Activists warn of heavy burden on religious organizations to uphold beliefs
WASHINGTON — Social conservatives have ramped up their opposition to two controversial anti-discrimination bills the District of Columbia approved in recent months.
On Tuesday, two officials from the Heritage Foundation traveled to Capitol Hill to educate lawmakers and staff about the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination and Human Rights Amendment acts. At 10 am, Ryan T. Anderson and Sarah Torre hurried through the white marble halls on the first floor of the Rayburn House Office Building for a meeting. Anderson, an author and fellow at Heritage, had in his hands white copies of a three-page issue brief the conservative think tank released yesterday and gave one copy to a reporter from Aleteia. In a follow-up email, he declined to elaborate about the meeting.
In "Congress Should Protect Religious Freedom in the District of Columbia," Anderson and Torre wrote that the two bills would "saddle religious organizations and employers with a choice between complying with coercive laws that force them to violate their religious beliefs and organizational missions and staying true to their beliefs in defiance of unjust laws." Religious employers could be forced to cover elective, surgical abortions in their health policies; pro-life organizations could be required to hire pro-abortion employees; and Christian schools could be forced to recognize a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender student group or host a gay pride day on campus, they wrote.
The brief lists the Archdiocese of Washington, the March for Life, the Susan B. Anthony List, and the Family Research Council as organizations whose rights of conscience would be violated if the bills became law.
DC council member David Grosso sponsored the legislation on reproductive health. A spokesperson did not return a phone call for comment by press time.
In reaching out to Congress, social conservatives are racing against the clock. On March 6, DC’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, submitted the two measures to Congress. That body has 30 legislative days to pass a resolution of disapproval which would require the signature of President Obama. A spokeswoman for Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees the District, did not return an email for comment.
The dust-up is the latest battle between advocates of religious freedom vs. gay and reproductive rights advocates.
For city council members, the reproductive health non-discrimination act would protect employees whose reproductive decisions run afoul of her employer’s moral standards. "Many examples were provided of women being discriminated from seeking to prevent pregnancy, pursuing pregnancy through the use of artificial reproductive technology or having sex outside of marriage," then Council Member Tommy Wells, chairman of the committee on the judiciary and public safety, wrote about a hearing last June.
The Human Rights Amendment Act would prohibit religious schools and employers from treating gay and transgender people and organizations differently from their straight counterparts. It would overturn a 1988 amendment Sen. Bill Armstrong, R-Colo., sponsored.
Social conservatives say that the abortion bill is suspect legally. They note that under Bowser’s predecessor, Vincent Gray, the office of DC’s attorney general "deemed the legislation legally insufficient" because the bill conflicted with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
Both sides have said the courts may decide the fate of the two bills.
Mark Stricherz covers Washington for Aleteia. He is the author of Why the Democrats are Blue (Encounter Books).