Congressional Democrats are coming after a decades-old law that protects people’s religious practices from the government with a new bill proposed by members of the House and Senate.
The bill, called the “Do No Harm Act,” was originally introduced in 2017 in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, which exempted religious employers from the Obamacare contraception mandate. It was reintroduced at the end of February by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Reps. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., and Bobby Scott, D-Ill., and it puts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (and the religious practitioners protected by it) directly in its crosshairs.
What does this bill propose to do? According to the press release from Kennedy’s office, the bill “would clarify that no one can seek religious exemption from laws guaranteeing fundamental civil and legal rights” by “limit[ing] 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.”
How does it plan to do this? According to the bill’s text, it would change the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by saying that the 1993 law no longer applies to “protections against discrimination or the promotion of equal opportunity.” This includes “access to, information about, referrals for, provision of, or coverage for, any health care item or service.”
Why is all that bad for the First Amendment? Under the bill, “Government laws or regulations in many areas would be completely exempt from the RFRA standard,” explains Heritage Foundation legal fellow Thomas Jipping in an op-ed. “Government could, and almost certainly would, completely ignore any impact on religious freedom. Not surprisingly, one of those areas involves ‘access to, information about, a referral for, provision of, or coverage for, any health care item or service.’”
Basically, if this passed, Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor would be right back under the next Democratic administration’s legal crosshairs, as would any other employers whose faith prohibits them from paying for abortion or contraception under the guise of medical insurance.
Additionally, federal contractors with religious beliefs that run against the Left’s orthodoxy on sex, marriage, abortion, or contraception would also be in trouble, according to the text of the bill, and it would also overturn a recent waiver from the Trump administration that allows faith-based adoption organizations to facilitate adoptions in line with their views on marriage.
Furthermore, by removing one of the strongest safeguards people of faith have against federal encroachments on their free exercise rights, the bill would leave American believers open to any number of future violations, so long as those violations are framed in terms of a class or cause somehow hurt by their religious beliefs.
“The freedom to worship is one of our nation’s most fundamental rights,” reads a statement from Harris. “That First Amendment guarantee should never be used to undermine other Americans’ civil rights or subject them to discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
Anyone who has covered the fight over religious liberty over the last few years has heard multiple variations of this talking point before. Translated for the 21st century, the sentiment pays lip service to the First Amendment, but ultimately conveys that millennia-old religious convictions should never be allowed get in the way of the progressive agenda.
Religious free exercise is not limited to speech alone, and it’s not geographically confined to the four walls of a church, synagogue, mosque or meeting house. It’s the freedom to live out one’s beliefs in daily life, including in how one conducts business, even when those beliefs come into conflict with the Left’s ever-evolving dogmas.
This bill claims to “do no harm”, but it certainly would do a great deal to the conscience rights of believers all across this country.