Editor’s note: The following statement was issued by the USCCB and published on its blog July 17, 2014. In the image above, President Obama signs executive orders July 21, 2014 meant to protect homosexual employees from federal workplace discrimination. (Photo Credit: AP)

The Washington Post reported July 8 that the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups were no longer supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The reason, said the executive director of one of the lead organizations: the Hobby Lobby decision opens the door for private companies to determine that “LGBT people are not equal … and fire them.”

But the Hobby Lobby decision does no such thing. The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court was an application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which requires that, if the federal government wants to impose a “substantial burden” on the religious exercise of its citizens, it must prove that the burden serves a “compelling government interest” and does so by the means “least restrictive” of religious exercise.

The decision was the Court’s recognition that in the case of the HHS contraceptive mandate the government failed to use the “least restrictive means” of providing coverage for certain contraceptives. The Court deliberately said nothing about whether the government had a “compelling interest” in requiring that coverage. In any event, the current debate about ENDA does not focus on its interplay with RFRA, but instead on whether ENDA itself should have any exemption for religious employers—as all prior versions have—and if so, how broad it should be.

So what is really the matter with ENDA according to these groups?

They argue that ENDA in its current form would leave religious employers free to “discriminate” based on their religious convictions. They argue that religious people cannot “impose” their morality on others. This ignores the fact that these advocates themselves seek to impose their morality on religious people and runs directly counter to the religious diversity that modern societies aspire to.

As Pope Francis wrote: “A healthy pluralism … does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism” (Evangelii Gaudium no. 255).

To dismiss concerns about religious freedom in a misguided attempt to address unjust discrimination in the workplace is not to advance justice and tolerance. Instead, it stands as an affront to basic human rights and the importance of religion in society.

The U.S. legacy of religious freedom has enabled the Catholic Church and other faith communities to exercise their religious and moral convictions freely and thus contribute to the good of all in society. No good can come from removing this witness from our social life.

This also makes a July 8 letter to President Obama about a proposed ENDA executive order rather remarkable: it is from religious leaders who argue against religious freedom protection in ENDA. One would expect these leaders to defend the rights of all people—even those who may disagree with them—to act according to deeply-held religious beliefs and moral convictions about the dignity of the human person and the purpose of human sexuality. Instead, these faith leaders go the opposite direction in the name of “anti-discrimination.”

Indeed, discrimination is already happening to those who advocate for religious liberty protections. Just after the president of evangelical Gordon College signed a coalition letter asking President Obama to include such protections in a proposed ENDA executive order, the college became the subject of review by its higher education accrediting agency.

Unjust discrimination against any one—whether that person experiences same-sex attraction or is of a particular religion—harms us all. But ENDA is simply not a good solution to these problems and, as the Bishops explained last November 7, it should be opposed.

Instead of protecting persons, ENDA uses the force of the law to coerce everyone to accept a deeply problematic understanding of human sexuality and sexual behavior and to condone such behavior. The current proposed ENDA legislation is not about protecting persons, but behavior. Churches, businesses and individuals should not be punished in any way for living by their religious and moral convictions concerning sexual activity.

Eliminating truly unjust discrimination—based on personal characteristics, not sexual behavior—and protecting religious freedom are goals that we all should share. The current political climate makes it very difficult to maintain a reasonable dialogue on these contentious issues, but we must keep trying.

Lobbying for coercive laws that violate freedom will not promote justice in the workplace. Nor will it advance the common good to seek to silence debate about sexual morality. We, like all Americans, wish there was an easy way forward. There is not. But there is an honest one. And it starts with the unflinching commitment to the inherent dignity of every human person, and to the “healthy pluralism” we all wish to share.


Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco chairs the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage at the USCCB. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore chairs the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami chairs the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Bishop Richard J. Malone chairs the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

  • fredx2

    Keep in mind the radical nature of what Obama has done. Since the First Amendment protects religious freedom, we have always given exemptions to religious organizations when it comes to the various federal discrimination laws.. This is the way we do business in the U.S.

