Secular Americans: Employment Non-Discrimination Act Doesn't Go Far Enough

Washington, DC - The Secular Coalition for America today applauded the passing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. Senate, but expressed disappointment that discrimination by religious organizations will continue to be permitted, leaving millions of Americans unprotected.

The Coalition also applauded the 55 Senators that voted against the amendment put forth by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), which would have broadened the number of groups covered under the religious exemption. Sen. Toomey's amendment would have essentially rendered ENDA useless, as it would have expanded exemptions to for-profit organizations and groups that don't primarily engage in religious work - for example, a school that teaches religion only a few hours a week, or a hospital affiliated with a religious group. 

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act adds gender identity and sexual orientation to the protected classes of race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability. However, Section 6 protects religious organizations who continue to discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation in employment.

"This is a step in the right direction, but it certainly doesn't go far enough," said Edwina Rogers, executive director for the Secular Coalition for America. "Many of the organizations exempted from the law receive public funding, which means they are permitted to discriminate against taxpayers with taxpayer dollars. That's completely unacceptable."

The Title VII exemption language has been interpreted by the courts to include hospitals, universities, community centers and international relief organizations-even if the employee's position does not require performance of religious functions. Title VII does not allow religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, national origin, sex, age, or disability, even if they have a sincere religious belief in the discriminatory action.

Religiously affiliated hospitals account for 13 percent of the total hospitals in the United States, with approximately 600,000 employees. The over 970 religiously affiliated colleges or universities in the U.S. employ over 483,000 teachers. Millions of employees are not protected.

Rogers said the religious exemption to ENDA runs counter to its stated purpose, which is "to address the history and persistent, widespread pattern of discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity."

"Exempting so many organizations, many which have a long track record of discrimination against the LGBT community, undermines the purpose of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act," Rogers said. "This exemption not only allows the discrimination to continue, but validates hate."

The First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause has never stood for the principal that religious belief trumps all other laws. As Justice Scalia once wrote "to permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

As the bill moves to the U.S.House, where Speaker John Boehner has indicated he will not bring the bill up. The Secular Coalition will continue to work for passage of ENDA, and to ensure Section 6 is removed or narrowed and that no exceptions are made for religiously-motivated discrimination.  

CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA Communications Manager at lauren@secular.org or (202)299-1091 ext. 205, cell (202)630-9725

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