‘ENDA’ the road on workplace religious liberty?

By Doug Carlson
Apr 28, 2010

One of the most basic ways to attract support for a cause or an agenda is to market the plan under a winsome name. Legislation is no different. In this, the authors of a controversial bill moving through Congress to expand workplace protections for homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders have chosen well.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 3017), sponsored by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), bears an innocuous title—who could be against discrimination?—but read on and one finds a grave threat to religious liberty in the offing. ENDA, as the bill is commonly known, is anything but an improvement to the law.

Specifically, the bill would prevent employers with 15 or more employees from making hiring, firing, or other workplace decisions based on an “individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.” In other words, ENDA would force many employers with moral objections to behaviors like homosexuality and cross-dressing to violate their freedom of conscience in employment decisions. That is in stark contrast to current employment protections based on non-behavioral traits such as race, age and gender.

ENDA would put the business community directly in the crosshairs. Fearing lawsuits from homosexual employees, employers also could be compelled to force employees to remove Bibles from their desks or even Scripture verses from office cubicle walls. Workplace tension would naturally ensue. It is a recipe for lawsuits against employers. One can only guess how an activist judge might interpret discrimination based on “perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Another danger lurks in the classroom. A female elementary school teacher, for example, could decide she no longer wants to be identified by her God-given gender. She could undergo a sex-change operation and insist that her students now address her as “Mister.” The school would have no recourse in firing her, and parents might have little or no chance to move their children to another class.

Sound far-fetched? That has already happened in California, one of just a dozen states with a law on the books affording “gender identity” special protected status. Under ENDA, every state—including the 38 without such laws—could face similar situations.

Even a religious exemption included in the bill for churches and para-church organizations is not sufficient to cover ministries. Many schools, universities, day care centers and bookstores with religious missions would still be subject to ENDA’s red tape.

ENDA could be among the next measures to be taken up by Congress. The House Education and Labor Committee is expected to move forward on the bill very soon, and a vote on the House floor could quickly follow.

ENDA came to a dead end in the previous congressional session. In 2007, the House passed Rep. Frank’s bill 235-184, without language including transgenders, though the Senate did not take up the measure. The biggest hurdle, however, was not on Capitol Hill but on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Then-President George W. Bush vowed to veto ENDA if it reached his desk.

But ENDA supporters now have an ally in the White House. President Obama, an avowed defender of expanding special rights for homosexuals, has stumped for ENDA both on the campaign trail and in the White House, promising to “place the weight of my administration” behind it. While pressure is mounting for its passage, the dangerous bill can be stopped.

ENDA was a bad idea when first conceived, and it remains a bad idea to this day.

If you agree that a law granting special rights in the workplace to individuals based on sexual orientation would place an undue burden on businesses and religious organizations, please urge your representative to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 (H.R. 3017).

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