It's an election year with a lot at stake, so don't expect the Do No Harm Act, introduced recently by U.S. Reps. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) to gain much traction.
But it should serve as a reminder of what is at stake in the November general election. If Democrats are able to regain control of Congress, you can expect it to move up to the head of the line—and if adopted, you can forget about freedom of religion in the U.S.
The Do No Harm Act would clarify that no one can seek religious exemption from laws guaranteeing "fundamental civil and legal rights," Kennedy said in a statement following introduction of the bill. He added it was introduced in response to "continued efforts across the country to cite religious belief as grounds to undermine Civil Rights Act protections, limit access to healthcare, and refuse service to minority populations."
"The right of Americans to freely and fully express our faith is sacred in this country," Kennedy said. "But in order to guarantee that liberty for every citizen, our system must ensure that my religious freedom does not infringe on yours or do you harm."
Specifically, the Do No Harm Act would limit the use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in cases involving discrimination, child labor and abuse, wages and collective bargaining, access to health care, public accommodations, and social services provided through government contract. RFRA was signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.
"While not its original intent, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has become a vehicle for those seeking to impose their beliefs on others or claim that the tenants of their faith justify discrimination," Kennedy said. "The Do No Harm Act will restore the balance between our right to religious freedom and our promise of equal protection under law."
Scott said that when Congress passed RFRA, the goal was to protect religious freedom only for minority groups. He said that it has since been used to "allow the sincerely-held religious beliefs of one person to trump the civil rights of others."
"Civil rights are a compelling government interest, and we cannot allow so-called 'religious freedom,' 'religious liberty,' or 'faith-based initiatives' to invalidate the very laws designed to correct the generations of injustices inflicted on minorities," he added. "The Do No Harm Act restores the original intent of RFRA."
So far, the bill already has the support of the following groups and organizations:
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Anti-Defamation League
- Americans United for the Separation of Church and State
- Bend the Arc
- Catholics for Choice
- Center for American Progress
- Center for Reproductive Rights
- Congressional Equality Caucus
- Disciples Justice Action Network
- Equal Partners in Faith
- Equality Federation
- Family Equality Council
- Friends Committee on National Legislation
- GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders
- Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
- Guttmacher Institute
- Hindu American Foundation
- Human Rights Campaign
- In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda
- Interfaith Alliance
- Lambda Legal
- Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
- Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights
- National Abortion Federation
- National Center for Lesbian Rights
- National Center for Transgender Equality
- National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
- National LGBTQ Task Force
- National Partnership for Women and Families
- National Women's Law Center
- Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays
- Planned Parenthood
- Reproductive Health Technologies Project
- Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders
- Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US
- Trevor Project
- Unitarian Universalist Association
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