Democrats in Congress reintroduced a bill to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) on Thursday (28 February). The amendment, known as the Do No Harm Act, protects religious freedom while also prohibiting it from being used to discriminate.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Reps. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) reintroduced the bill together.
Under the RFRA, the federal government is prohibited from ‘substantially burden[ing]’ a person’s religious exercise, unless they are pursuing a compelling government interest in the least restrictive means possible.
This amendment seeks to enact RFRA in its purest form — protecting religious minorities and freedoms, while not bypassing anti-discrimination laws.
‘We cannot be equal or free if our government grants select Americans a license to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom,’ Kennedy said.
Harris added the amendment ensures ‘more comprehensive protections against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity’.
The amendment was first introduced in 2016. Kennedy and Scott reintroduced it again in 2017.
A history of religious freedom used as discrimination
There have been numerous legal cases pitting religious freedom against discrimination.
One of the most famous was Hobby Lobby, which went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2014, they ruled corporations do not need to provide birth control in their health insurance. They cited the RFRA as the justification for this ruling.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, stating her concerns that the RFRA would be used to justify future discrimination against marginalized groups.
More recently, the Trump administration has consistently advocated for religious freedom over anti-discrimination protections.
In January, they granted a foster care agency in South Carolina the right to discriminate against potential parents, including same-sex parents, due to the agency’s religious beliefs.
Last year, another Supreme Court case rocked the country when they voted in favor of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Scott said of the amendment: ‘In recent years, bad faith interpretations of RFRA has been used to deny health care coverage for employees, claim exemptions to civil rights law, and impede justice in child labor and abuse cases.
‘This bill would… ensure that religious freedom is only used as a shield to protect individuals from discrimination, and not a sword to cut down the rights of others.’