Religious right has it wrong on employment discrimination


Where does religious liberty end and discrimination begin? That is the question being raised by the Employment Nondiscrimination Act of 2007, a bill that would make it illegal for most employers to deny employment to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Introduced in the U.S. House with a companion bill soon to be offered in the U.S. Senate, it has garnered the sponsorship of 140 representatives including Minnesota Reps. Tim Walz, Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum.

Labor unions, social science organizations and the general public also support the bill. According to a 2007 Gallup poll, 89 percent of Americans believe that gays and lesbians should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities, up from 56 percent in 1977.

While the bill’s supporters see ENDA as a positive step to ending this type of discrimination, which is still legal in most states, religious right organizations claim there is a more insidious motive behind the legislation: “special rights” and intentional curbing of the rights of Christians.

“Of course, the larger goal here — shared by the ‘gay’ and ‘transgender’ lobbies — is to change your mind and heart regarding gender-confused conduct. The law is merely a tool in their never-ending quest to overturn America’s Judeo-Christian norms regarding family, sex and marriage,” said Peter LaBarbara of Americans for Truth.

“This bill would unfairly extend special privileges based upon an individual’s changeable sexual behaviors, rather than focusing on immutable, non-behavior characteristics such as skin color or gender. Its passage would both overtly discriminate against and muzzle people of faith,” said Shari Rendall of Concerned Women for America (despite scientific consensus that sexual orientation is not changeable).

Luis Sérgio Solimeo of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property wrote: “The bill therefore aims to impose on the nation a relativistic, amoral and necessarily anti-Christian worldview, opposed not only to Revelation but also to natural law as perceived by human reason. This anti-Christian worldview is ideological and provides the philosophical rationale for the homosexual movement and its liberal allies.”

Authors of ENDA have crafted it to include exceptions for religious organizations; they may fire or discriminate against LGBT people in hiring or fire them for disclosing a sexual orientation or gender identity that the employer disagrees with. The act reads:

“(a) In general.-This Act shall not apply to any of the employment practices of a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society which has as its primary purpose religious ritual or worship or the teaching or spreading of religious doctrine or belief.”

Critics charge that ENDA does not go far enough and will not protect every Christian employer, manager and business owner from hiring LGBT people. A current litigation in New York is attempting to settle that very argument.

Ted Doudak, president of Riva Jewelry Manufacturing and a devout Christian, found a LGBT-themed magazine on the desk of John Fairchild, the vice president of sales and marketing. Doudak fired Fairchild the next day. According to Fairchild’s complaint, Doudak frequently quoted Bible verses condemning homosexuals to hell and expressed disgust of LGBT people. In one instance, he has Fairchild work with representatives of Tiffany’s Inc. because the representatives were gay and Doudak did not want to deal with them. The case is currently under litigation, and Doudak has sought to prevent his religious beliefs from being used as evidence.

The reality is that the majority of cases of discrimination are not religious in nature. Earlier this year, an employee of a door manufacturing company in Iowa was fired after months of anti-gay harassment, none of which was faith-based. In Texas, also this year, a radio disc jockey was fired after the station found out he was gay by reading his page. This instance was also not faith-based.

Since more than 90 percent of Minnesotans identify themselves as Christians and Minnesota has a large LGBT population, one would expect that the 1993 Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, would have resulted in widespread curtailment of religious liberty. Surely there would be news reports, court cases and newspaper columns devoted to the damaging effects of the Human Rights Act…but there are few to none.

More importantly, discrimination is immoral and un-American. We believe the best person for the job is the person who does the job the best. Unless that job involves railing against LGBT people or building a theological case against homosexuality, then for most jobs, sexual orientation is irrelevant. Employers who hire only those without sin would have no work force.

LGBT people do not seek jobs with employers who have a reputation for being anti-gay, for the same reasons fundamentalist Christians don’t apply for employment at gay bars or other LGBT businesses (heterosexuals who wanted to apply could not be turned away under ENDA. The law protects everyone). No one wants to be employed in a hostile work environment.

But sometimes a workplace is hostile, and someone loses their job just by being who they are. That’s why ENDA is so important and why Congress should ignore those advocating for the right to discriminate.