Tag archives: Religious Liberty

The Real “Fairness for All” is Freedom from Government Coercion

by Peter Sprigg

September 12, 2019

Concerns about religious liberty are one of the chief obstacles to passage of “non-discrimination” laws that would make “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (“SOGI”) into protected categories at the local, state, and federal level. Only 20 of the 50 states have enacted SOGI protections for both employment and public accommodations, and a comprehensive (and radical) federal bill, the Equality Act (H.R. 5), has stalled in the Senate since its passage in May by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, a Democrat who voted for the Equality Act, recently told that state’s Deseret News that he thinks the bill “still needs work”—and he supports a so-called “compromise” called “Fairness for All.” The theory is that both “LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights” and “religious liberty” could be protected by enacting a single bill that includes both SOGI protections and religious exemptions.

The model for “Fairness for All” proposals at the federal level is the “Utah compromise” that was adopted by that state’s legislature in 2015. It added SOGI protections to the state’s nondiscrimination laws regarding employment and housing (public accommodations were omitted), while creating exemptions for religious non-profit organizations and protections for some employee speech.

Unique factors in Utah—notably, the power and influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which endorsed the “compromise”—make it doubtful whether this approach could be replicated elsewhere. LGBT groups at the national level seem determined to press forward the existing Equality Act, which contains no religious liberty protections and explicitly strips away those that might be asserted under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Nevertheless, because some may be tempted to believe that such a “compromise” provides a “win-win” solution in the clash between LGBT rights and religious liberty, it is important to reiterate why we believe this would be a serious mistake.

First, the fundamental presumption behind “Fairness for All” is that there is a balance or symmetry between “rights” or “protections” for people who identify as LGBT and “rights” or “protections” for people of faith. This is a fallacy. The “free exercise” of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment, but there is no provision of the Constitution that references sexual orientation or gender identity.

The fundamental rights found in the U.S. Constitution—such as freedom of speech and the press and the free exercise of religion—do not place any limits on the actions of private individuals and organizations; on the contrary, they protect such actions against interference by the government. “Civil rights” laws that bar discrimination in employment and public accommodations, however, do not merely limit the government; they place a restriction upon the action of private entities (such as small businesses) in carrying out their private activity.

There is a place for non-discrimination laws (especially regarding characteristics that are clearly inborn, involuntary, and immutable, such as race). However, the burden of proof in every case must rest on those who seek to increase the number of categories or characteristics protected under such laws. That’s because the extension of laws against private discrimination is less a “win-win situation” than a “zero-sum” game. When one (such as an employment applicant) wins more protection, another (the employer) actually loses a corresponding measure of freedom.

The most publicized cases highlighting the clash between LGBT non-discrimination laws and religious liberty in recent years have involved businesses in the wedding industry that are owned and operated by Christians who prefer not to participate in the celebration of same-sex weddings. (Although one such business, Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop, won an important decision at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, the decision was on narrow grounds and did not settle this area of the law.) It is not clear that religious liberty protections in any proposed compromise legislation would protect these businesses.

The wedding industry cases are by no means the only context in which this conflict arises, however. There have been cases challenging the right of Christian adoption agencies to decline to place children with same-sex couples; cases where Christian counseling students were punished for declining to affirm and support homosexual relationships; and cases in which Christian employees of government agencies were fired for privately expressing disapproval of  homosexual conduct. It is not clear that any of them would be protected by such “Fairness for All” proposals.

Further, “gender identity” protections would undermine the rights of organizations and businesses to set dress and grooming standards or have separate private spaces (e.g., in bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, dormitories, etc.) for biological men and women. These rights stand ready to be compromised by “Fairness for All” proposals.

Family Research Council believes that combining religious liberty and special privileges for sexual orientation and/or gender identity (SOGI) is unsustainable, for three primary reasons.

1)      It is wrong, in principle, to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories, because they are unlike historically protected categories such as race. Historically, protections were reserved for characteristics that are inborn, involuntary, immutable, and innocuous, such as race, and/or in the U.S. Constitution (such as religion). None of these criteria apply to the choice to engage in homosexual conduct or the choice to present one’s self as the opposite of one’s biological sex.

2)      There is no religious exemption that would be acceptable to LGBT activists and would also be adequate to fully protect against all the likely threats to religious freedom.

