D.C. council eliminates religious schools’ protection from gay discrimination suits
A vote December 2 by the Washington, D.C., City Council could compel private religious schools and universities in the nation’s capital to allow groups that oppose the schools’ moral values access to their campuses, programs, and funds.
The council voted to eliminate faith-based schools’ 25-year-old legal protections from discrimination lawsuits as part of a “human rights amendment.” Barring an act of Congress, D.C.’s religious schools will likely have to go against their religious values when it comes to permitting use to their campuses or programs.
The city’s rules hold that it’s “unlawful discriminatory practice” to limit any use of facilities, services, or programs based on “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.” With the religious exemption, Washington D.C. religious schools had been able to restrict finances, amenities and approval from individuals and groups “organized for, or engaged in, promoting, encouraging, or condoning any homosexual act, lifestyle, orientation, or belief.”
Lawrence J. Morris, general counsel for the Catholic University of America, told LifeSiteNews the university does not anticipate making any policy changes because of the city council’s action, and is communicating with the city to advocate for religious freedom before the act becomes law.
“We are continuing to engage with the City on the matter and hope that the Mayor takes seriously his opportunity to send a message in support of religious freedom by vetoing the measure when it reaches his desk,” Morris said.
The provision at hand, The Nation’s Capital Religious Liberty and Academic Freedom Act, was written 25 years ago as result of Georgetown University’s refusal to recognize a pro-homosexual student group. It was put in place as part of a federal appropriations bill to protect religiously-affiliated schools or those “closely associated with the tenets of a religious organization.”
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The city council passed the “Human Rights Amendment of 2014” on December 2, and Congress has 30 days to annul the action.
Michael Scott, director of the District of Columbia Catholic Conference, had given a written statement in October to the city council in favor of the exemption, telling the council its repeal would be an “unjustifiable violation of these schools’ rights to advance their sincerely-held religious beliefs regarding human sexuality.”
“The [Human Rights] Act disregards one of our nation’s first and most cherished freedoms, the right to exercise religion free from government interference,” Scott said.
Scott also indicated at the time that it remains to be seen whether the exemption’s repeal would, in addition to schools, also negatively affect seminaries or other religious educational programs.
Morris told LifeSiteNews if the new law repealing the religious exemption does go into effect, it would have to be read with respect for the First Amendment, “which permits us to operate our religious university in accordance with our deeply held religious beliefs.”
The university doesn’t expect to initiate a suit on the exemption, Morris said, but if it ends up in court he said the university would defend its rights and raise the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.