We must continue our fight against discrimination and protect the civil rights of all Americans

Freedom of religion is a fundamental civil right for all Americans. Sadly, this freedom is often used to justify discrimination against historically marginalized groups, such as people of color, interracial couples, women, people of minority faiths, and LGBTQ people. To ensure equality and freedom for current and future generations, we must endorse legislation that provides federal civil rights to all Americans. Pro-equality bills such as the Equality Act will extend necessary protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in daily aspects of life, such as in the workplace and healthcare.

Freedoms for all Americans

Freedom of religion should acknowledge and protect the beliefs of all Americans, not just a select few. Religious pluralism, which asserts that religious belief systems can co-exist in society and should, in turn, be recognized and tolerated, best exemplifies freedom of religion. We should encourage our government to move away from a Christian-centric administration and revert to religious pluralism, which accurately reflects the diverse beliefs in our country.

Religious freedom should never be used to discriminate against marginalized communities. Such discrimination was apparent in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, which ruled in favor of a baker who refused to design a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple based on the owner's Christian beliefs. Instead, religious freedom should safeguard the right to practice religion in whichever way citizens see fit.

Likewise, all Americans deserve a non-discriminatory workplace. The Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County of 2020, for one, validated the significance of workplace protections, with even conservative judges Neil M. Gorsuch and John Roberts ruling against workplace LGBTQ discrimination in this momentous case. Evidently, there is a consensus that workplace discrimination should never be excused under the guise of religious freedom.

Nevertheless, workplace protections are being threatened by dubious legislatures. For example, the Supreme Court recently announced they would hear the Groff v. DeJoy case, which could allow religious conservatives to reject certain workplace rules. Naturally, the implications of such a case are distressing, considering it would give employers the power to impose their religious beliefs on employees of minority faiths and discriminate against historically marginalized groups. As conscientious citizens, it is our ethical duty to protect the right of all Americans in the workplace by supporting freedom for all.

The Equality Act is for everyone

All Americans should be protected from discrimination, which is why the Equality Act will include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" as protected classes under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This historic legislation, which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives twice, now needs to be voted on by our new Congress before it lands on President Biden's desk. Communities must come together to encourage senators and representatives to vote in favor of pro-equality bills like this one.

There is a common misconception that pro-equality legislation jeopardizes the protection of people of faith, yet this could not be further from the truth. Freedom of religion is already fully protected by the Constitution's First Amendment as one of our nation's most sacred values, and embracing legislation such as the Equality Act does not threaten these protections. Ministerial acts, for instance, are protected under this law, meaning churches or clergy would not be required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

What's more, the Equality Act does not undermine the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Instead, it restores the original Congressional intent to protect people of all faiths against government overreach and ensures the RFRA cannot be used to discriminate against people of minority faiths. The Equality Act also upholds existing religious exemptions currently afforded under the Civil Rights Act, such as providing reasonable exemptions for religiously affiliated organizations and educational institutions that are not open to the public.

Healthcare has also become a growing concern for many Americans in the past years. The lack of explicit laws against discrimination in healthcare is particularly worrisome, considering it remains perfectly legal in many states to deny someone healthcare because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Passing the Equality Act will ensure that all Americans, including transgender and gender nonconforming people, have unfettered access to healthcare and are treated equitably in all aspects of their lives.

At SAVE, we believe in properly adopting freedom of religion for all Americans. We must urge Congress to vote in favor of pro-equality bills while reminding our communities that such legislation not only co-exists with but embraces freedom of religion. We expect freedom of religion to become the key discussion topic for the 2023 legislation session at the federal level and in our state capitals, which is why we must remain active participants at the local, state, and national levels. Join us in our ongoing fight for equality and freedom for all Americans.

By Orlando Gonzales

Executive Director, Safeguarding American Values for Everyone (SAVE)

Published in the Orlando Sentinel on March 3rd.