DO NO HARM: House Democrats Seek To “Correct” Federal RFRA Law With Amendment Banning Discrimination On Religious Grounds

Via press release:

Joined by leaders from the civil rights, social justice and faith communities, Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Congressman Joe Kennedy III (MA-04) today introduced legislation to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Do No Harm Act would clarify that no one can seek religious exemption from laws guaranteeing fundamental civil and legal rights. It comes 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.

Specifically, the Do No Harm Act would limit the use of RFRA 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.

“When Congress passed RFRA in 1993, the goal was to protect religious freedom for minority groups by requiring the government to demonstrate a compelling interest and to use a policy that was the least restrictive means,” said Congressman Bobby Scott. “Since then, the law has been misconstrued as allowing 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. The Do No Harm Act restores the original intent of RFRA.”

“The right of Americans to freely and fully express our faith is sacred in this country,” said Congressman Joe Kennedy III. “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. 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. The Do No Harm Act will restore the balance between our right to religious freedom and our promise of equal protection under law.”

Lambda Legal reacts:

Today, U.S. Reps. Joseph Kennedy (D-MA) and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) introduced the Do No Harm Act, a long-overdue correction to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that amends the law to clarify that it does not permit the use of religion to discriminate, force religious beliefs on another or impose dignitary harm on someone else. Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel and Director, Law & Policy Project, Lambda Legal, issued the following statement:

“Since long before the LGBT civil rights movement even started, our communities have been targeted by religion-based efforts to condemn, control, and restrict the lives and equal opportunities of gay and transgender people, same-sex couples, and people living with HIV. In recent years, too many of those who oppose the equality and inclusion of LGBT people have insisted upon religious exemptions from laws providing nondiscrimination and other protections everyone should have at work, at school, in medical offices and in social services.

“As Hobby Lobby, the recent non-decision in Zubik and the cascade of state-level discriminatory and distortive religious exemption bills demonstrate, the federal RFRA law absolutely needs this clarification. Congress never intended RFRA to become, perversely, a tool for rejecting others. The Do No Harm Act is an urgently needed course correction.”

See the full Do No Harm Act.