Southern Baptist Convention messengers on Tuesday passed a resolution warning that the Equality Act would have a “devastating” effect on religious liberty, including on faith-based charities and healthcare providers.
The bill, which passed the House of Representatives and is backed by President Biden, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of protected classes for public places, education and employment. Its prospects in the Senate are unknown.
Messengers to the SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn., passed the resolution “overwhelmingly,” according to Baptist Press.
“We strongly oppose the Equality Act and urge Congress to reject this dangerous legislation, which represents one of the greatest threats to religious liberty in our nation’s history,” the resolution says.
The resolution warns that the Equality Act would result in “sweeping and historic changes to religious liberty with devastating effects to this foundational freedom.”
Further, the resolution notes that the text of the Equality Act explicitly forbids individuals from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to sue based on claims within the Equality Act. That 1993 law, signed by President Clinton, prevents the government from “substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion.”
The resolution says two Democratic congressmen -- Chuck Schumer and the late Ted Kennedy -- supported the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and, at the time, wrote that “governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification.”
The resolution details specific ways the Equality Act would burden religious liberty.
According to the resolution, the Equality Act would:
- “Explicitly permit the government to place substantial burdens upon religious exercise without having to demonstrate any compelling justification in order to do so.”
- Force “faith-based charities whose core religious beliefs about human dignity, sexuality, gender, and marriage shape their ministry policies” to “choose between freely exercising those core religious beliefs or abandoning their ministries.”
- “Coerce healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions, hormone therapies, and other procedures which may violate their deeply held religious beliefs.”
- “Empower the government to punish individuals whose vocations include creative expressive or require professional licensure.”
The resolution also says the Equality Act “would undermine decades of hard-fought civil rights protections for women and girls” by “threatening competition in sports and disregarding the privacy concerns women rightly have about sharing sleeping quarters and intimate facilities with members of the opposite sex.”
The resolution says messengers encourage “love and compassion” toward the LGBT community and “invite all members” to “turn from their sins and trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
“We believe effective Gospel ministry to individuals who consider themselves part of the LGBTQ community requires that we speak to them and about them with respect and Christlike love, while holding firmly to our biblical convictions on these issues,” the resolution says.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.