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Top quotes from the Senate hearing on the Equality Act

Today, March 17, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on H.R. 5, the Equality Act and the ERLC submitted written testimony for the hearing’s official public record.

This legislation seeks to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) by revising every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. The ERLC has often referred to the Equality Act as misleadingly named because it seeks to achieve its aims by undermining fundamental freedoms of conscience and religious liberty and the biological distinctions of sex. H.R. 5 is out of step with the basic American ideal of tolerance — where neighbors can respect one another and work together toward the common good, even when they disagree. 

Since it was first introduced in the last Congress, the ERLC has actively engaged with lawmakers on the harms this bill would create. We will continue promoting and defending the dignity and religious liberty of all people on Capitol Hill, before the courts, and in the public square. 

Today’s Senate hearing was an important marker in the public debate. Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) hosted a number of witnesses, including the following two that are highlighted in this piece: Mary Rice Hasson, the Kate O’Beirne Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Abigail Shrier, an independent journalist and author. The following are key quotes from the Congressional members and these two witnesses.

For more on this bill and its troubling implications, see this explainer as well as this helpful resource page with articles, podcast episodes, and our policy brief. 

Sen. James Lankford (R–Okla.): No person should be discriminated against in America.

Mary Rice Hasson: Unjust discrimination is always wrong.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa): What will happen to Catholic or Methodist affiliated hospitals which provide excellent service to the public if this bill is enacted? In some areas these facilities may be the only hospitals for miles around. If a faith-based organization has partnered with a community to provide very needed social services that would otherwise not exist, like a soup kitchen, or an adoption agency for the hard to adopt special-need kids, what happens to the people who relied most heavily on those services? To whom do they turn?

Sen. James Lankford (R–OK): For those of us that believe a baby is not just a medical condition, for the people that believe children of any age, or size, or degree of development are worthy of life, we’re not bigots. We’re people who live by our genuine faith and see a child as a child. I believe that we can respect each other, we can have real dialogue over these issues that are complicated and difficult, and we can find a way to be able to pass something that honors every American but doesn’t discriminate against people of faith.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R–Tenn.): Women’s safety is fundamental to the fight for women’s rights. . . . Women should never have to fear for their safety because they’re forced to share spaces with men.

Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO-04): [H.R. 5] threatens to halt federal assistance for students at single sex colleges and universities … and the same applies to sororities and fraternities.

Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO-04): [H.R. 5] … endangers women’s safety in locker rooms, bathrooms, dorm rooms, and homeless shelters.

Abigail Shrier: The great American, Allison Felix, ran the 400 meter in 49.26 seconds. In 2018, nearly 300 high school boys could beat her. So [if H.R. 5 had been law] America would never know the name Allison Felix.

Abigail Shrier: No one who wrote [H.R. 5] appears to consider what it would mean for women and girls. By enshrining gender identity as a protected category, this bill would make it impossible ever to legally distinguish between a woman and a biological male who claims a female identity—for whatever amount of time and for whatever reason or purpose.

Abigail Shrier: Should a female abuse survivor at a domestic violence shelter be forced to sleep and undress next to a biological male? The plain truth is that it is not sensible, not safe and certainly not just to end these hard-won protections for women and girls in the name of equality.

Mary Rice Hasson: Biological sex matters in law, medicine, and for many of us, in the pracitce of our faith.

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] threatens serious harm to religious believers and organizations. It strips away crucial protections provided by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and attacks First Amendment rights as well—tipping the scales against religious believers. 

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] seeks to coerce religious believers to exit the public square unless they’re willing to trade their religious beliefs for today’s reigning ideology.

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] also reaches far beyond Bostock, which pertained to the workplace, by expanding public accommodations to mean wherever Americans gather—even virtually. Churches, synagogues, temples, faith-based schools, soup kitchens, women’s shelters, will be subject to government coercion. Compromise your religious beliefs or risk endless litigation.

Mary Rice Hasson: Religious liberty is not just the right to believe, but freedom of action … We have a robust civil society of people of all faiths, whether they are Muslim or Jewish or Christian or Catholic, that contribute to caring for the most vulnerable because their faith inspires them to do so.

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] by stripping [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] protections, puts the thumb on the scale against people of faith. 

Mary Rice Hasson: [H.R. 5] tips the scale and says to people of faith “you’re not welcome” … which is unnecessary. We can protect the vulnerable without telling people of faith that there’s no place for them.

Mary Rice Hasson: Any religious, house of worship, faith based charity that abides by restrictions based on biological sex … is going to be subject to a discrimination lawsuit. [H.R. 5] is a complete and radical change for the rights of religious Americans.

Mary Rice Hasson: Anything that a church is doing that is opened up to the public, you are going to have discrimination claims brought [if H.R. 5 becomes law].

What happens next?

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) used a Senate rule called “Rule 14” that allows a bill to bypass a Senate committee and be placed directly on the Senate Calendar of Business. This means that, even though the Judiciary Committee held a hearing today, Leader Schumer could bring H.R. 5 to the floor at any point. As the ERLC works to inform members of the U.S. Senate on the harms of the Equality Act, we will also work against attempts to pass components of the Equality Act in other places.

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