3)      Non-discrimination laws always implicate moral beliefs. They send the message that it is morally wrong to disapprove of homosexual or transgender conduct. For such laws to be endorsed by citizens who believe that it is morally wrong to engage in homosexual or transgender conduct is a logical contradiction.

What would truly reflect “Fairness for All” would be to reject SOGI laws containing special privileges, and allow real religious liberty—the freedom to hold to one’s personal beliefs and to act on them without government interference or coercion.

Eighth Circuit: Minnesota Can’t Force Small Business to Make Same-Sex Wedding Videos

by Peter Sprigg

September 5, 2019

National media gave scant attention to an important court decision on August 23. The ruling in Telescope Media Group v. Lucero, by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, was another landmark in the ongoing debate about whether governments can force small businesses in the wedding industry to participate in same-sex weddings, over the conscientious objection of their owners.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, a baker who had declined to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. However, the court ruled that Phillips had been a victim of specific anti-religious discrimination by the Colorado tribunal that sought to punish him, so they did not definitively address the fundamental free speech concerns that his attorneys had raised.

Telescope Media Group (TMG) is a business founded by Carl and Angel Larsen, videographers who wished to create a business that would make wedding videos, and in the process promote natural marriages between one man and one woman. They sued Minnesota public officials to prevent them from using the Minnesota Human Rights Act to force the couple to make videos of same-sex weddings as well.

In a 2-1 decision, the 8th Circuit panel ruled in the Larsens’ favor, saying that “the First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say.” Perhaps that’s why it was largely ignored by the national media.

The breakdown of the vote also shows how important judicial appointments are. The opinion was written by David Stras, a 45-year-old Trump appointee, on the bench since January 2018. He was formerly on the Minnesota Supreme Court (having been appointed by former Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty). The other judge in the majority was 67-year-old Bobby Shepherd, appointed by George W. Bush and on the bench since 2006. Meanwhile, there was a dissent by Judge Jane L. Kelly, a 54-year-old Obama appointee who has been on the bench since 2013.

This was on appeal of the District Court’s decision to deny a preliminary injunction, so it is not a final decision on the merits. However, it is an encouraging decision in that it is based squarely on the free speech claims (or in this case, the right to be free from government-compelled speech) made by the plaintiffs. The court also accepted a “hybrid rights” claim incorporating the free exercise of religion.

Since precedent has established that videos represent a form of speech, whether the principles articulated would apply with equal force to bakers or florists may still have to be argued in other cases. However, the fact that this case was decided (at least for now) on free speech grounds, rather than the anti-religious discrimination grounds used in Masterpiece, makes it a stronger precedent for those concerned about protecting free speech and religious liberty.

What the LA Times Gets Wrong About Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber , David Closson

August 21, 2019

Last week, the Department of Labor issued a proposed rule clarifying the rights of religious employers to contract with the government without being forced to violate their religious beliefs. After decades of court decisions and disparate interpretations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is no wonder that some religious organizations are fearful of working with the federal government because they don’t have clarity on what they can and can’t do. It makes sense that the Department of Labor would want to clarify their rights now.

Yet yesterday’s Los Angeles Times’ Editorial Board threw cold water on this idea, claiming the proposed rule would “dramatically expand the [religious liberty] exemption,” which they believe makes “little legal sense” and threatens to erode what was “once broad and bipartisan support for the idea that the government should accommodate sincere religious convictions.”

Yet are these gripes accurate? Hardly. In reality, as the proposed rule makes clear, the Department of Labor is simply aligning its interpretation of religious exemptions with years of federal court decisions and the definitions in Title VII itself. For years, Title VII has protected religious people from a wide array of faith groups equally. So what is the LA Times so scared of? The reason seems revealed in the title: “Trump’s new ‘religious freedom’ rule looks like a license to discriminate.”

Unfortunately, the assumption of the LA Times appears to be that Christian conservatives are using religious freedom as a “pretext for discrimination.” Yet LGBT issues are not specifically addressed anywhere in the proposed rule. It is the idea that LGBT-related claims might be affected by religious freedom claims that has the LA Times up in arms. If the editors read the rule more carefully, they would see that it actually addresses sincerity as an important component of a religious freedom claim, and “conceal[ing] discrimination” has been dealt with by courts assessing these Title VII claims. The LA Times and others espousing this line of thinking don’t get to pick and choose when religious freedom applies. It either does or it doesn’t, and if the Title VII definitions were acceptable for decades, they should still be acceptable today.

