Ted Cruz Wants to Use Religion to Discriminate in Our Nation’s Capital | Commentary

Posted April 13, 2015 at 4:27pm

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Opponents of reproductive freedom and LGBT rights, taking this message to heart, have been pursuing an aggressive, ever more brazen strategy of using religion to discriminate. The national uproar over Indiana’s discriminatory “religious freedom” law is the latest and most prominent example, but it is by no means the only such effort. Those who seek to use religion to discriminate also have their sight set on two recently passed anti-discrimination bills in the District of Columbia that are currently under congressional review.

Having failed to prevent their passage by the D.C. Council, opponents have turned to presidential hopeful Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and James Lankford, R-Okla., neither one of whom represents the residents of the District — to attempt to block the bills from taking effect in a misguided attempt to score political points as defenders of religious liberty.

The two bills in question, the Human Rights Amendment Act and the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act, both have a very simple, straightforward purpose: to ensure those who work and study in the District are treated fairly. And yet, opponents have intentionally mischaracterized them as “unprecedented assaults” on religious liberty. These claims are completely unfounded. In fact, these bills help to ensure employees and students in the District can follow their own religious and moral beliefs without interference.

In a statement announcing his introduction of resolutions to block the bills, Cruz said religious liberty should not end at the Potomac. We agree. Religious liberty is a fundamental American value. It guarantees us the freedom to hold any belief we choose and the right to act on our religious beliefs, but it does not allow us to discriminate against or otherwise harm others — and that’s precisely what these bills seek to prevent.

Those of us who care about religious freedom should take offense when politicians attempt to co-opt it for political gain, particularly when they do so by using religion to discriminate.

One of the D.C. bills, the Human Rights Amendment Act repeals a discriminatory, congressionally imposed provision in the District of Columbia’s nondiscrimination law that allows religiously affiliated schools in D.C. to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The provision is nearly 30 years old. While our nation has taken leaps forward in extending basic fairness and protections under the law to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, this language stands out as an ugly, discriminatory throwback. The D.C. Council was right to repeal it. This type of discrimination has no place in our laws in this day and age.

As a result of the D.C. Council’s actions, LGBT students and their allies will have equal access to school facilities and services, such as meeting spaces and bulletin boards, without requiring the schools to extend official recognition or funding to LGBT student groups on campus.

The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act, meanwhile, protects employees in the District and their families from employment discrimination based on their personal reproductive health care decisions. Everyone should have the ability to make their own decisions about their reproductive health, including whether, when, and how to start a family, without fear of losing their jobs or facing retribution from their employers.

Unfortunately, women across the country face discrimination for such choices, such as Indiana parochial school teacher Emily Herx who was fired after she and her husband used in vitro fertilization to conceive. This bill would ensure that the same does not happen to women and families in the District.

More than 50 organizations, including a number of organizations representing diverse faith traditions, joined the American Civil Liberties Union on a letter to Congress urging representatives and senators to reject any attempts to block the two bills from taking effect. Our message is loud and clear: Don’t peddle false notions of religious liberty and use it as an excuse to discriminate.

Members should take note and stand up for fairness in the nation’s capital.

Michael W. Macleod-Ball is the acting director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.