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Religious Freedom at risk in Illinois


1/22/2005 9:02:00 AM by Dave Smith -


"If that is their goal, to discriminate against gay people, this law wouldn't allow them to do that. But I don't believe that's what the Catholic Church wants or stands for." - SB 3186 sponsor Carol Ronen (D-Chicago)


It is interesting to observe how absolutely subdued the dominant media has been about the apparent violations of religious freedoms posed by the "gay rights" bill SB 3186, which was recently rushed through a lame-duck Session of the Illinois General Assembly. (The bill passed out of a conference committee in the afternoon of January 10th, passed out of the Senate that same evening. It was then passed in the House in the afternoon on January 11th. This was all done within a 24-hour period.)


The Illinois media is usually very quick to champion stories relating to civil rights. Issues that include the First Amendment Right to Free Speech are especially near and dear to their hearts. But when it comes to religious issues and defending the liberties of people of faith, especially conservative evangelicals and traditional Catholics, the media cannot be found.


We already know that SB 3186 will prohibit discrimination against people on the basis of "sexual orientation" (i.e., homosexuality and bisexuality) and "gender-related identity" (transsexuality/gender non-conformity such as cross-dressing). It thereby would create a new class of citizens who are specially protected based on their aberrant sexual behavior. But what has been conveniently overlooked in the rush to bestow government protection to perverse sexual and gender behavior is the right of American citizens and places of worship to practice their religious beliefs without the interference of government permission, control or mandate.


Sen. Ronen: Churches Not Exempt


Here is the issue: the day after the bill passed in the General Assembly, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the chief sponsor of Illinois' "gay rights" bill, State Senator Carol Ronen (D-Chicago), purposely refused to add an exemption for faith and values-based organizations, saying that they must be held to the same anti-discrimination standards as the rest of society.


The Sun-Times quotes Ronen as saying, "If that is their goal, to discriminate against gay people, this law wouldn't allow them to do that. But I don't believe that's what the Catholic Church wants or stands for. I don't believe this law will impact their being able to carry out their mission and do the work they need to do."


Did Sen. Ronen ever consider that it is not her role as a politician to interpret age-old religious teachings on moral issues like homosexuality?


The fallout from SB 3186 cannot be understated.


This bill, if signed into law, will sacrifice the right of every Illinois citizen to practice their faith as they see fit (as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by Article 1, Section 3 of the Illinois Bill of Rights).


Businessmen, entrepreneurs, and community leaders-not to mention churches, synagogues, mosques, religious schools and religious businesses-who employ more than 15 people (the "small business" exemption in the bill) will now have to disregard their faith and religious teaching to embrace an irreligious and amoral mandate by government.


The Illinois Bill of Rights guarantees: "The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination, shall forever be guaranteed, and no person shall be denied any civil or political right, privilege or capacity, on account of his religious opinions" (Article 1, Section 3 of the Illinois Bill of Rights).


SB 3186's intention, as stated by its sponsor, is to force public acceptance of sexual behavior irrespective of those who morally or conscientiously object to the homosexual lifestyle-and irrespective of State and Federal constitutional safeguards of religious freedom. This means that religious or values based organizations which refuse to hire avowed homosexuals can be charged with discrimination because of this proposed new law covering "sexual orientation" (homosexual, bisexual, or "transgendered" behavior).


What legislators and media pundits missed is obvious: requiring anyone or any organization to violate its own moral teachings and values system, even in the name of anti-discrimination and tolerance, is itself an act of discrimination and secular intolerance.


Pro-family advocates like Illinois Family Institute, Focus on the Family, and Concerned Women for America have long recognized the inherent danger of "gay rights" bills like SB 3186 to undermine our religious liberties and freedom of conscience. Now legal experts acknowledge the apparent conflict here. The Illinois law firm Ungaretti & Harris, which specialized in labor and employment issues, published an analysis of SB 3186 that reads in part (emphasis added):


"While many such municipal prohibitions on sexual orientation discrimination expressly exempt religious organizations from their coverage, the new amendment to Illinois' Human Rights Act does not. The question inevitably presented by this omission is whether the Bill will be applied to compel religious organizations to set aside convictions about homosexuality when making employment decisions.


Although at least one religious leader, Zachary Wichmann, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, has been quoted as stating that his organization was assured the Bill would not be so construed, principal legislative sponsor, Sen. Carol Ronen (D-Chicago), has gone on record with her view that it bars all covered employers, including religious organizations, from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.


"Thus, while adding another protected status to Illinois' Human Rights Act, the measure may ultimately force courts to consider and balance its ban on sexual orientation discrimination with State and Federal constitutional safeguards of religious freedom."


Pastors, church leaders and citizens who hold moral convictions and want to preserve freedom will realize the tyranny of this legislation, sooner or later. Until then, Illinoisans are faced with a law that encourages religious discrimination while favoring perverted homosexual behavior.


David E. Smith is a senior policy analyst for the Glen Ellyn-based Illinois Family Institute





Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved