The Washington Times marked the U.S. Senate's historic vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) by publishing a column from an anti-LGBT hate group leader who baselessly asserted that the legislation permits "reverse discrimination" and doesn't truly exempt religious employers.
On November 8 - one day after the Senate voted 64 to 32 to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity - the Times granted Tony Perkins, president of the hate group Family Research Council, a platform to smear ENDA as "a major threat to liberty." Perkins attacked the bill's religious exemption as inadequate and claimed that the legislation promotes "reverse discrimination" against social conservatives:
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act contains a very narrow "religious exemption," but previous experience with similar laws and similar "exemptions" at the state and local level give little confidence that they will fully protect conscience when the law is applied. Sometimes, the enforcers will seek to limit the exemption to actual clergy but insist that church employees who do not proclaim the faith are not exempt. Some will exempt all employees of actual churches, but leave nonprofits and parachurch ministries unprotected. Sometimes, religious nonprofits are protected, but not if a significant part of their work is "secular" in nature (such as feeding the poor or educating children). In any case, any exemption is unlikely to apply to any profit-making entity -- even a religious publishing house or radio station.
Unfortunately, the mere language of a legislative "exemption" is inadequate to predict how liberal activists on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or in the courts will interpret it.
Even more alarming than the lack of a strong religious exemption, however, is the prospect that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would lead to a form of reverse discrimination, whereby anyone who expresses or promotes a view of family or morality that can be interpreted to be a disapproval of homosexual conduct or disagreement with elements of the homosexual political agenda (such as the redefinition of marriage) will be subject to retaliation and discrimination.
Despite Perkins' eagerness to frame ENDA as an unprecedented assault on religious freedom, Section 6 of ENDA explicitly exempts religious organizations, affirming that the same religious organizations exempt under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are also exempt under ENDA. Since Senate debate began on the bill, the right of religious organizations to discriminate against LGBT individuals has only been reaffirmed. On November 6, the Senate adopted by voice vote an amendment from ENDA supporter Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) prohibiting retaliation against religious organizations.
Moreover, businesses required to comply with ENDA's non-discrimination requirements won't see any loss of religious liberty. There's a stark difference between personal religious views against homosexuality and discriminatory public business practices against LGBT people. Just as civil rights protections for racial minorities don't punish private racist thoughts, ENDA won't deploy the thought police to go after religious conservatives.
But Perkins' real objection to ENDA doesn't stem from a genuine belief that the legislation imperils religious liberty. Instead, Perkins - who has called gays "evil" and "vile" - simply wants businesses to be able to wantonly discriminate against LGBT workers. After all, he makes clear that even if Congress further expanded ENDA's religious exemption, he'd still oppose it:
Regrettably, even a more robust religious-freedom exemption for businesses will not solve the problems of discrimination against religious employers and fellow employees. Such an exemption would force businesses to certify or otherwise state their religious beliefs when they previously were reluctant to do so. There should be no religious litmus test for businesses.
What's most striking about Perkins' op-ed isn't his mischaracterization of ENDA - lies have been the centerpiece of FRC's attack on the legislation - but his utter cluelessness about the realities of employment discrimination against LGBT people (emphasis added):
Even so, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is sure to resurface in the future, so it's important to understand the inherent problems in the proposed legislation. The act undermines the ability of employers to make decisions they feel are appropriate in their hiring practices. In fact, the vast majority of employers would not consider an employee's sexual orientation relevant or even want to know about an employee's sex life. However, the bill would transform the workplace into an environment in which certain lifestyles would be given a special status by the federal government. Moreover, it threatens to undermine religious expression as well.
Does Perkins really believe that the only way an employer can make judgments regarding an employee's sexual orientation is by prying into his or her "sex life"? Employers make inferences regarding workers' sexual orientations in other ways beyond inquiring about their sex lives - drawing conclusions from stereotypes about mannerisms, speech patterns, even facial features. Accordingly, ENDA bans discrimination based on both real and perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Times' willingness to allow Perkins to spew his hatred after the Senate passed ENDA for the first time in its two-decade history as a proposal is par for the course from one of the nation's most rabidly anti-LGBT opinion sections. Whether the fact-free war on ENDA waged by the Times and other right-wing media outlets successfully scuttles the bill in the House of Representatives remains to be seen.