A bill that could force religious groups to hire gay employees will be debated in Congress when lawmakers return from their summer recess.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a proposed bill in the U.S. Congress that would make it illegal for employers to make decisions on hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee based on sexual orientation.
If the bill passes, "sexual orientation" would be added to a list of federally protected classes under a 1964 act that prohibits job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Though supporters of the bill contend it is simply protecting the rights of a minority group of Americans from discrimination in the work place, its opponents argue that it is in fact religious employers who disagree with the homosexual lifestyle that are being discriminated against.
"It's just a very dangerous situation when we start passing laws based on people's behaviors," said Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, to Focus on the Family's CitizenLink.
Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr., a church leader from the Washington, D.C., area, argues "sexual orientation" should not be included in the federally protected class list because unlike the other characteristics, a person's sexual orientation can change.
"I find it is an insult for myself as an African American that you are granting through this law special protection for sexual orientation that might only be imagined," said the senior pastor of the 3,000-member Hope Christian Church, during a press conference opposing ENDA.
If ENDA is passed, church-related organizations and facilities can lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to hire a gay employee, Deo of the New Jersey Family Policy Council warned.
He pointed to a case in 2007 when a New Jersey Methodist-owned camp facility refused to allow a gay couple to use one of their buildings for a civil union ceremony. The result of a court battle was the church losing its tax-exempt status for the beachfront property.
"This bill will put para-church organizations and people of faith who own secular, for-profit businesses in jeopardy of liability if they hire or fire based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions about homosexual behavior," said Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action on Friday. "This is yet another attack on religious liberty in a long string and must be stopped."