Religious freedom is a virtue that benefits the common good; it does not favor Republicans over Democrats or Roman Catholics over Muslims. Thankfully, the Trump administration recognizes these basic truths and is protecting religious employers of all faith backgrounds. If the LA Times researched how the Title VII religious exemption has functioned in the past, it would see that it benefits various religious minorities in a host of different circumstances. Indeed, one of the cases referenced in the proposed rule—LeBoon v. Lancaster Jewish Cmty. Ctr. Ass’n—features a Jewish organization. Just a few years ago, the Supreme Court—in an opinion authored by Justice Scalia—applied Title VII to protect a Muslim employee’s rights against her employer.

Thus, to argue that faith-based organizations should not be able to run their business according to their religious beliefs represents a truncated view of religious freedom. There is no legitimate reason that a faith-based organization should lose out on a federal contract for simply adhering to their religious beliefs, and the proposed rule is right to remedy that.

The LA Times editorial is a reminder that people from all religious backgrounds must continue to help shed light on the reality that religious freedom is a good that serves all people.

California Wants to Force Teachers to Propagate the LGBT Agenda

by Nicolas Reynolds

August 2, 2019

Parents across the country are rightfully concerned about efforts in the public school system to indoctrinate their children with a leftist agenda. In California, the LGBT lobby is taking this effort a step further: attempting to indoctrinate teachers.

Offered as an attempt to create a “safer environment” for LGBTQ students, A.B. 493 would require junior high and high school teachers to receive training on how to “support” students struggling with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. However, this “training” of teachers to “mentor” such students looks much more like state-sponsored, politically-correct coercion. This piece of legislation strong-arms public school teachers who are Christian to violate their consciences, affirming beliefs contrary to their sincerely-held religious beliefs.

To ensure all teachers leave their religious convictions at the door, specific “training”—adhering to curriculum written by “leading experts in supporting LGBTQ pupils”—is required to be taken by every junior high and high school teacher in public schools. Additionally, this training requires “sustained input and participation” from teachers, guaranteeing that teachers are understanding and complying with the LGBTQ agenda. The training required by this bill is a blatant violation of a teacher’s right to think freely and counsel adolescents according to their genuine and true religious worldview.

Two school districts in California (Moraga School District and Unified School District) have already implemented this “training” for teachers. Those having undergone the training have explained how the sessions did far more than merely inform teachers about how to counsel pupils who identify as LGBTQ. Rather, teachers were asked invasive questions regarding their own personal upbringing, such as whether or not they were raised to “believe there are two genders,” and if their “parents ever discuss[ed] choices… of gender.” Teachers that explained that their parents taught biblical (and scientifically correct) beliefs like the binary nature of sex were shamed and told their views were backward and wrong. Trainees were given additional information about how to deal with LGBTQ-identifying students and were explicitly told that they must keep a student’s sexual orientation and identity secret from parents. 

Though no school can or will ever replace the necessary nurturing that a family gives a child, teachers are sometimes the only ones that can come close to giving students the objective wisdom and care that they are tragically not receiving at home. A.B 493 would successfully ban all junior high and high school teachers in public schools from giving any ounce of honest guidance about sexual orientation and gender identity to students who come and ask them for direction. As mandated by the bill, teachers would be required to affirm LGBT identities and refer students to activist organizations.

 A.B. 493 undermines the ability of students to receive proper care and desecrates teachers’ rights to govern themselves according to their religious convictions. Partner with FRC and lend your voice in opposition to this destructive piece of legislation that deviates from the core principles this country was founded upon. If you or someone you know lives in California, click here to take action and oppose this bill that indoctrinates public school teachers.

Nicolas Reynolds is an intern at Family Research Council.

New York is the Latest State to Trample on the Hopes of Foster Children

by Kayla Sargent

July 31, 2019

When I was about eight years old, some family friends of mine fostered (and eventually adopted) a severely neglected 18-month-old girl. She was placed in foster care after her parents, both addicted to drugs, would not change her diaper or feed her, sometimes for days on end. When she first entered the custody of her new foster parents, she gorged herself at mealtime until she became sick because for her entire life, she never knew when or from where her next meal would come.

