Senate Hears Testimony on ENDA
November 9, 2009
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on S. 1584 , the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. After opening remarks by committee chairman Tom Harkin, seven witnesses testified. The Committee has posted the full text of their statements.
One of the witnesses, Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice said in his remarks, “No American should be denied a job or the opportunity to earn promotions, pay raises and other benefits of employment because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, which have no bearing on work performance. No one should be fired because he or she is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Period.” Other testimonies shared in this sentiment. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) stated, “We are on the path to one of those struggles for human progress, for a struggle to have full equality under the law — full equal opportunity,” and, “There can never be equal opportunity as long we do not have equal opportunity for employment. Discrimination is simply wrong.” Unfortunately, these statements run counter to the wording of the Bill, which, under Sec. 6 would exempt the same religious institutions that are exempt from the religious discrimination provisions of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act from any requirements. Effectively, any religious institution would still have the right to discriminate against sexual orientation in their hiring practices. While certain positions such as ministerial jobs have traditionally been exempt from non-discrimination laws according to first amendment rights of religious organizations, it does not follow that positions loosely affiliated with religious organizations need to remain as such. The bill as currently written would allow organizations not directly affiliated with a church (such as an independent Christian bookstore) to refuse to hire an individual because of actual or perceived sexuality or gender identity. If all the employee is doing is selling books, why does it matter what their sexuality is?
If the Administration, the Department of Justice, and Congress are serious about expanding civil rights in America, no institution, religious or otherwise should have the right to discriminate for non-ministerial positions on any basis.