In a unanimous vote earlier this week, the D.C. Council passed legislation repealing “the exemption allowing religiously-affiliated educational institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.” The repealed exemption (2-1402.41) read:
(3) Notwithstanding any other provision of the laws of the District of Columbia, it shall not be an unlawful discriminatory practice in the District of Columbia for any educational institution that is affiliated with a religious organization or closely associated with the tenets of a religious organization to deny, restrict, abridge, or condition —
(A) the use of any fund, service, facility, or benefit; or
(B) the granting of any endorsement, approval, or recognition, to any person or persons that are organized for, or engaged in, promoting, encouraging, or condoning any homosexual act, lifestyle, orientation, or belief.
The impact of the repeal is likely to be broad, since the city’s Human Rights Act will prohibit religious schools from acting in accordance with their beliefs regarding sexual morality in decisions related to funding, facilities, campus organizations, benefits, etc. The schools cannot even withhold “endorsement, approval or recognition” of those promoting messages at odds with the religious teachings of the school about appropriate sexual conduct.
While other states have been acting to protect religious liberties, D.C. is trying to narrow the permissible decisions and even speech of religious schools. It is a warning that carefully constructed compromises on anti-discrimination bills are only temporary.
Congress should immediately act to restore this basic, narrow limitation on the power of D.C. to interfere with the teachings and practices of religious schools.