Most children in the foster care system have suffered unimaginable trauma. The 500,000 children in foster care are significantly more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other developmental and behavioral issues compared to children who do not spend time in the system.

One might think that, at the very least, ensuring that children have a roof over their heads and three meals a day would not be a political issue. One would think that everyone would want these children to have the best care possible. And one would think that faith-based adoption agencies, given the emphasis that the Bible places on caring for widows and orphans, ought to be able to help provide for these children without fear of religious persecution.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

New Hope Family Services of New York is suing the state after being given an ultimatum by the state’s Office of Child and Family Services stating that they would have to start “placing children with unmarried couples and same-sex couples” or they would be “choosing to close.” It is not because they are not providing adequate care to children, or because they are unable to place children in homes, but because they refuse to allow same-sex couples or couples who are unmarried to adopt.

They are not alone. Across the nation, Christian organizations that believe children belong with a mother and a father are being forced to close their doors because of alleged “discrimination.” In 2018, the state of Illinois forced Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Springfield to close, displacing roughly 3,000 children. Earlier that same year, the city of Philadelphia “barred Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Social Services” from serving children in need because of their beliefs about marriage.

What is especially tragic about these shutdowns is that they not only affect the employees of these agencies—they impact hundreds, if not thousands, of children in desperate need of a loving home.

In Obergefell v. Hodges, we were promised that, “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.” These shutdowns are a clear violation of this principle handed down by the Supreme Court, and are currently being challenged.

Regardless of your stance on marriage, and even your stance on discrimination, children should not be the ones that are punished in the ongoing war being waged on religious liberty by LGBT activists. When “equality” demands that certain adoption providers be shut down and children are denied adequate care and a loving home with a mother and a father as a result, it is no longer equality, but oppression. Just as little girls should not have to gorge themselves for fear of not having enough to eat in the future, faith-based adoption providers should not have to violate their religious beliefs in order to continue helping children in need find loving homes.

Kayla Sargent is an intern at Family Research Council.

Lemon v. The Constitution

by Nicolas Reynolds

July 1, 2019

Conservatives breathed a refreshing sigh of relief upon hearing the Supreme Court’s ruling to protect the Bladensburg cross-shaped memorial last month in American Legion v. American Humanist Association. In defending the memorial, the Court not only resolved this case’s controversy but helped shed light on religion’s place in the public square entirely. This case may prove to be a greater victory than many suppose as it looks towards the original intentions of our Founding Fathers, measuring the memorial’s legality with the Constitution rather than tests the Court has conjured up in the past.

Though the Court has had to determine how the Constitution is to be interpreted, some of the ways chosen to do so have greatly deviated from the Constitution’s plain original meaning. One of the worst interpretations of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause—the Lemon testhas played a significant role in the Court’s decisions since Lemon v. Kurtzman was decided in 1971. The Lemon test instated a three-pronged set of requirements intended to drive a wedge between Church and State—something that the Establishment Clause never envisioned, supported, or made accommodations for.

Though the Lemon test has daunted cases of religious freedom for decades, the Court’s decision to protect the Bladensburg cross-shaped memorial gives one hope for a future full reversal of Lemon. Having produced a strong 7-2 ruling in favor of the memorial, the Court once again highlighted the futility of the test. Even though the Court did not throw out Lemon entirely, their ruling greatly crippled the test, increasingly marginalizing it and making clear it is simply unhelpful. In his concurring opinion, Justice Kavanaugh highlighted its obvious flaws and increasing uselessness, as he surveyed the Court’s Establishment Clause cases to show that Lemon has not been applied in many of them.

Kavanaugh pointed out Lemon’s grave flaws by showing that many normal religious practices would be prohibited by the test. As Lemon doesn’t allow the government to act in any way that could advance or endorse religion, any form of government-granted religious accommodations and exemptions—practices that have always been fundamental within the United States—would be entirely forbidden. Kavanaugh lays out that many religious practices intertwined with daily life “’by definition’ have the effect of advancing or endorsing religion to some extent.”

