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Church responds to Equality Act, urging for religious freedom protection

FILE: The Draper temple. (Photo: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publicly responded to the Equality Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week, calling for a more equitable solution and increased protections for religious institutions. 

The act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual or gender identity, has elicited strong criticism from some Republicans for lacking substantial protections for religious liberty. Some of Utah’s representatives, including Sen. Mitt Romney and Rep. Chris Stewart, indicated they would not support the legislation until certain religious protections could be provided. 

In its statement released Saturday, the Church pointed back to its stance in 2019 — when the Equality Act was first passed by the House, but later failed in the Republican-led Senate — as its current view. 

“We could support legislation that provides protection for LGBT persons as well as people and institutions of faith,” said Doug Andersen, Church spokesman, in a statement. “Both are possible and clearly required in a just society.”

In its 2019 statement, the Church opposed the Equality Act because of the perceived conflicts between the federal government and religious beliefs. Church leaders argued the legislation did not promote “fairness for all” because it did not provide any “protections for religious freedom.”

“It would instead repeal long-standing religious rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, threaten religious employment standards, devastate religious education, defund numerous religious charities and impose secular standards on religious activities and properties,” Church leaders said in 2019. “The Church joins other religious organizations that also strongly oppose the Equality Act as unbalanced, fundamentally unfair and a path to further conflict.”

Andersen said Church leaders support legislation that provides both religious and transgender equality — similar to a resolution introduced by Rep. Stewart. 

HR5331, introduced to Congress in December 2019, aimed to bridge the gap by prohibiting discrimination based on gender and sexual identity, while providing exemptions to religious organizations. 

The legislation would exempt churches from claims of employment discrimination, allowing religious leaders to uphold their moral values. 

“The Church supports legislation, like that introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart, that accomplishes both of these critical requirements and is confident that a balanced, fair, and unifying approach can be achieved,” Andersen said.