Religious groups are joining forces to breathe life into the Equal Rights Amendment and to push back against conservative white evangelicals opposed to granting women full legal protections under the U.S. Constitution.
About 50 Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other faith leaders issued a joint statement Feb. 25 urging Congress and the White House to advance the measure.
They want federal lawmakers to approve bipartisan legislation filed in both the House and Senate in January to remove the 1982 deadline, which passed without ratification by the minimum number of states required. However, three more states have since ratified the ERA, giving it the 38 states needed.
“We call on the current Congress to pass and the president to approve legislation that removes the time limit that the 92nd Congress imposed on the ratification process,” the interfaith statement reads. “We further call on Congress to acknowledge the force and effect of all 38 state ratifications now on record, including those of Nevada, Illinois and Virginia. We call on the National Archivist to fulfill his ministerial duty and publish the ERA as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution, now that it has been duly ratified by three-fourths of U.S. states.”
Organizers also hosted a virtual media briefing to introduce the statement and to provide moral and theological support for efforts to support the ERA.
Regardless of faith tradition, leaders who participated in the briefing said the Constitution as currently written violates core religious teachings by failing to recognize the full personhood of women.
‘“Imago dei’ teaches us we are made in the image and likeness of God, and understanding that conviction means that any kind of discrimination and any kind of assault on the dignity of women is an affront to our faith,” said Sojourners President Adam Taylor.
When the amendment is placed into the Constitution, Congress will be able to pass laws addressing matters of unequal pay for women, sexual assault and domestic violence, he said. “Ratifying the ERA is truly a moral imperative. Our laws must uphold this truth that we are all created equal with dignity and worth.”
Taylor cited several New Testament passages in support of the measure, including the Apostle Paul’s writing in First Corinthians that when one part of the body suffers, all other parts suffer with it.
“When any woman is harmed, we are all harmed,” he said. “When any woman is discriminated against, we are all discriminated against. … I cannot be fully free until all women are fully free.”
Rabbi Beth Singer, the spiritual leader at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, noted that the statement release and media briefing were happening just hours before the start of Purim, a holiday commemorating the biblical Queen Esther’s courage in thwarting an effort to exterminate the Jews in ancient Persia.
The story highlights a woman in Scripture knowing how and when to use her power. Proponents of the ERA also must have the courage to act, Singer said. “I believe with all my heart our Constitution will be amended to guarantee the rights of women, and we are coming together to make that happen now.”
It is an imperative for Jewish people to stand up for the oppressed, Singer said. “We, too, are motivated by our Torah, which says God created man and woman in his image, and we are motivated by the need for legal recourse when discrimination occurs.”
Discrimination is bound to continue under the U.S. Constitution as it currently stands, said Ani Zonneveld, president and founder of Muslims for Progressive Values.
She noted the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s interpretation that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment does not and should not prohibit discrimination based on sex.
Worse still is that the Constitution continues to enshrine the dehumanizing views of women that prevailed at the time of its writing, said Allyson McKinney Timm, founder and executive director of Justice Revival, a faith-based nonprofit that seeks to mobilize Christian communities around social justice causes.
At that time, women were considered wards of their husbands and enjoyed legal protections “a little better than the family dog,” she said. The ERA must be adopted “to stop mincing words and acknowledge that women are fully human and should enjoy full citizenship in our country.”
But powerful forces are at work against the ERA — just as there were in the 1970s and 1980s, said Lisa Sharon Harper, founder of Freedom Road, a faith-based training and consulting group.
Conservative Christian activist Phyllis Schlafly famously opposed the measure and led a successful campaign to prevent its full ratification.
It’s important that supporters act swiftly now, Harper said. “It has been 40 years since the ERA was halted in its tracks by white conservative Christians trying to protect white patriarchy. … It is time for the United States Constitution to agree with God. It is time to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.”
But she also expects conservatives to mobilize against the current Congressional legislation. “I think the strategy on the right will be to politicize this issue. They will want to maximize the deep political divide that exists.”
Zonneveld added that she’s also heard concerns about the amendment from conservative Muslim congregations in the U.S. Their worry is that the ERA may undermine their freedom of religion.
McKinney Timm said she’s heard the religious freedom concern, too. But she believes it is baseless: “We don’t see that threat at all from equality. The ERA puts all individual rights on an equal footing.”