The U.S. Supreme Court last week ruled against the notion that the government has the ability to compel an individual to engage in speech violative of their firmly held beliefs, and in response, President Joe Biden has implored Congress to take action to thwart what he suspects could be an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, as Fox News reports.
Biden's concerns come in the aftermath of the high court's decision in the case of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, an outcome he believes demonstrates the need for lawmakers to pass legislation referred to as the Equity Act.
As National Review explains, the case at issue involved a graphic designer in Colorado who planned to grow her business by offering wedding website design services, but who was also concerned that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission would force her to provide those products to same-sex couples, a concept that ran afoul of her firmly held convictions.
Once it was established that the type of content at issue fell under the umbrella of “pure speech,” the court held – by a margin of 6-3 – that the state government could not compel the web designer to provide those services, no matter if her beliefs were disfavored by the Commission.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion, “The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands.”
The dissenting justices – all on the liberal wing of the court – contended that the ruling paves the way to state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, a theme with which the president appears to agree.
In public remarks made after the high court's decision was handed down, Biden slammed the ruling and declared the need for legislative action at the federal level.
Biden began, “In America, no person should face discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love.”
“While the Court's decision only addresses expressive original designs, I'm deeply concerned that the decision could invite more discrimination against LGBTQI+ Americans. More broadly, today's decision weakens long-standing laws that protect all Americans against discrimination in public accommodations – including people of color, people with disabilities, people of faith, and women,” Biden added.
The president continued, “When one group's dignity and equality are threatened, the promise of our democracy is threatened, and we all suffer. Our work to advance equal rights for everyone will continue. That is why we must pass the Equality Act, which will enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law and strengthen public accommodations protections for all Americans. I urge Congress to swiftly send this legislation to my desk.”
The legislation at issue is designed to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act in order to explicitly outlaw discrimination rooted in gender identity and sexual orientation, and though it has been introduced by lawmakers a number of times in the past, it has yet to secure passage by both chambers.
Just last month, the legislation was reintroduced once again by a cadre of Democratic members of Congress, who lamented the need for such action, but deemed the proposed protections necessary safeguards for the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans.
A press release from Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY-12), a longtime proponent of the bill, stated that the Act would amend existing law to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals in a host of areas, including “employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit, and jury service.”
The statement added that the measure “would also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in public accommodations and federally funded programs, while expanding the definition of public accommodations in the Civil Rights Act, strengthening protections not just on the basis of sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics), but also on the basis of race, color, national origin, and religion.”
However, conservative advocacy groups have argued that the Equity Act is a deceptively named piece of legislation that will have the effect of hindering the rights of women and girls and will also permit the government to compel speech in a manner contrary to the First Amendment.
Last week, in an op-ed published in Newsweek, Christiana Kiefer of the Alliance Defending Freedom outlined what she believes are the risks posed by the legislation Biden is championing.
According to Kiefer the addition of “gender identity” language to federal laws preventing discrimination will result in males identifying as females being permitted to compete in women's athletics, would force homeless shelters to admit males into female areas, provided they identify as women, and could ultimately force medical professionals to participate in abortion procedures regardless of their beliefs.
Noting that the Act would also likely eliminate “critical protections” for the free speech rights of creative professionals such as the web designer in the 303 Creative case, Kiefer declared, “[t]olerance is a two-way street, and in a diverse society like ours, we all must respect the rights of those with whom we disagree. The Equality Act would do the opposite.” Whether Biden's plea for congressional action on the measure gains any traction in the current political environment, only time will tell.