ACLU Cautions Senate to Protect Both Civil Rights and Religious Liberty

June 23, 1999 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


WASHINGTON — Testifying before a Senate panel, the American Civil Liberties Union today cautioned that any new legislation designed to protect religious liberty must not also undermine state and local civil rights laws.

Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher E. Anders said that the ACLU has long supported both religious freedom and civil rights.

“For nearly a decade, the ACLU has fought in Congress and the courts to protect religious freedom,” Anders said in his testimony. “But any legislation designed to protect religious freedom must also preserve the state and local laws that have long safeguarded Americans’ civil rights.”

During hearings on the proposal last year, Anders said that proponents specifically stated their belief that the legislation “could and should be used as a defense to civil rights claims based on gender, religion, sexual orientation and marital status.”

Recent state and federal courts decisions have allowed landlords nationwide who have discriminated on the basis of marital status to use state religious liberty laws to avoid state and local civil rights laws.

The ACLU withdrew its support for religious liberty legislation under consideration in the House “because of our concern that some courts may turn its shield for religious exercise into a sword against civil rights,” Anders said.

“The stakes are too high,” Anders said. “Congress must not pass legislation that leaves the effect on civil rights an unresolved question.”

The ACLU and other groups are eager to work with the Judiciary Committee to pass legislation that protects both religious freedom and civil rights, Anders said.

Warning the committee of “potentially severe consequences,” Anders said that legislation under consideration by the House severely jeopardizes state and local civil rights laws. Under that legislation, applicants may soon find themselves without subjected to landlords or employers who base their hiring or rental decisions on personally invasive questions such as: Is that your spouse? Are those your children? Are you straight or gay? Are you pregnant? Are you HIV positive? What is your religion?

Anders testimony can be found at:

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in National Security

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About National Security

National Security issue image

The ACLU’s National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.