ACLU Urges Congress to Protect Civil Rights and Religious Freedom

July 15, 1999 12:00 am

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


WASHINGTON — After the House narrowly defeated an amendment designed to protect civil rights, the American Civil Liberties Union today called on the Senate to amend the Religious Liberty Protection Act to ensure it protects both civil rights and religious freedom.

“Unless the bill is amended, the legislation will undermine civil rights laws that protect the rights of racial minorities, unmarried couples, single mothers and gays and lesbians,” said Christopher Anders, a legislative counsel for the ACLU.

“For nearly a decade, the ACLU has fought in Congress and the courts to protect religious freedom,” Anders said. “But we are concerned that unless the legislation is amended, some courts may turn its shield for religious exercise into a sword against civil rights.”

The amendment, sponsored by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would have ensured that RLPA does not lead to large landlords and businesses using religion as a justification for discrimination. It failed on a vote of 234 to 190. After the vote on the Nadler amendment, the House voted 306 to 118 to send the bill to the Senate.

During hearings on the proposal last year, proponents specifically said 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 who have discriminated on the basis of marital status to use state religious liberty laws to avoid state and local civil rights laws.

Applicants may soon find themselves without protection 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? Is your spouse the same race as you?

“The Senate now has the opportunity to safeguard two traditions Americans hold dear — equal rights and religious freedom,” Anders said. “Unfortunately, if the Senate passes the legislation without any changes, it will instead move our country backwards, to a time when many people had no protection from invidious discrimination.”

An ACLU analysis of the legislation 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.