Issue Briefs

ERLC opposes the Fairness For All Act of 2019

January 10, 2020

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) affirms the full dignity of every human being. At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.” The SBC’s commitment to love of neighbor is grounded in the truth that “God created man in His own image; He created Him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” (Gen. 1:26–27) This is true regardless of what any person believes about God, about humanity, and about our sexuality.

The ERLC believes Fairness For All (FFA) does not strike an effective, durable, and politically feasible balance of public policy regarding God-given conscience rights and the demands of the Sexual Revolution. However, the ERLC does not doubt the motivations or intentions of the supporters of Fairness For All, many of whom are friends and allies on a range of other issues. While the stated intention of the legislation is to protect both those who identify as LGBT and people of faith, we believe the protections for people of faith are insufficient and that the legislation will use the federal government to impose a new orthodoxy on matters of sexuality and gender on the entire country through the Civil Rights Act.

To that point, Rep. Chris Stewart (R–Utah), the author of FFA, in a recent op-ed described the religious liberty protections in the bill as “narrowly-defined carveouts for religious citizens and institutions.” We are deeply concerned that the author of the bill thinks of the protections for religious citizens and institutions in this way.

As Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, often notes, “A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere.” The ERLC believes this legislation would diminish foundational individual freedoms and dramatically expand the government’s power to create, enforce, and teach a radical perspective on gender and sexuality. The bill fails in many key respects to protect the consciences of a range of professionals, individuals, and others in a variety of circumstances.

It is true that the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is preserved in the Fairness For All Act of 2019 and that the bill contains a number of other protections for communities of faith. We support this policy and several of the individual provisions within the bill. But even still, these proposed changes to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would bring a significant shift in civil rights law, religious liberty, and the foundations of civic pluralism.

While the bill contains clear and direct protections for individuals who identify as LGBT, many of the religious freedom protections identified by the bill’s proponents are vague and indirect. The ERLC believes this imbalance leaves many key issues up for interpretation by the judiciary, leaving the final outcomes of the bill unknown. In other cases, we are concerned the lack of clarity would chill expression and prevent individuals from standing on the conscience and religious freedom rights that would be created by the bill. Indeed, part of the core disagreement about Fairness For All is the question of what the bill actually accomplishes.

The ERLC has significant concerns with the Fairness For All Act of 2019. The following outlines a number of areas that are particularly troublesome:

Again, many of the proponents of Fairness For All are friends of the ERLC and allies on a host of issues, and that is still the case. We look forward to working together on many areas of common concern in the years ahead just as in the years past. We do not question the motives of those who disagree with us on this bill. But we do not believe this bill would adequately and effectively protect people of faith and promote the common good.