Medical, legal experts warn of Equality Act's impact on parents, kids and religious freedom
Legal and medical experts and concerned parents have warned that the Equality Act, which passed in the House Thursday, will have lasting implications on children, parental rights, and religious freedom if it becomes law.
The 500-plus page bill, which passed by a vote of 224-206 adds sex, gender identity and sexual orientation to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The measure was reintroduced in the House where it was first passed in 2019 before it stalled in the Senate. It adds sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories in nondiscrimination law. The measure also strips away key religious liberty provisions and conscience protections in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Its effects would be far-reaching because it redefines “public accommodation” to include “any establishment” that provides a service, including churches, shelters operated by religious groups, faith-based adoption agencies, and educational institutions associated with religious denominations and associations.
The three Republicans who joined Democrats in voting for the measure included Reps. Tom Reed and John Katko, both of New York, and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
During a virtual event hosted by the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday, Rep. Vicki Hartzler, R-Mo., and Autumn Leva of the Family Policy Alliance, detailed various concerns they have about the Equality Act and its implications for Americans if it's passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Joe Biden.
Other speakers at the Heritage event were Maria Keffler of Partners for Ethical Care, Dr. Michelle Cretella of the American College of Pediatricians, and Greg Baylor of Alliance Defending Freedom.
Hartzler, a former teacher and track coach, explained that the bill, if enacted, would erase all the gains that women have made in athletics by allowing trans-identified males to compete in girls' sports. Thus far, 20 states have introduced legislation intended to keep sports sex-segregated.
If the bill becomes law “we won’t have women’s sports that are fair,” added Hartzler, who derided it as the “Inequality Act.”
Parental rights are also in serious jeopardy with this potential law, she continued. If the Act passes in the Senate it will filter down to what is taught in public school classrooms and parents won't be able to object to content because it will be seen as a discrimination issue.
Similarly, parents' rights to make healthcare decisions for their children would erode with the Act, according to Hartzler, referencing a 2018 case where a judge removed custody from the parents because they objected to their 17-year-old child being prescribed experimental cross-sex hormones.
“If this passes nationwide we could see parents facing a similar situation all over the country,” she said.
Hartzler is supporting the Heritage Foundation’s Promise To America’s Children, a national movement the think-tank has put forward to oppose the Equality Act and, more broadly, the imposition of gender ideology on children in the public sphere.
The Promise, as Heritage states, aims to “create and support laws that will protect children’s health, safety, and families — especially their relationships with their parents, who have the primary responsibility to love, protect, and educate them.”
During the 90-minute House debate over the bill on Thursday, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., claimed the Equality Act posed no threat to religious freedom and that such concerns being raised by Republicans were “ridiculous.”
Maloney then accused the bill’s opponents of using religious freedom as a ruse to conceal their “pro-discrimination against gay people.”
In response to Maloney’s accusations, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, declared: “Here it is, on page 25. It says specifically, ‘The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 shall not provide a legal basis for a claim’ [against a religious discrimination charge].
“The founders said in the first right, in the First Amendment to the Constitution, you can practice your religion as you see fit. But right here in their bill today, the Democrats say ‘No you can’t,’” Jordan asserted.
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., also derided Republicans’ religious freedom arguments as nothing more than “transphobia,” “homophobia,” and “hate,” The Epoch Times reported.
During the Heritage Foundation's panel Tuesday, Cretella of the American College of Pediatricians noted how the issue of gender dysphoria in children has become politicized. It's this politicization that she says has corrupted the entire profession of medicine.
The vast majority of medical professionals, therapists, and counselors believe that the best course of treatment for the condition is to first take a very thorough psychological assessment of the child in pursuit of underlying factors, she explained.
“Those in authority over the medical education system and directives to practicing physicians now recommend that all children, regardless of their age, be affirmed in their gender confusion. We are essentially gaslighting children into the lie that they could be born in the wrong body,” Cretella said in her remarks.
This, then, will put them on a medical pathway in which their normal puberty will be chemically arrested and will be followed up by opposite-sex hormones, she added. The combination of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones yields potentially lifelong sterility.
“We already have physically healthy girls as young as 13 being referred for double mastectomies. This is institutionalized child abuse," she asserted. "We are taking emotionally troubled youth, psychologically abusing them by reinforcing their gender-sexual confusion, and then experimenting on them with toxic drugs and mutilating surgeries.”
Cretella has been contacted by doctors both domestically and internationally who say that it is now “career-ending” for them to suggest to a family or to their colleagues in a professional setting that these dysphoric children need a psychological assessment.
“Cancel culture has arrived in medicine and psychology and it’s very frightening,” she said.
Asked what she thinks could happen in 10 years should the Equality Act become law, Cretella said medical professionals who object to gender-transitioning of children and believe in the principle of “first do no harm” will be eliminated from practice. The ones you’ll be left with are the ones who believe in “experiment first, ask questions later.”
Maria Keffler noted that among the most concerning aspects of radical gender ideology that is all the rage in culture is how young schoolchildren are being instructed by teachers using curricula that is not factual or rooted in science.
“And we’re teaching this to our children en masse. It’s shocking when you see what’s being done in the schools ... and where it’s coming from. ... It’s about making money. It’s about furthering an agenda.
"Children are being taught from kindergarten upward that some boys have a vagina, some girls have a penis, and that kids can be any gender they want to be, she continued.
Keffler recounted that she has heard stories of elementary school children being asked to stand up in class to tell everyone about their “gender identity.”
She added that she can no longer, in good conscience, say that public schools are safe places for children. Many people still don't realize how dire the situation has become, she asserted, especially as some school officials advise teachers to deceive parents by allowing students to lead double lives by portraying an opposite-gender identity while at school.
The Equality Act will exacerbate this highly politicized approach within medicine, psychology, education, and other professional fields, according to Greg Baylor of Alliance Defending Freedom.
Because of the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in nondiscrimination provisions, any entity that receives federal taxpayer dollars is subject to such policies. Among the largest recipients of taxpayer funds are public schools.
When asked whether religious freedom protections outlined in federal law would be preserved if the Equality Act becomes law, the ADF attorney noted the lack of religious exemptions in the bill. At the state and local level where similar statutes have been adopted, such carve-outs are present.
“But with the Equality Act you have none of that, there is no exemption for religious employers, there is no exemption for religious foster care providers, there is no exemption for religious schools.”
It is debated whether existing legal provisions can protect certain religious entities from discrimination claims, such as Title VII in the Civil Rights Act, the section pertaining to employment and section in the Fair Housing Act, the provisions of which would likely apply to religious colleges that have sex-segregated dormitories.
But the most destructive feature is how the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is impacted, he said, a law that was passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis and signed into law by former President Bill Clinton. The Equality Act expressly forbids invoking RFRA from the portions of the civil rights laws that it amends.
This previous approach to religious liberty is “gone, I’m afraid,” he said, “and it’s even to the point of essentially repealing large chunks of RFRA.”
When a federal law conflicts with state law, federal law wins, he said. Thus, if a state statute establishes that males who identify as female cannot participate in girls' scholastic sports, the Equality Act’s revisions to Title XI would trump the state law.