One of the nation’s most prominent social-conservative organizations is opposing Rep. Elise Stefanik’s bid for a spot within House Republican leadership, pointing to her past support for the Equality Act and her less-than-perfect record on pro-life issues.
Stefanik, a House member from New York, is the leading candidate to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference. The chair is the No. 3-ranking position within GOP leadership. A vote among House Republicans could take place this week.
Although Stefanik has momentum, Family Research Council Action and its president, Tony Perkins, are urging Republicans to oppose her.
“The concern with Stefanik are her positions on what are core conservative issues,” Perkins said in a Friday column. “... Stefanik could become a problem (for different reasons than Cheney) that conservative voters will end up having to address.”
Voting scorecards from major conservative organizations label Cheney more conservative. Cheney has an A+ lifetime rating on the Susan B. Anthony List’s pro-life scorecard, while Stefanik has a rating of B.
Stefanik’s support for the Equality Act in 2019 – she was one of only eight Republicans to back it – has sparked much of the criticism. The bill 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. Opponents say it would have a negative impact on religious freedom.
Stefanik opposed the Equality Act when it came up for a vote this year, saying she opposes discrimination based on LGBT identities but has concerns about the bill’s impact on women’s sports. Even so, conservative’s concerns about the Equality Act involve more than sports.
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.” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., warned this year that the bill could mean “the effective death of religious liberty” in America.
Panelists at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in March predicted that thousands of faith-based organizations would be closed or punished by the government if the Equality Act becomes law.
“Stefanik has supported legislation like the Equality Act, which normalizes a radical sexual ideology at the detriment of families, children, and people of faith,” Perkins said.
Although Stefanik has supported multiple pro-life bills, in 2015 she voted against a bill that would have allowed states to defund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers within Medicaid programs.
“[Stefanik has] voted against religious freedom protections, against defunding Planned Parenthood in Medicaid, and against religious freedom protections for pregnancy resource centers,” Perkins said. “Such milquetoast conservatism could signal a shift away from a two-decade-long trend toward more solidly conservative congressional leaders. As the Republican caucus has become more devoted to conservative policies and ideals, enthusiasm and activism among conservative voters has increased significantly. Why? Because bold, clearly defined, leadership inspires people. Leaders who do not equivocate on core conservative values instill voters with the hope that things don't have to stay like they are – they can in fact be changed.”
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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.