Here’s a secret that has stopped the Equality Act in its tracks in the U.S. Senate. The Republicans and religious leaders have framed the subject as one of “religious freedom,” and have won that debate since our lobbyists aren’t addressing it as it should be: religious institutions wanting special rights to discriminate.

And let’s not forget the boogiemen/women they use are in our trans community. But why, you might wonder, does the religious right put up so much of a fight against the Equality Act? 

The little dirty secret, the reason churches don’t like the Equality Act is that it will shine a light on their finances, and what they use our tax dollars for. Simply put: they are afraid it will take money out of their coffers. 

The Equality Act has the support of many of the Fortune 500, unions, civil rights organizations, and human rights groups. So what’s the hold-up?  Religious organizations, primarily the Catholic Church, Mormons and Evangelicals, are putting up a lobbying and publicity campaign against its passage under the guise of “religious freedom.” That is a red herring. However, organizations such as HRC have not called them out with a coherent message. 

The Equality Act does not have any enforcement in religious practices. None of those freedom-claiming institutions would be forced to marry same-sex couples. Preaching against LGBT people would still be allowed. They would still be able to use the bible, or other religious texts, as they please without changes.  

Here’s what they are frightened of, and what they won’t be able to do. Many of the religious organizations have a good scheme going. The Catholic church, as well as others, have “charity organizations” which bring in big bucks: your tax dollars. Many are funded completely by taxes. To put it another way, many are funded by you, even though you don’t have a choice. The religious right uses their funding to discriminate against the very people who fund them. They even pay for lawyers to lobby against legislation such as the Equality Act. 

Among the religious charities include community centers, adoption agencies, child services, food pantries, and even counseling services that support conversion therapy.  And let’s not forget The Boy Scouts, who refused to have gay members. Many Boy Scout Troops were involved with the church.  

The Equality Act will ensure that these organizations, the community centers, adoption agencies, and so on, do not discriminate. How much is that worth? With the latest Paycheck Protection Program, which is supposed to support business, the Catholic church and its diocese received somewhere between 1.4 billion and 3 billion dollars. That’s billions with a B, according to the Associated Press. They received this money even though they had 10 billion dollars in reserve. How many small mom-and-pop shops lost out on PPP so the church could fill its pockets? 

So let’s put this in short form: if the Equality Act is passed, religious organizations will not have to make any changes in their churches, but the other organizations they have which receive tax dollars would not be allowed to discriminate. This is fair. This is just like any other organization or corporation that receives tax dollars. But the religious organizations don’t care about fairness. What they want is special treatment.  

There is a case before the Supreme Court right now, Fulton vs the City of Philadelphia. It’s about Catholic Social Services that will not place foster children with LGBT couples. They receive government funding. Since the Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list of non-discrimination (you know, race, creed. religion, etc.), CSS would not be allowed to discriminate against LGBT couples if the Equality Act passes. 

Ultimately, we’ve seen this play by the Catholic Church before. The Church wants to continue to spread discrimination, but more importantly, they want to do so using our tax dollars. At one point in time, they did the same to Black people and inter-racial couples, using the bible and “religious freedom” as the reason. That happened until the 1964 Civil Rights Act … which is where the Equality act will be included. 

Folks, it’s all about money.

HRC, which is doing most of the heavy lifting on the Equality Act, has to change its passive approach. It is not working. They need to get the truth out there and start the dialogue about the dirty secret of religious freedom. They need to change the debate and shine a light on what the religious organizations don’t want to be publicized: their finances.


Mark Segal is an American journalist. He is the founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News and has won numerous journalism awards for his column "Mark My Words," including best column by The National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspaper Association and The Society of Professional Journalists.


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