitimate reason to expand the exemption further, unless the goal is to erode the reach of ENDA itself.

“The scope of Title VII’s religious exemptions have served the interests of religious organizations well and they should be sufficiently clear to provide consistency to employers and employees in delineating which religious organizations will be exempt from ENDA’s important protections.”

AU’s letter was signed by AU Legislative Director Aaron D. Schuham and AU Assistant Legislative Director Maggie Garrett.