WASHINGTON — A Christian legal organization is warning that the recent repeal of an exemption that allowed private schools in Washington, D.C. to adhere to their convictions about sexuality will have a “severe impact on religious liberty.”
Liberty Counsel reports that the D.C. City Council passed the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014 this week, which does away with an exemption afforded to faith-based schools to live out their beliefs on homosexuality. The exemption is better known as the Armstrong Amendment, which was passed by Congress in the 1980’s.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of the laws of the District of Columbia, it shall not be an unlawful discriminatory practice in the District of Columbia for any educational institution that is affiliated with a religious organization or closely associated with the tenets of a religious organization to deny, restrict, abridge, or condition the use of any fund, service, or benefit; the granting of any endorsement, approval, or recognition, to any person or persons that are organized for, or engaged in, promoting, encouraging, or condoning any homosexual act, lifestyle, orientation, or belief,” it read.
But D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells proposed this year to repeal the religious exemption as he believed that it made provision for persons of faith to discriminate against homosexuals.
“A law that would allow such discrimination, including of transgender people, must be rejected,” he stated during a hearing over the matter earlier this fall. “I’m proud to say this bill will do that.”
But Liberty Counsel, which has offices in Washington, Virginia and Florida, sent a letter to city council this week stating that the repeal would in effect violate the constitutional rights of faith-based schools in forcing them to accept behaviors that they believe are sinful.
“The First Amendment directly prohibits government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion,” the letter read. “[A]ttempting to impose
employment regulations on church schools and religious schools whose doctrines and sincere religious convictions forbid homosexual or cross-dressing affiliation and employment is flatly unconstitutional.”
“It … cannot be gainsaid that the proposed act would severely infringe upon the religious free exercise rights of churches, religious organizations, and their associated religious schools,” it continued. “It would force them (under penalty of law) to violate their own beliefs and the teachings of Scripture when hiring teachers and staff, or when deciding to allow the use of their property, such as a sanctuary, fellowship hall, or classroom, for activities consistent with those organizations’ religious beliefs.”
In light of these concerns, Liberty Counsel finds the passage of Wells’ Human Rights Amendment Act to be dangerous.
“This vote will have a severe impact on religious liberty in our nation’s capital,” warned Founder and Chairman Mat Staver in a press release on Thursday. “Religious schools and church-affiliated schools must now choose whether to obey God or to obey government. In addition, if signed into law by the mayor, the law will trample the First Amendment rights of counselors to provide, and patients to receive, counseling consistent with their religious beliefs.”
“The unfortunate irony here is that this bill was passed in the name of ‘human rights.’ By restricting religious freedom, a fundamental human right, this bill is injurious to human rights and equality. It is my hope that Mayor Gray will refuse to sign this bill into law,” he said.
In addition to repealing the exemption for religious schools, the council also banned counselors in the city from engaging in reparative or conversion therapy.
“Liberty Counsel will continue to stand with the churches, schools, therapists, and families of Washington, D.C., in opposition to this restriction of religious freedom,” Staver said.
Photo: Andrew Weisman