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ENDA Doesn’t Threaten Religious Freedom

With its religious exemption, ENDA in no way poses a threat to religious freedom, contrary to the misleading claims of conservative opponents of workplace fairness.

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Today the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will hold a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2011. If passed into law it would finally prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The last time the committee held a hearing on this critical piece of legislation was in November 2009.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, is sorely needed. Gay[1] and transgender workers face extraordinarily high rates of discrimination on the job, inflicting significant economic pain on many workers at a time when all families are struggling to stay afloat. Considering it remains perfectly legal in a majority of states to fire someone based simply on their sexual orientation or gender identity, ENDA would finally put in place uniform and comprehensive protections for the gay and transgender workforce.

In addition to advancing workplace equality for gay and transgender employees, ENDA also includes a critical provision that safeguards religious organizations’ constitutional rights and religious freedoms. Specifically, Section 6 of ENDA provides religious organizations (which are broadly defined) a substantial exemption that allows them to continue to take sexual orientation and gender identity into account when making employment decisions. In this way ENDA’s religious exemption is broader than other laws that provide exemptions to religious organizations with respect to employment.

With this exemption ENDA in no way poses a threat to religious freedom, contrary to the misleading claims of conservative opponents of workplace fairness. The antigay American Family Association, for example, asserts that “ENDA does not contain a sufficiently broad exemption for religious organizations,” despite the fact that ENDA clearly gives religious organizations wide latitude to consider sexual orientation and gender identity when making employment decisions. In fact ENDA’s religious protection language is partly why dozens of faith-based communities and religious organizations have come together in voicing strong support for ENDA.

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