Re­li­gious pro­tec­tions added to work­place bill

Se­nate passes change be­fore full vote

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY JAC­QUE­LINE KLI­MAS

The Se­nate added stronger pro­tec­tion for re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions Wed­nes­day to a bill that would pro­hibit work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion against gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der Amer­i­cans, though re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives called the mea­sure in­suf­fi­cient and its fate in the House re­mains doubt­ful.

Spon­sored by Repub­li­can Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ay­otte of New Hamp­shire, the amend­ment passed on a quick voice vote, paving the way for the Se­nate to vote on the bill Thurs­day.

The amend­ment would bar the gov­ern­ment from with­hold­ing fed­eral grants, con­tracts or tax ex­emp­tions from churches, re­li­gious schools or other re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions to pe­nal­ize them for not fol­low­ing the law.

“Peo­ple shouldn’t be able to be fired just be­cause they’re gay,” Mr. Portman said Wed­nes­day on the Se­nate floor. “My amend­ment seeks to en­sure that this bill de­signed to pro­mote tol­er­ance of one kind doesn’t en­shrine in­tol­er­ance of another kind.”

The amend­ment to the Em­ployee Non-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act (ENDA) pro­vides an ex­tra layer of pro­tec­tion for re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions that are ex­empt from the law, but which want ad­di­tional as­sur­ance that the gov­ern­ment can’t re­tal­i­ate against them.

“My amend­ment pro­hibits the gov­ern­ment from pun­ish­ing a re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion for ad­her­ing to its deeply held be­liefs and thereby seeks to keep the state from in­ter­fer­ing in mat­ters of faith,” Mr. Portman said. “Work­place fair­ness must be bal­anced against and made con­sis­tent with re­li­gious lib­erty.”

David Chris­tensen, vice pres­i­dent for gov­ern­ment af­fairs at the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil, said the amend­ment does not go far enough to pro­tect the re­li­gious free­dom of non­profit groups and busi­ness own­ers.

“Se­na­tors may be look­ing for po­lit­i­cal cover from this amend­ment, but ENDA re­moves the abil­ity of non-prof­its, parachurch min­istries, and in­di­vid­ual busi­ness own­ers to make their own de­ci­sions about ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct in the work­place,” he said Wed­nes­day in a state­ment. “Peo­ple’s re­li­gious free­dom rights do not stop at their front door on their way to work, whether they are a busi­ness owner or em­ployee.”

The Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil also op­poses an even broader re­li­gious free­dom amend­ment pro­posed by Sen. Pa­trick J. Toomey, Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can, that would ex­pand the type of re­li­gious groups ex­empt from the leg­is­la­tion.

“Even Se­na­tor Toomey’s sup­pos­edly more ro­bust re­li­gious free­dom ex­emp­tion for re­li­gious groups does not ex­pand the ex­emp­tion to em­ploy­ers who op­er­ate their busi­nesses from a faith per­spec­tive but are not tied to a par­tic­u­lar re­li­gious de­nom­i­na­tion,” Mr. Chris­tensen said.

Ian Thomp­son, a leg­isla­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion also op­poses the Toomey amend­ment, though for the op­po­site rea­son — be­cause it cat­e­go­rizes too many or­ga­ni­za­tions as ex­empt.

“It seeks to broaden an al­ready overly broad re­li­gious ex­emp­tion and could cre­ate dan­ger­ous prece­dent,” Mr. Thomp­son told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “Ex­pand­ing this re­li­gious ex­emp­tion to in­clude for­profit cor­po­ra­tions would dra­mat­i­cally di­min­ish ENDA’s pro­tec­tions and cre­ate an un­ac­cept­able, dan­ger­ous li­cense to dis­crim­i­nate against [les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der] peo­ple in fed­eral civil rights law.”

The Se­nate is ex­pected to vote on Mr. Toomey’s amend­ment Thurs­day morn­ing.

On Mon­day night, the bill cleared a pro­ce­dural hur­dle in the Se­nate on a 61-30 bi­par­ti­san vote. How­ever, the bill likely will be dead on ar­rival in the House as Speaker John A. Boehner has said he will not bring it up for a vote. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid said Tues­day that he be­lieves the mea­sure would pass the House if Mr. Boehner al­lowed mem­bers to vote on it.

“I was dis­ap­pointed to read yes­ter­day that Speaker Boehner op­poses the Em­ploy­ment Non-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act be­cause he be­lieves it will lead to friv­o­lous law­suits,” Mr. Reid said on the Se­nate floor Tues­day. “But com­ing from the man whose cau­cus spent $3 mil­lion in tax­payer dol­lars de­fend­ing the un­con­sti­tu­tional De­fense of Mar­riage law in court, that is a pretty far reach.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“My amend­ment pro­hibits the gov­ern­ment from pun­ish­ing a re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion … and thereby seeks to keep the state from in­ter­fer­ing in mat­ters of faith,” Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Repub­li­can says of the ENDA bill.

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