WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens (UT-04) delivered the following statement, as prepared for delivery, on the House Floor in opposition to the Equality Act.
“Madam Speaker, I rise today in opposition to the Equality Act. The issues discussed as part of the Equality Act are important – amending the Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation would be a historic step. Unfortunately, without explicit religious exemptions, many questions arise. Title II of the Civil Rights Act currently prohibits discrimination in “places of public accommodation” on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. The Equality Act would dramatically expand the definition of “public accommodation” to include any place of public gathering, any establishment that provides a service (such as a food bank or homeless shelter).
“Every religion and faith in America has its own set of beliefs. Some of these, including Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions, are thousands of years old and answer to a much higher power. My personal faith—as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—teaches me that every individual is a child of God and deserves to be treated with love and respect. My religion also teaches that marriage is sacred and eternal in nature. The marriage ceremonies conducted in the sacred places of my faith are conducted in temples that must not be deemed “places of public accommodation.
“If houses of worship are defined as “places of public accommodation,” several problems arise, many having nothing to do with LGBT rights. For example, could an Orthodox Jewish synagogue decline to permit an interfaith couple to have their wedding ceremony in the synagogue? Could a traditional mosque conduct gender-segregated classes and youth programs? Could a Catholic Church’s homeless shelter have separate housing for men and women? Could BYU or other Church-owned universities continue hiring those individuals who follow its standards?
“Democrats claim the purpose of introducing the Equality Act is not to impede religious freedom. In fact, Democrats claim that existing law is enough to protect religious freedom. But why leave these crucial matters unclear and threaten people of faith? Why not accept an amendment to the Equality Act that clearly exempts religious organizations? Why remove the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?
“The First Amendment right to practice our faith is at the core of our nation’s culture—our moral compass of service, tolerance, kindness, and charity stems from our Judeo-Christian foundation. No law should take us down the slippery slope of forgetting this legacy, regardless of its title.
“When Congress wants to protect religious expressions, it knows how to do so. The last major civil rights law enacted by Congress was the Americans with Disabilities Act. It contains a clear and explicit religious exemption. Why not make the law clear to promote civil rights AND religious liberty? That would be the historic and unifying thing to do.”