Along with other justices, Justice Kavanaugh urges that a test as hostile towards religious imagery as the Lemon test is dangerously unconstitutional and should hold no place within our judicial system. Kavanaugh concurred, “The Court’s decision in this case [The American Legion v. American Humanist Association] again makes clear that the Lemon test does not apply to the Establishment Clause…”

Rather than choosing to interpret the cross as a secular symbol, Kavanaugh drives home the significance of preserving religious imagery in the public square, stating, “I fully understand the deeply religious nature of the cross. It would demean both believers and nonbelievers to say that the cross is not religious, or not all that religious.” Kavanaugh summarized and solidified the cross’s validity, choosing to understand it for what it is—the universally chosen icon to represent Christ’s death and sacrifice on Calvary.

Justice Kavanaugh, along with others, shed light on the clear truth that it is impossible to separate religion from the public square, being that the public square is comprised of religious individuals. For those that prize religious freedom as a core principle of this country, the Bladensburg memorial stands as a testimony to the Constitution’s provisions for religious freedom. This case helps illuminate how religion is not only inseparable from but also necessary for public life to flourish, something that FRC’s amicus brief highlights. In a culture that appears to be continuously straying from biblical values, it is comforting for Supreme Court Justices to stand on and for the truths that this country was founded upon.

Nicolas Reynolds is an intern at Family Research Council.

The Fight to Defend Faith-Based Adoption Providers

by Nicolas Reynolds

June 28, 2019

Recently, faith-based adoption and foster care agencies have been the target of many discriminatory acts made by state and local governments.

Far from the Founding Fathers’ original intent, the ability to help others through foster care and adoption is now contingent on the feelings of LGBT activists in some states and localities. This is just the latest example of a disturbing trend—if the convictions of one’s religion encroaches on someone else’s comfort, ego, or ideology, they are demonized and declared to be a manifestation of hatred.

Increasingly, care provided by faith-based adoption agencies is only permitted on the condition that these agencies’ beliefs do not offend the LGBT movement, conditions that threaten their ability to serve children who are in desperate need of fundamental nurturing. Governmental discriminatory actions have been taken against faith-based agencies in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.

In Philadelphia, actions were taken in March of 2018 to end the referral contract the city had with Catholic Social Services (CSS) even though they are one of the city’s largest foster care agencies (there are 30 total), working every day to place at-risk and special needs children in supportive homes. According to CSS, the agency serves 120 children in foster care and supervises 100 foster homes on a daily basis. In 2017 alone, they worked with over 2,200 children. Following the city’s ending of its referral contract with CSS, a “foster parent of the year” award winner’s home was emptied and siblings were nearly kept apart despite the city’s urgent call for hundreds of new foster homes. Even though CSS has been placing children in foster care for over a century, it appears they have lost the opportunity seemingly overnight.

Situations like Philadelphia will only escalate all governmental discriminatory actions towards religious organizations. Actions like these open the door to far more severe discriminatory actions to be taken against Christian organizations, which will adversely affect their ability to care for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). As recently as December of last year, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services issued an ultimatum to faith-based adoption agency New Hope, forcing them to either violate their beliefs (that a child needs both a mother and a father) or close their doors. New Hope would likely no longer be able to provide children with homes.

In response to the clear governmental discriminatory actions taken against faith-based adoption agencies, legislators such as Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) are introducing legislation to protect religious liberty. They have introduced the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2019 (CWPIA) (H.R. 897 / S. 274), a piece of legislation which would allow organizations such as CSS and New Hope to continue helping those in need without threat of foreclosure from the government.  

Rep. Kelly echoes the plea to preserve the ability of Christians to care for children who are desperately in need of nurturing that only a family can give:

Faith-based adoption and foster care providers have historically played an unrivaled role in caring for our country’s most vulnerable kids… They are the very providers that we should be encouraging and promoting, not punishing.

Concurring, Rep. Enzi adds:

The government should not be in the business of forcing faith-based child welfare providers to abandon their sincerely held religious beliefs, especially at the expense of finding a new home for a child in need.

Additionally, laws similar to the CWPIA have been passed in Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia—most recently in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Discriminatory actions taken against faith-based adoption and foster care agencies are attacks on the biblical definition of the family, the most fundamental establishment in society. These attacks show a disregard for the Judeo-Christian principles which are uniquely imparted through the family. Lawmakers must provide more security to Christian organizations that wish to place children in homes that will sacrifice for, care for, and nurture children in need of a forever-family. 

