Do No Harm Act reintroduced in House

Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts. AP Photo, Michael Dwyer.

Washington, D.C. – With the support of leaders from the civil rights, social justice and faith communities, Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, today reintroduced 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.

“Inherent in our nation’s right to religious freedom is a promise that my belief cannot be used to infringe on yours or do you harm,” said Congressman Joe Kennedy III. “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was intended to protect against such distortions of faith, not to justify them.

“Unfortunately in recent years, that legislation has been used as cover to erode civil rights protections, equal access to health care and child labor laws. In the face of mounting threats from an Administration that continues to back away from civil rights protections, the Do No Harm Act will restore the sacred balance between our right to religious freedom and our promise of equal protection under law.”

Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) introduced a bill to prevent discrimination based on religious freedom. AP Photo, Steve Helber.

“RFRA has increasingly been used as a means to undermine the core rights of others under the guise that those rights interfere with the sincerely held religious beliefs of some,” said Congressman Bobby Scott. “Civil rights are a compelling government interest and worthy of our strongest support under the law and should not be superseded in the name of religious liberty.”

In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in response to a Supreme Court case undermining the rights of religious minorities. But in recent years, the misapplication of RFRA has been used to deny health care coverage for employees, claim exemptions to civil rights law, and complicate justice in child labor and abuse cases. 

“We applaud Congressmen Bobby Scott and Joe Kennedy for introducing the Do No Harm Act,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value enshrined in our Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But claims of religious freedom should not be used as a license to discriminate. The Do No Harm Act is simple – it continues to protect religious liberty, but also protects victims of discrimination. There can be no religious exemption from basic human dignity.”

“The Do No Harm Act will protect the religious freedom of all Americans and we are proud to support it. Our country is strongest when we are all free to believe or not, as we see fit, and to practice our faith without hurting others,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Although RFRA certainly provides important protections for religious exercise, some have used it in ways that harm and deny other people’s rights. RFRA, of course, was never intended to do that. Our laws should be a shield to protect religious freedom and not a sword to harm others.”

“Religious freedom does not give anyone the right to discriminate. Numerous cases have shown that RFRA as written can lead to unacceptable civil rights violations,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. “President Trump’s religious liberty executive order signed on May 4 lays the groundwork for RFRA to be further misused as a license to discriminate. It’s now more important than ever to pass the Do No Harm Act to prevent discrimination under the guise of religious liberty.”

“Religious freedom is a core American value. However, religious freedom claims should never be used as a guise for unfair and unjust treatment that undercut other people's fundamental rights,” said David Stacy, Government Affairs Director of the Human Rights Campaign. “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.”

For full text of the Do No Harm Act, please click here.

The Gayly – July 13, 2017 @ 4 p.m.