An evangelical leader representing the nation's largest association of Christian media professionals warned lawmakers Wednesday of the devastating blow that a highly contentious bill would deal to faith-based organizations and Christian ministries if passed.
In a testimony before Congress, Craig Parshall, senior vice-president and general counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters, said the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 (ENDA) would "impose a crippling burden on religious organizations" as it prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of "actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity."
Though the bill purports to contain an exemption for religious groups, Parshall testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor that the language, from a legal standpoint, is a "mirage," and would subject faith groups to "endless, expensive, and harassing litigation" where the courts would be forced to use a previous legal formula in future law suits against religious organizations – a formula that has proven ineffectual in protecting religious liberty.
In making his case, Parshall referred to legal disputes such as Spencer v. World Vision, Inc., Leboon v. Lancaster Jewish Community Center Association, and EEOC v. Townley Eng'g & Mfg. Co. - cases in which faith-based organizations had to prove that they were religious in nature, purpose, or function as it was not apparent in the services they performed.
"What has resulted is a sad pattern of inconsistent and complex decisions which render very scant religious freedom to faith groups but which have sent a chilling pall over their activities not to mention their budgets," Parshall said.
In concluding his testimony, the NRB leader noted the historical roots under-girding faith-based objections to ENDA-type legislation.
"Christian ministries that object to those sexual preferences which are in clear violation of the standards of the Bible are standing on a long and well-worn road," he said. "Those doctrines are proscribed in both the Old and New Testaments and have endured for several thousand years. The rights to preach and practice those beliefs spring from a Bill of Rights that is two hundred and twenty years old, and in turn which reach back to hundreds of years of English common law."
Following Parshall's testimony, Dr. Frank Wright, NRB's president and CEO, pointed out the political hypocrisy in the current debate, calling ENDA a classic "bait and switch" of Washington politics.
"[I]t purports to address discrimination, all the while visiting a pernicious viewpoint discrimination against people of deep religious conviction," Wright noted. "In the final analysis, ENDA is an attempt to subjugate First Amendment freedoms while advancing the political orthodoxy of the liberal left."
Though ENDA was first introduced in 1997, bills prior to the latest had made little progress in Congress.
This time, supporters of the bill believe that they have enough votes in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to pass ENDA into law. President Obama has also indicated that he would be likely to sign ENDA into law.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ohio) recently introduced S. 1584 in the Senate, which is a companion bill to H.R. 3017.