Since the family is the cornerstone of a moral and flourishing society, it should be regarded and defended with the utmost care. This includes ensuring that the best possible services are provided for children who are not privileged to have a biological family. If governmental discrimination causes families to fall short, society’s moral standards too will fall short. The American people must stand up for the rights of faith-based organizations to continue providing the care that children need. No longer should Christians be targeted by governmental discriminatory actions for their efforts to care for “the least of these.”

Nicolas Reynolds is an intern at Family Research Council.

Do No Harm Act” Threatens Our First Freedom

by Luke Isbell , Mary Beth Waddell

June 27, 2019

Yesterday, the House Committee of Education and Labor held a hearing on the Do No Harm Act. While this bill purports to prevent harm, it would actually significantly harm religious believers by gutting our most prominent religious liberty statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Pitched as an act that would prevent abuse of religious freedom, and “restore” RFRA’s “original intent,” the bill would actually treat religious believers differently based on the circumstances of their claim and dictate when RFRA can be applied. Instead of all individuals having access to RFRA as a defense against a government burden on their First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion, the Do No Harm Act explicitly excludes some individuals from RFRA’s protections.

A Threat to a Fair Hearing

At the hearing, Representative Mike Johnson (R-La.), a constitutional lawyer with nearly 20 years of experience working on religious freedom, testified how religious freedom is “often referred to as our first freedom.” The Founders of the United States recognized that everyone should be able to live their lives according to their deeply held beliefs, and never be forced by the government to act in a way contrary to their beliefs. The protection and flourishing of religious liberty was understood to be so vital to the foundation of our nation that it was written as the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law establishing religion OR prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As apparent from this hearing, those on the Left seem to misunderstand the meaning of this constitutional right and the protections that flow from it.

The sentiments expressed by Rep. Johnson used to be understood by both sides of the aisle, a point that he made at this week’s hearing. They certainly were back in 1993 when RFRA was passed unanimously by the House, 97-3 by the Senate, and then signed into law by President Bill Clinton. RFRA promises that a fair hearing will be given to all individuals whose religious freedom has been infringed by the government. That’s it. It does not favor any one ideology over the other or predetermine an outcome. As Matthew Sharp, Senior Counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, testified at the hearing, even when RFRA is used the government often wins.

Disagreement is Not Discrimination

Many proponents of the Do No Harm Act claim it is necessary because discrimination is happening in the name of religious liberty under RFRA. However, there is a big gap between acting on personal convictions and discriminating, or forcing others to believe the same as you. Disagreement is not discrimination. RFRA does not allow individuals to force others to believe the same as them. That is not religious freedom, and RFRA does not protect it.

The Do No Harm Act would be the cause of harm and discrimination, not the alleviator of it. The Little Sisters of the Poor used RFRA in their fight against the government trying to force them to provide contraceptives, but they would no longer be able to bring a RFRA claim under the Do No Harm Act.

The Displacement of Children in Need

A few Democrats made a fuss about the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) using RFRA to grant Miracle Hill Ministries, a faith-based adoption and foster care agency in South Carolina, a waiver from Obama-era regulations still in effect that would force them to violate their conscience or stop serving children in need. Democrats bemoaned the granting of this waiver in the hearing and claimed that such waivers are harmful to the children in need of loving homes.

In fact, the opposite is true. When Catholic Charities was shut down in Illinois, nearly 3,000 children were displaced. When Philadelphia cut its contracts with two of their 30 partner agencies because they were faith-based, foster parents (one of whom was a “foster parent of the year”) were left with empty homes and siblings faced the possibility of not being placed together. Ironically, all this occurred after the city put out an urgent call for hundreds of new foster homes. Birth moms have also expressed their desire to use faith-based agencies to help them navigate the darkest time in their life and to place their child in a home of a particular faith. They deserve that option, but would see it shut down if proponents of the Do No Harm Act get their way.

In Michigan, St. Vincent Catholic Charities is one of the most successful adoption agencies in the state, performing 90 percent better than the other agencies in its area. However, when Michigan attempted to cut ties with the religious organization (which would have severe negative impacts as noted above), the organization was able to team with Becket Law to argue that their rights were being violated. Discovery in the case found that they were clearly being targeted because they were faith-based. Children in their care had been adopted by couples identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) through other agencies in the state. The same-sex couple who sued also lived closer to three or four other agencies they could have worked with. Yet the Do No Harm Act would strip Catholic Charities of the ability to even have their claim heard. This case is ongoing.

