The House of Representatives on Monday adopted its rules package for the 117th Congress in a party-line vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Rules Committee Chairman James P. McGovern had announced what was coming a few days earlier. The Democratic rules package, as described by McGovern, makes “Changes [to] pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral or removes references to gender, as appropriate, to ensure we are inclusive of all Members, Delegates, Resident Commissioners and their families—including those who are nonbinary.” All “gender identities” must be honored, which means purging any words from the text of the House rules that associate a person with that individual’s biological sex at birth.
The House rules changes went far beyond replacing “chairman” or “chairwoman” with the gender-neutral word “chair.” They banish words like father, mother, son, daughter, uncle, or aunt from the House rules text. Instead, changes to Rule XXIII have substituted “gender-neutral” terms like parent, child, sibling, and parent’s sibling. Himself or herself shall each be simply referred to as “themself.”
Octogenarian Pelosi and her Democrat cohorts want to show their fellow (a gendered word?) citizens how “woke” they are. Staten Island’s newly elected Republican Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis said that she had one gender-neutral word to describe the rules changes: “ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous” was taken to a whole new level when Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), who is an ordained United Methodist minister, delivered a prayer at the outset of the first session of the 117th Congress that concluded with “Amen and a-woman.”
“Gender-neutral” words have been seeping into mainstream culture for a while. In 2019, for example, Miriam-Webster’s choice for word of the year was “they,” used in the singular form as a “gender-neutral” third-person singular pronoun. We’re seeing such use of “they” in popular music and in the media, as well as other “gender-neutral” terms.
However, there is a big difference between individuals in a free society being able to choose whether to use “gender-neutral” terms when they speak, sing or write, and what the progressive left wants – government-mandated use of such terms. Coercive manipulation of language is a way for the government to exercise mind control. As George Orwell wrote in his classic book 1984, “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it.”
The House of Representatives’ rule changes stipulating the use of “gender-neutral” words in its text is dangerous for what it may portend for the rest of us. If the progressive left has its way, we will shortly see federal legislative or regulatory action that treats the failure to use an individual’s preferred name or pronoun as a prohibited discriminatory act. We are already witnessing a disturbing trend at the local level.
For example, New York City’s Human Rights Law requires employers and covered entities such as public accommodations to use the name, pronouns, and title with which a person self-identifies, regardless of such contrary indicators as the person’s sex assigned at birth or anatomy.
Some teachers in public schools are being compelled, as the price for holding onto their jobs, to disobey their religious teachings and mouth the preferred names or pronouns of transgender students in their classes. Under any sensible reading of the First Amendment, the school authorities are trampling on these teachers’ constitutional rights. The authorities are forcing teachers to say words conveying the secular ideology of gender fluidity that is contrary to the teachers’ beliefs. In at least one case, however, a federal district court judge nominated by former President Barack Obama decided that a teacher forced to choose between adhering to his religious faith or holding onto his job had no valid constitutional claims.
Former Attorney General William P. Barr said, in a 2019 speech he delivered at the University of Notre Dame, that “we have seen the law used aggressively to force religious people and entities to subscribe to practices and policies that are antithetical to their faith. The problem is not that religion is being forced on others. The problem is that irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.”
Punishing someone for not using politically correct words in addressing or referring to transgenders puts freedom of religion and freedom of speech on the chopping block.
The U.S. Supreme Court took a couple of actions last year that transgender advocates are scoring as major victories for their cause. First, there was last June’s majority decision written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, which ruled that gays and transgenders could not be fired on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Court reached this result by interpreting federal law protections prohibiting workplace discrimination “on the basis of sex” broadly to cover discrimination against gays and transgenders. The decision left the issue of religious exemptions open for future cases. On December 7, 2020, the Supreme Court decided not to take up an appeal challenging a policy that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. In between, several lower federal courts ruled in favor of transgender plaintiffs who had raised claims of sex discrimination in health care, schools, and sports.
James D. Esseks, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, praised the Supreme Court’s inclusion of gays and transgenders within the scope of federal protection against workplace discrimination. The ACLU is looking to extend this protection through judicial rulings to “every context under federal law where sex discrimination is prohibited,” such as education and health care. Some activist federal district court judges are obliging.
The ACLU and other transgender advocates are not limiting their social justice activism to the courts, however. To ensure that there are no “gaps” in protections for transgenders, the ACLU and its partners are pressing for the passage of the so-called “Equality Act.”
In the last session of Congress that has just concluded, the House of Representatives passed a version of the Equality Act, which prohibited discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in a wide variety of areas. Transgenders would have the legal right to use the bathrooms and participate in the sports teams of their choice, irrespective of any contrary state or local rules that make distinctions based on an individual’s biological sex at birth. As the Heritage Foundation pointed out, the bill turned “individuals’ beliefs about their sexual orientation and gender identity into protected classes under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act.” The bill prohibited the use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to provide a claim, defense, or basis for challenging such protections.
The House’s bill died in the Senate. But transgender advocates are gearing up for more concerted efforts to pass the Equality Act during the current session of Congress, with the backing of a Biden-Harris administration. The new House rules for the 117th Congress incorporating gender-neutral words are just a first step in that direction. The Democrat-controlled House, even with its thin majority, is likely to pass the Equity Bill once again. Shudder the thought of what will happen if Chuck Schumer becomes the Majority Leader of the Senate.
If passed, executive agencies in a Biden administration and liberal activist courts will have a field day interpreting the Equality Act to prohibit speech offensive to transgenders as a form of discriminatory harassment. Doctors may be forced to prescribe puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones, and to perform “sex-reassignment” surgery. Mental health counselors who believe that gender identity confusion is a condition that can be resolved with therapy may be prohibited from offering such therapy to parents concerned about their confused child’s well-being. Faith-based adoption and foster care agencies may be required, against their religious beliefs, to place a child with an openly transgender couple. The list goes on and on.
Even without such a law, Joe Biden could sign executive orders to accomplish pretty much the same thing. The progressive left base of his party will be all over Biden to do it.
When it comes to weighing deference to transgender sensibilities against fundamental constitutional freedoms of religion and speech, there should be no contest as to which should prevail when there is a conflict. However, transgender sensibilities are already winning in today’s “woke” culture. The progressive left is seeking to codify offenses against these sensibilities into law or regulations and executive orders. They may well succeed unless they are stopped by a majority of Supreme Court justices courageous enough to reaffirm the First Amendment’s protections against the progressive left’s assault. With Justice Amy Coney Barrett on the Court, there is more hope this will happen so long as there is no packing of the Court.