    We do this because of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause,and because it makes no sense to force a religious organization, (whose purpose is spiritual and moral rather than to make money) to hire people who are opposed to their mission, and seek to undermine it by the lives they live.

    Obama has gone way out of his way to hurt religious organizations. It is done with spite, and to use Justice Kennedy’s words Windsor, with an intent to “demean” and “humiliate” religious organizations. The intent is to punish them for holding ideas contrary to what Obama and the Democrats have defined as “right thinking”. Therefore, without any imput from the Congress or the people, Obama has moved unilaterally to punish religions that don’t share his views.

    Law Professor Jonathan Turley, who is considered a strong liberal, has objected to the high handed manner Obama has taken in many areas. Ini testimony before Congress, he said:

    “JONATHAN TURLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The danger is quite severe. The problem with what the president is doing is that he’s not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system. He’s becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid. That is the concentration of power in every single branch.”

    And in another interview, he said:

    “…And what we’ve been seeing is the shift of gravity within that system in a very dangerous way that makes it unstable, and I think that’s what the president is doing. I think that we’ve become a nation of enablers. We are turning a blind eye to a fundamental change in our system. I think many people will come to loathe that they remained silent during this period….I’m afraid this is beginning to border on a cult of personality for people on the left. I happen to agree with many of President Obama’s policies, but in our system it is often as important how you do something as what you do.

    And I think that many people will look back at this period in history and see nothing but confusion as to why people remained so silent when the president asserted these types of unilateral actions. You have a president who is claiming the right to basically rewrite or ignore or negate federal laws. That is a dangerous thing. It has nothing to do with the policies; it has to do with politics.”

    • slainte

      “…. Since the First Amendment protects religious freedom, we have always given exemptions to religious organizations when it comes to the various federal discrimination laws….”
      What the state giveth, the state may taketh away.

      • DE-173

        And this is why USSCB needs to examine its role in creating in creating this monster. For decades, they never met growth in the government they didn’t support, and even the slightest discussion of restraint was met with howls of disapproval.
        I smell a boiling frog.

  • BillinJax

    “We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who
    stand with us on issues that are important to us.” Obama to Latinos, October

    • DE-173

      Ahh, the unfettered market of political exchange.

  • GHM_52

    I guess we are now paying the price for our years’ long complicit silence on all things having to do with moral sexual behavior.

  • Fred

    Politics aside, as hard as that is, I wanted to thank you Bishops for being strong voices. I do firmly believe that there are very evil forces at work trying to destroy decency and create division to tear us apart, however, as a Catholic Christian I also see Christ calling out like never before to bear witness to the way, the truth, and the life. It is hard indeed to bear the cross while being spat upon and cursed (figuratively mostly), but the world is crying out in pain and what are we to do. It does help to have strong leaders, but we of faith must also be strong and not be complacent.

  • tamsin

    We need to continue the effort to rehabilitate the word “discriminate” by using the prefix “just” and “unjust” as in this letter from the bishops.

    The word “discrimination” has been made radioactive, into a thing always and everywhere to be resisted without further rational thought, after we rationally stopped discrimination based on race. The left is using its radioactivity to make discrimination based on behavior radioactive. Reinforced by a materialist culture which teaches that sexual behaviors are irresistible expressions of the healthy self.

    But the distinction between race (unchosen) and behavior (chosen) is still key, derived from our understanding of free will, distinguishing man from animal.

    I read the July 8 letter from “faith leaders” to the White House in support of executive ENDA action without religious (i.e. moral) exemptions, apparently because discrimination based on sexual behavior is not moral. Not that these moralists are trying to impose morals on anyone.

    Quite the list of discriminators appealing to their faith in discriminating against harmful behaviors they imagine will be engaged in by federal contractors.

    My head is spinning; I’ll stop now.

    • DE-173

      It’s funny the people who think employers are just willy-nilly acting with arbitrary caprice, never wonder about creating that danger with the state. Employers aren’t monopsonists, and they don’t have the power to tax, conscript or incarcerate.