ACLU Testifies Against Religious Liberty Protection Act

May 12, 1999 12:00 am

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Wednesday, May 12, 1999

WASHINGTON — Testifying before a House subcommittee, the American Civil Liberties Union today warned that new religious liberties legislation could significantly undermine enforcement of state and local civil rights laws.

Speaking before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher E. Anders said that the ACLU could no longer support the Religious Liberty Protection Act because its sponsors refuse to include provisions to protect hard-won civil rights laws in many states and municipalities.

“For nearly a decade, the ACLU has fought in Congress and the courts to preserve the highest level of constitutional protection for religious liberties and free exercise of religion,” Anders said in his testimony. “But we are forced to withdraw our support for this bill because of our concern that some courts may turn its shield for religious exercise into a sword against 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.” And recent state and federal courts decisions have found that the government’s interest in protecting people against discrimination based on marital status was not compelling enough to override religious beliefs.

“The stakes are too high,” Anders said. “Congress must not leave the Act’s effect on civil rights an unresolved question.”

Warning the committee of “potentially severe consequences,” Anders said that if the Act becomes law, applicants may soon find themselves without legal protections under state and local law against 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?

“The recent court decisions suggest an impending disaster for individuals who have only recently won civil rights protections,” Anders said. “Congress must not allow decades of hard-fought civil rights victories to be destroyed.”

The ACLU’s testimony can be found at:

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