Republicans Are Considering Another Bill to Legalize Religious Discrimination July 12, 2016

Republicans Are Considering Another Bill to Legalize Religious Discrimination

Congressional Republicans are, as we post this, holding a hearing for a horrible bill that would specifically protect religious people who hold anti-LGBT beliefs.

The so-called First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) would offer protections to people with a “religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)

In other words, anyone who discriminates on the basis of their anti-LGBT beliefs, from business owners to medical professionals, would be exempt from any government punishment.

Under the core provision of FADA “the Federal Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with” a religious objection to marriage equality or a faith-based belief that sexual relations must be reserved to a marriage between people of the opposite sex. Subsequent provisions define the term “discriminatory action” to include a broad range of sanctions against religious objectors who themselves engage in discrimination. The government cannot deny tax subsidies to religious objectors who discriminate against LGBT people, or deny them a grant or benefit, or, under a catch-all provision, “otherwise discriminate against such person.”

A similar law was recently blocked in Mississippi because U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves concluded that it violated the First Amendment. Ironic, right? And yet the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is considering the measure today.

FADA, in other words, requires the federal government to actively subsidize anti-LGBT individuals, at least if those individuals would otherwise qualify for a subsidy if not for their opposition to marriage equality. Additionally, because of the provision protecting religious objectors who believe that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” opposite sex marriages, FADA also grants a broad array of special rights to people who target many straight couples.

Under FADA, the government would quite literally be supporting people because of their discriminatory beliefs. The bill also contradicts the ways “religious freedom” has been addressed in courts before, according to ThinkProgress:

When Fremont Christian School claimed a right to give inferior compensation to many of its women employees because of its religious belief that “in any marriage, the husband is the head of the household and is required to provide for that household,” a federal appeals court rejected the school’s request for an exemption from anti-discrimination law.

Additionally, in a case that is strikingly similar to the kind of benefits FADA would give to religious objectors who engage in discrimination, Bob Jones University claimed that it should continue to receive tax subsidies despite its religiously motivated policy that “students who date outside of their own race will be expelled.” The Supreme Court rejected this claim as well, explaining that “the Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education.”

As the Human Rights Campaign points out, FADA could wipe out years of progress for LGBT people that took place under the Obama administration. This includes employment nondiscrimination laws, hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples, access to homeless shelters, housing rights, services for victims of domestic violence, and personal leave for same-sex couples caring for one another during a time of illness.

FADA seeks to foster state sanctioned discrimination under the guise of religious liberty. On its face, this legislation purports to prohibit “discrimination” by the federal government based on individual’s religious beliefs about marriage. In reality, this bill would allow individuals, many businesses, and nonprofit organizations—even those nonprofit organizations and businesses contracting with the federal government— to circumvent critical federal protections and allow blatant discrimination against LGBTQ families.

This bill has nothing to do with the First Amendment, and everything to do with legalizing faith-based discrimination against an already marginalized population. It’s only been a month since 49 LGBT people were murdered for being who they are; despite the “thoughts and prayers” Republican politicians offered right after the tragedy occurred, they have made it clear what they think about LGBT people.

(Screenshot via YouTube)

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