When you want to persuade people that the thing you are doing is good, moral, and just, you throw in the word “fairness.”
That’s what the Democrats in the Pennsylvania House did last week, when they passed — by the slimmest of margins — House Bill 300 which was dubbed, duh, the Fairness Act.
This act, if passed by the Senate and then signed by Gov. Josh Shapiro will, according to the Pa. Democrats’ official website “protect LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians from facing discrimination.”
The preamble to the bill is a little more explicit, stating that it will prevent “discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.” This sounds good, moral and “fair.”
But what is left unsaid is what is not protected: religious freedom.
The bill initially contained a provision that would have allowed religious institutions like churches or private schools to seek a waiver from the law’s mandate that everyone be treated equally, even if that means some of these places will be forced to violate their fundamental faith principles and values.
For example, a Catholic school that does not want to employ an openly gay teacher living in a same-sex relationship will not be able to reject that applicant on the basis of sexual orientation, even though the Catholic faith prohibits same sex unions.
While you might think that this, in and of itself is bigoted, it is beyond any doubt that the Constitution protects the right to be free from interference in the exercise of religion. Pennsylvania Democrats want to eviscerate that right.
While it still facially contains a protection for religious beliefs, it has been watered down to a point where it will be nearly impossible for religious groups to seek an exemption, adding a new “substantial burden” test that those faith organizations need to prove they will suffer before being granted a waiver of the law’s mandate.
The legislation is also so broad and so ambiguous that it could force Catholic hospitals to perform what some have called gender affirming surgery on minors or adults, and what others call unnecessary mastectomies on troubled individuals.
As the Pennsylvania Family Council explained, “The Democrats on the (judiciary) committee vote gutted the right of churches and religious schools to hire all employees that share their religious beliefs about sexuality and gives a new cause of action to sue churches and schools. Those supporting this bill are listening more to special interest groups over the people of Pennsylvania.”
This is the troubling part. Now, a person who thinks that they have been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, identity and whatever else comes under the LGBTQ+ umbrella — note the “plus” has the ability to take the person who won’t hire them or give them the surgery they want to court.
Let’s be clear: No one should be discriminated against because of who they are.
They should not be ridiculed, denied respect, or treated as anything other than a valued human being with immense potential and equal rights under the law.
But in that law, we are always forced to balance competing rights.
A Catholic doctor’s right to refuse to perform surgery on a minor with gender dysphoria is at least as important as that minor’s “right” to obtain the questionable surgery.
An evangelical school’s right to hire staff that does not openly challenge its fundamental beliefs is at least as important as a prospective staff member who openly violates those beliefs.
An orthodox Jewish synagogue’s right to refuse drag queens at a bar mitzvah is much more important than the drag queen’s right to perform for the shocked crowds.
This is not bigotry.
The bigotry lies in expecting that a governmental fiat of “tolerance” for all forms of sexual identity be imposed on those who reject it when this violates their contract and communion with whatever higher deity governs their conduct and conception of existence.
To relegate faith to something less important than “feelings” and corporeal needs and preferences is to basically gut the Free Exercise Clause.
As of this writing, the Senate has not voted on the bill.
It is my sincere hope that it will quash this attempt to legislate morality in the commonwealth, and will honor the constitutional mandate that everyone be free to practice their faith without restriction or apology.
I write this sitting just a few blocks from the place where the First Amendment was ratified.
What a tragedy it would be if the force of that law, which defines our humanity, is undermined by some legislators who think it’s funny to mock their constituents.
Copyright 2023 Christine Flowers, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected].