US

PA Sex Orientation Bill Would Threaten Religious Liberty, Opponents Say

A bill in Pennsylvania that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s current Human Relations Act would affect employers and religious groups throughout the state and opponents argue it would be a threat to religious liberty.

SB 1306 would add the special statuses of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the decades old Human Relations Act, according to the bill’s language.

SB 1306 would force employers to open their sex-specific locker rooms, showers and restrooms to the opposite biological sex in places of employment throughout Pennsylvania, according to Liberty Counsel, one opponent of the bill.

The legislation would also make it illegal for churches, religious schools and other organizations to only hire employees that agree with their teachings on sexuality, marriage and gender.

“Religious organizations in Pennsylvania have the right under current state law to hire people who believe as they do and act consistent with those beliefs,” said Jonathan Alexandre, director of public policy for Liberty Counsel, in a prepared statement on Thursday.

Alexandre presented testimony at the hearing opposing the proposed legislation, refuting the comparison of sexual orientation and gender identity to race.

“This bill strips that right away from religious employers, using an utterly false and offensive comparison to someone’s skin color. They want you to believe that, if a religious organization didn’t hire such a person, it would be no different than refusal to hire a person because of skin color. This is a lie. The color of my skin is not a feeling or desire. It is not something I can choose to act on or not act on. I simply am black,” said Alexandre.

Professor Katherine Franke, of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project of Columbia Law School, testified on the bill and indicated there would be no additional language needed to protect religious freedom if sexual orientation and gender identity were added to the Human Rights Act.

“This proposed bill presents a serious threat to religious liberty because it would give the government power to interfere with core religious values of churches and religious organizations,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel.

The PA Family Council is also opposed to the bill and on its website the group highlights the “numerous infringements” on religious freedom and privacy rights.