Leaders of faith-based institutions warned The Daily Signal on Tuesday that the Democrat-led Respect for Marriage Act, which is expected to be voted on by the Senate Wednesday, would hack away at the religious freedom of faith-based groups.

HR 8404 “provides statutory authority for same-sex and interracial marriages,” repealing provisions that define marriage as between a man and a woman.

The legislation, which was passed by the House in July, also “repeals and replaces provisions that do not require states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states with provisions that prohibit the denial of full faith and credit or any right or claim relating to out-of-state marriages on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin,” allows “the Department of Justice to bring a civil action,” and “establishes a private right of action for violations.”

Democratic advocates say the legislation promotes equality, but religious leaders warn that it explicitly targets people of faith.

Stephen Minnis, president of the Catholic Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, warned The Daily Signal that “Catholic institutions will have a tough time living our faith under this legislation.”

“In fact,” he said, “giving religious institutions a tough time seems to be the point of the legislation. But the U.S. Constitution guarantees free exercise of religion, not just expression of religion. Benedictine College is committed to those rights, following the U.S. bishops, who joined an amici brief to defend our position this summer.”

Rabbi Yaakov Menken, the founder of Project Genesis and the managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, said in a Tuesday phone interview that the so-called Respect for Marriage Act is the federal government “explicitly declaring the Bible is wrong,” noting that the legislation allows “any private actor to initiate a lawsuit if a religious school wishes to recognize only traditional marriages.”  

The act “means exposing our community to a host of bad actors willing to engage in litigation,” Menken said. “The Jewish community is used to periodic efforts to misuse the law to abuse our rights to live according to our religion.” 

“Here you have a piece of legislation that exposes every traditional Jewish practitioner of anything to potential litigation,” he warned.

Richard Callahan, a pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in North Carolina, described the legislation as “an assault.”

“It is asking pastors and school administrators and parents to condone what God has condemned,” he told The Daily Signal in a Tuesday phone interview.

The government can “make same-sex marriage legal, but it will never be moral, and we will never be able to defend that, but it’s government reaching in and taking from us the free exercise of religion,” added Callahan, who is also president of the North Carolina branch of the American Association of Christian Schools.

Roger Severino, vice president of domestic policy at The Heritage Foundation, condemned the legislation in a Tuesday statement that accused Democrats of “threatening to empower woke activists inside and outside of government to attack people of faith with this bill that will be used as a cudgel against those who believe in the reality of marriage as between a man and a woman.”

“This bill provides no benefit or protection that same-sex couples don’t already have,” he warned. “All this bill does is target people of faith who don’t support woke ideology.” (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation)

Severino praised a “robust religious liberty amendment” introduced by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, saying that it would “provide real protection for religious liberty and could address some of this bill’s massive problems.” 

“Americans were told that same-sex marriage was about live and let live, yet now liberals are going out of their way to undermine the religious freedom of millions of Americans,” said Severino. “No matter how the Left spins this, this legislation sets a national policy for same-sex marriage that would declare open season on people of faith. Americans deserve to have their First Amendment rights protected, not attacked.” 

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