By Frank Lewis
November 8, 2013
PDT staff Writer
On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) amendment to strengthen the religious liberty provisions in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed the Senate by a voice vote.
“I firmly believe that no one should be subject to unjust discrimination and I support the basic premise of ENDA: People should be judged by their experience, their qualifications, and their job performance, and not by their sexual orientation. Someone should not be able to be fired just because he or she is gay. I believe ENDA will help create a level playing field and ensure that employment opportunities are available to all, but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect bill,” said Portman. “Religious liberty is an important part of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. The underlying bill includes a significant exemption for religious employers. We must make certain that in pursuit of enforcing non-discrimination, those religious employers are not subject to a different form of discrimination—government retaliation. My amendment seeks to ensure that the government cannot penalize a religious employer because it qualifies as exempt from the non-discrimination requirements of ENDA, and I am pleased that it passed the Senate.”
Portman said his amendment protects religious employers from retaliation by the government on the basis of adhering to their religious convictions, and also highlights and clarifies that protecting religious freedom is a central purpose of ENDA.
The underlying bill includes an exemption for religious employers. The Portman Amendment ensures that the government cannot penalize a religious employer because it qualifies as exempt from the non-discrimination requirements of ENDA. It protects churches and other religious employers from adverse action by the government on the basis of adhering to religious tenets, which might otherwise be unlawful under ENDA. In practical terms, the government may not use activities protected by the religious exemption as a basis to deny a religious employer a government grant or tax-exempt status or any other benefit.
The underlying bill specifies several broad purposes related to addressing employment discrimination. The Portman Amendment adds to this introductory section an explicit reference to the fundamental right of religious freedom. It establishes as a basic purpose of ENDA that workplace fairness must be balanced against and made consistent with religious liberty. And the amendment removes from the bill’s purposes section a reference to “unconstitutional” discrimination that could have led to mischief by judicial activists.
Portman’s amendment is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Dean Heller (R-NV), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and John McCain (R-AZ).
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.