A Threat to the Foundation of Peaceful Co-existence

Religious liberty and non-discrimination are not at odds—rather, they promote each other by allowing people to freely act on the values that are most important to them.

Religious freedom was a founding principle of our nation, and it led to the ability for people of all faiths to live together peacefully—because the government never forced them to act against their personal beliefs. RFRA is the door that ensures people will always have recourse in court if the government violates this freedom, yet the Do No Harm Act would shut that door to many.

Mary Beth Waddell is the Senior Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council. Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

3 Religious Freedom Cases to Keep an Eye On

by Luke Isbell

June 21, 2019

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a cross-shaped memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland does not violate the Establishment Clause. The memorial honors veterans that sacrificed themselves to defend our nation, and the ruling by SCOTUS sets a new precedent for the constitutionality of religious memorials across the nation. This is a huge win for the right to religious freedom in the public sphere, but there are several other critical battles still being fought on the issue of religious freedom.

Free expression of personal beliefs in public and at work is the cornerstone of our pluralistic society, government, and free market. At Family Research Council, we actively track attacks on religious freedom in our Hostility to Religion Report, which we will be updating soon. Here are three important ongoing court cases that you need to be aware of:

1. Oregon Family Threatened and Sued for Refusing to Bake a Cake for a Same-Sex Union

Melissa and Aaron Klein owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery located in Gresham, Oregon. When they declined to bake a cake for a same-sex union, they quickly became a target of a lawsuit. The same-sex couple that requested the cake filed a complaint against the Kleins with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). When BOLI ruled against the Kleins, stating that they discriminated against the couple by not baking a cake, the Kleins were forced to pay $135,000 and closed their shop in September of 2013. Significant public backlash caused the Kleins to be fearful of their safety, especially after receiving threats against their children. The family refused to back down from fighting for their religious beliefs, and they appealed the case to the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2016, but the court declined to hear the case. On June 17, 2019, after appealing to the Supreme Court, SCOTUS remanded the case back to the lower Oregon courts—advising them to reconsider the case in light of the decision made in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

2. Church Sues Against Washington State Requirement to Cover Cost of Abortions

In March of this year, Washington state passed legislation that would force any insurance plan that covers maternity costs to also cover abortions. Horrified of being forced to support something directly opposed to their pro-life beliefs, Cedar Park Assembly of God filed a suit against the state’s new law. Cedar Park Assembly actively serves in pregnancy centers and assists with foster children and infertile couples, and the church’s pro-life views are directly opposed to providing staffers with insurance that would pay for abortions. No church or organization that firmly and actively believes in the right to life should be forced to pay for abortions. Cedar Park Assembly of God has partnered with Alliance Defending Freedom to challenge the unconstitutional law in court. 

3. Michigan Attempts to Discriminate Against Faith-Based Adoption and Foster Agencies

For 70 years, St. Vincent has provided foster and adoption care for thousands of children in need in Michigan—and they have made a huge impact. In 2017 alone, St. Vincent performed better than 90 percent of agencies in its area with finding children a loving home. However, the Attorney General of Michigan announced in March of 2019 that they were going to permanently end the state’s relationship with faith-based adoption and foster care agencies. The policy claims to be an attempt to “protect” same-sex couples that would be refused from adopting from a faith-based organization, but St. Vincent has always referred same-sex couples to other adoption agencies when approached. Ultimately, not only would the state refusing to work with organizations like St. Vincent further worsen the chances of children finding the homes they desperately need, but such a policy is in clear contradiction to religious liberty that is integral to life in the United States. On April 15, 2019, St. Vincent partnered with Becket Law to sue against Michigan’s damaging policy.

These three cases exemplify the attacks on religious liberty that are becoming increasingly frequent. The right to freedom of conscience—the ability to not be forced to do something that is against your religious beliefs—fundamentally defined the founding of our nation. Religious liberty fosters the ideological plurality that allows people of all faiths to find solidarity in the United States, and the pluralism that religious liberty creates forms the groundwork for our society.

Tragically, in the name of “non-discrimination,” these fundamental rights are now being strategically stripped away. Ironically, policies intending to be non-discriminatory can be the most discriminatory policies of all.

If laws are passed to prevent people from living and working according their personal religious beliefs, the only result will be discrimination against all in favor of none.

Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

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