WASHINGTON – As a bill banning job discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender workers moves closer to a House vote, conservative groups are alerting Christians to take action against what they say would create a crisis for faithful Americans.
Gay rights advocates expect the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to win House approval in coming weeks but are unable to predict how the narrowly divided Senate will vote.
"We know it's going to be very close," said Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues for Concerned Women for America, according to The Associated Press.
Barber argues that while ENDA proponents say the bill is a mere extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, banning employment discrimination based upon "sexual orientation," the legislation would "actually violate the Civil Rights Act by codifying the very thing it purports to prevent - workplace discrimination."
"The bill pits the government directly against religion which is unconstitutional on its face," he stated.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, if passed, would make it illegal for employers to make decisions about hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
And while churches and the military would be exempt, conservative Christians argue that the exemption is not guaranteed and could always be modified by lawmakers or courts. But even the exemption would not protect faith-based organizations other than churches, at best, according to Barber.
"Groups such as Christian schools, Christian camps, faith-based soup kitchens and Bible book stores would be forced to adopt a view of human sexuality which directly conflicts with fundamental tenets of their faith," he stated.
"Not being able to hire people based on their agreement with your sense of the principles and values of the institution would be devastating," said Rep. Roby Blunt (R-Mo.), according to CitizenLink, a publication of Focus on the Family.
Focus on the Family, one of the largest and most influential Christian organizations promoting family and biblical values, is calling its millions of listeners and supporters to take action to oppose the legislation.
CitizenLink managing editor Stuart Shepard said that the bill is "another attempt to shut up Christians who take a stand for morality."
Warning that the title of the bill may draw supporters, Shepard preferred to "more truthfully" name the bill the "Give special rights to a few based on a 'particular behavior' and take rights away from employers – particularly Christian employers – Act."
Other critics of the bill say gay rights advocates are exaggerating the extent of anti-gay discrimination in hopes of boosting their political agenda, according to AP.
"It is affording extra protection to a group that has not been disadvantaged," said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council, a socially conservative group.
The bill needs 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to pass the Senate. President Bush has not said where he stands.