U.S. commission belittles religious freedom laws, says they discriminate against transgender and gay communities

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which has no legislative or enforcement authority but influences federal policy, has condemned the spate of recent laws which have sought to keep biological males out of multi-occupancy female restrooms and safeguard the religious liberty of those who object to supporting same-sex marriage with their labor.

In a statement April 18, the Commission said it opposes the laws because they "target members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ('LGBT') community for discrimination" under the guise of "so-called 'religious liberty.'"

In particular, the statement hits at North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory who signed HB 2 into effect earlier this month. The preamble to that law made it clear that the provision applied only to government institutions in the state, but also addressed the use of multi-occupancy restrooms only.

Those born biologically male are prohibited under the law from using multi-occupancy female restrooms, and those born biologically female are prohibited from using multi-occupancy male restrooms.

The law also specifically addressed the state's supremacy in law making, ruling that individual municipalities could not establish regulations that overruled state law.

According to the USCCR, however, the law "repeals existing municipal anti-discrimination laws which protected LGBT people from bias in housing and employment" because it added "biological sex" as a category under which no discrimination could take place.

The law, USCCR said, jeopardizes the dignity and "actual physical safety" of transgenders "whose appearances may not match societal expectations of the sex specified on their identification documents."

The Commission also hit and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who signed a sweeping religious liberty law into effect (HB 1523). That law protects citizens who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds and do not wish to participate in supporting the practice with their labor or ministerial duties.

According to the USCCR, it also "clears the way for employers to cite religion in determining workplace policies on dress code, grooming and bathroom access. The physical safety concerns for transgender people are the same as in North Carolina."

More laws like those in North Carolina and Mississippi are waiting in the wings, the Commission said, as part of "a larger alarming trend to limit the civil rights of a class of people using religious beliefs as the excuse."

A larger report will follow in the days to come, the statement said:

"The Commission recently approved a report, which will be released shortly, on the issue of religious liberty. In our findings and recommendations the Commission makes clear:

  • Civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination, as embodied in the Constitution, laws, and policies, are of preeminent importance in American jurisprudence.
  • Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights.
  • Overly broad religious exemptions unduly burden nondiscrimination laws and policies. Federal and state courts, lawmakers, and policy-makers at every level must tailor religious exceptions to civil liberties and civil rights protections as narrowly as applicable law requires."

The Commission's chairman, Martin R. Castro, claimed in the statement that religious freedom had been used in the past to block racial desegregation and other anti-discrimination laws.

"Those past efforts failed and this new attempt to revive an old evasive tactic should be rejected as well. The North Carolina and Mississippi laws, and similar legislation proposed in other states, perverts the meaning of religious liberty and perpetuates homophobia, transphobia, marginalizes the transgender and gay community and has no place in our society," Castro said.

Castro, a Democrat, is a former campaign bundler for President Barack Obama and one-time chair of the Illinois Human Rights Commission.