Today, HRC applauded Representatives Joe Kennedy III and Bobby Scott for introducing the “Do No Harm Act.” The Act clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is intended to protect religious freedom without allowing the infliction of harm on other people.
"Religious freedom is a core American value -- and religious freedom claims should never be used as a guise for unfair and unjust treatment that undercut other people's fundamental rights," said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. "We commend Representatives Kennedy and Scott for introducing this critically important legislation that will preserve the core protections of the federal RFRA, while ensuring that it cannot be used to violate essential non-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans."
“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.”
“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.
RFRA was never meant to be a tool for discrimination or an insincere justification for powerful groups intent on harming others without consequences. The Do No Harm Act would amend RFRA and restore the original intent of the legislation by specifically exempting areas of law where RFRA has been used as a disingenuous bypass for federal regulation. These include well-settled areas of law designed to protect our most vulnerable populations including child labor and abuse, equal employment and non-discrimination, health care, federal contracts and grants, and government services.
When passed into law over two decades ago, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, was supported by a broad coalition of support including many in the civil rights community. Designed to protect minority religious groups' Constitutional right to free exercise, RFRA was welcomed as an important shield from the tyranny of majority rule.
Despite this focused, straightforward intent, individuals and even businesses have distorted RFRA's protections into a blank check to discriminate or to impose their religious beliefs on others. These claims have not only undermined the original power of RFRA to protect minority groups, but have also threatened the basic underpinnings of religious liberty and America's commitment to a pluralistic society. The Do No Harm Act will guarantee the intended, sensible balance of religious liberties, government protections, and individual rights.