Witness: Equality Act Subjects Churches to Discrimination Suits, ‘One of the Most Damaging and Threatening Aspects’

Senate Judiciary Committee

The Equality Act would essentially expand the definition of public accommodations to places of worship, redefining how they operate and subjecting them to discrimination suits, the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Mary Rice Hasson told Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) during Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Equality Act.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Lee inquired as to the effect the Equality Act would have on places of worship, placing undue burdens by effectively categorizing them as public accommodations, thereby requiring these holy places to abide by the Left’s gender identity standards.

“Under this legislation, it appears that churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious buildings would likely be considered public accommodations,” he said, noting that the institutions are often used by the public for homeless shelters and soup kitchens. “For that matter, any public gathering can render any building a pack of public accommodation.”

“The language is rather significantly broad and would almost inevitably put this law in a position of occupying a more significant place with respect to religious institutions,” he said.

“Does the act exempt churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, or any houses of worship from being considered public accommodations?” he asked panelist Mary Rice Hasson.

“No, to the contrary,” she said, explaining that the Equality Act “expands that definition of public accommodations from the four categories that were previously in civil rights law to an almost unlimited number of activities and places that don’t even need to be actual physical places,” such as virtual activities.

“So it’s very easy for a church that does anything where it opens the doors to the community — which is very much a part of a faith-based mission —  it opens the doors for them to be subject to discrimination suits because they’re now going to be considered a public accommodation in the same way as a stadium or something like that,” Hasson continued, describing it as “one of the most damaging and threatening aspects” of the Equality Act.

During the line of questioning, Lee asked if the Equality Act would effectively impact the ability of certain faiths to carry out their beliefs within the confines of their buildings, using the traditions of some Muslim and Orthodox Jewish congregations as an example:

There are some religious traditions with a lot of followers in this country, including Orthodox Jewish services and many Muslim services, where people sit in different places based on their sex during religious services. So would a Muslim or an Orthodox Jewish congregation be able to continue doing that as they have for, you know in some cases, thousands of years. Would that suddenly become unlawful? If they’re places of public accommodation, and if you can’t treat people differently, based on their sex, what would remain of those religious denominations’ ability to continue to worship as they deem fit?

“They’d be wearing a straitjacket,” Hasson said. “They could not live and carry out their faith even within their own buildings under this act.”

Lee mentioned the left-wing argument, which asserts that the law is not designed to force religious organizations to change their practices or how they worship. But, he said, if Hasson’s description is accurate, those arguments are, in fact, “very wrong.”

Hasson agreed, calling them “deceptive.”

Ultimately, Hasson said the bill is going to have a hefty impact on places of worship by redefining what is considered a public accommodation, imposing obligations to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and stripping institutions of “recourse” provided by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Democrat-led House passed the Equality Act last month, 224-206.

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