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U.S. Catholic Bishops Endorse Most Dangerous Anti-LGBTQ ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Yet

A bill in the U.S. Senate which would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of faith has been endorsed by one of America’s leading religious groups.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement on Thursday imploring Congress to approve the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a 2015 bill which was reintroduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) earlier this month. Church leadership claims the draft legislation is a “modest and important measure” which safeguards the rights of those “who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”

“[I]n a pluralistic society, faith-based charitable agencies and schools should not be excluded from participation in public life by loss of licenses, accreditation, or tax-exempt status because they hold reasonable views on marriage that differ from the federal government’s view,” the letter reads.

“The leadership of the Catholic Church will continue to promote and protect the natural truth of marriage as foundational to the common good,” it adds.

The statement follows a letter sent to Lee last week on behalf of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky. and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., in which the two men claim the protections outlined in FADA are necessary in a “climate of increasing intolerance” against people of faith.

“Persons who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman are increasingly having their religious freedoms jeopardized and even forfeited,” Kurtz and Conley write.

They voice “strong support” for the anti-LGBTQ legislation, which is being backed by 22 Republican co-sponsors. Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have already signed onto FADA. When the bill was first re-filed in 2016, Cruz told BuzzFeed, “The prospects for protecting religious freedom are brighter now than they have been in a long time.”

The current bill, however, makes substantial changes to the version that didn’t make it out of committee three years ago. For one, it forbids for-profit companies and federal entities from discriminating in the name of faith.

But in a confusing twist, Lee claims the updated edition of FADA protects “all federal definitions of marriage.” In a statement posted to his website, the conservative alleges his legislation “would protect a liberal institution that promoted gay marriage, just as it would protect a conservative institution that wanted to promote traditional marriage.”

LGBTQ advocacy groups, though, believe that amendment doesn’t resolve the core issue: If passed, they say FADA would permit systemic bias against queer and trans individuals. As an example, the new version of Lee’s legislation would permit a religiously affiliated homeless shelter to turn away a transgender person or an adoption or foster care center to deny placement to a same-sex couple.

“This bill opens the door to a wide range of taxpayer-funded discrimination,” says Ian Thompson, a legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a statement.

“It would let private companies and nonprofit government contractorswhich includes a significant portion of social services providersrefuse to provide a service or benefit to people because they do not fit their definition of family,” he continues, “from same-sex married couples and their children, a single parent and their child, or an unmarried couple who are living together.”

“Whatever the sponsors of this shameful legislation may say, this is a blatant example of using religion as a justification to discriminate, and the ACLU will fight to make sure it never becomes law,” Thompson adds.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, also condemned the legislation when FADA was reintroduced.

“America was founded on the freedom of religion and this shared value continues to be critical to our nation’s success, but it does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate,” she says in a statement.

President Donald Trump has already signaled his willingness to back “religious liberty” laws critics say amount to a license to discriminate against LGBTQ. In addition to supporting FADA the last time it was introduced, Trump has backed a Christian baker, Jack Phillips, lobbying for his right to refuse service to same-sex couples in a pivotal Supreme Court case.

The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops also filed an amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission supporting Phillips.

A majority of Americans, however, have signaled they do not believe individuals should be able to discriminate on the basis of their faith beliefs. A 2017 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 53 percent of respondents claimed it should be illegal for wedding service providers to turn away same-sex couples if they cite religious reasons. Sixty-one percent said the same for small business owners.

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Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.