Professor Katherine Franke Testifies in Pennsylvania Senate Hearing on Employment Discrimination

Senate Bill 1306’s Anti-Discrimination Measures for LGBT Workers Do Not Necessitate Added Protection for Religious Freedom, Franke Says
New York, Aug. 30, 2016—Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke, a leading expert on marriage equality and other LGBTQ issues, testified before the Pennsylvania Senate’s Labor and Industry Committee today on a proposal to add religious liberty protections to a bill assuring equal employment opportunities for the state’s citizens.
Franke testified that current language contained in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions, and Pennsylvania’s Religious Freedom Protection Act provide “ample protection to the religious liberty rights of faith-based employers in Pennsylvania.”
“Thus it is unnecessary to build further accommodations of religious belief into Senate Bill 1306,” said Franke, the Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia, director of the Center on Gender and Sexuality Law, and author of Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality.
If adopted, SB 1306 would provide anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Human Relations Act, but withdraw those provisions—along with existing protections contained in municipal, county, and state law—where they conflict with a religious entity’s beliefs.
“Significantly, a provision of the Amendment states that it should not be construed to permit a religious entity to discriminate on the basis of race, color, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, or disability—in other words, nearly any protected class aside from sexual orientation, gender identity and expression,” Franke said. “Thus the clear purpose and effect of the Amendment is to shield from liability religiously-motivated discrimination against LGBT Pennsylvanians that would otherwise violate state or local law.”
Franke spoke on behalf of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP), a project at Columbia Law School that brings legal academic expertise to the multiple contexts in which religious liberty finds itself in tension with fundamental rights to liberty and equality. Franke is the PRPCP’s faculty director.