A bill introduced in the last Congress in an attempt to gut the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has been reintroduced in the current Congress. A liberal response to Supreme Court decisions such as Hobby Lobbyand Masterpiece Cakeshop, the bill is deceptively titled the “Do No Harm Act.”
RFRA was passed in 1993 in one of the most overwhelmingly bipartisan votes Congress has ever seen: by a voice vote in the House (equaling a unanimous vote) and 97-3 in the Senate. It simply prevents government from “substantially burdening” someone’s exercise of religion unless it is done with the “least restrictive means” in furtherance of a “compelling government interest.” That means that the government has to have an interest of the highest order at stake before it can require you do something or refrain from doing something that negatively impacts your free exercise of your religion, and it has to come up with a plan that does the least damage to your free exercise of religion. It’s a balancing test at heart.
To use a couple of extreme, not-real-world examples to show how this works:
- Government rightfully can prohibit human sacrifice as part of a religious act of worship (compelling government interest; no other way to prevent harm)
- Government may not prohibit driving cars to church in order to lesson harmful effects of the internal combustion engine on the environment (important but not a compelling government interest; certainly not the least restrictive way of furthering the government interest).
The “Do No Harm” law uses vague wording that purports to prevent any interpretation of RFRA that:
- “may authorize an exemption from generally applicable law that imposes the religious views, habits, or practices of one party upon another.”
- “imposes meaningful harm, including dignitary harm, on a third party.’
- “authorize(s) an exemption for one party that permits discrimination against others, including persons who do not belong to the religion or adhere to the beliefs of that party.”
Translation: Objecting to providing possible abortion-causing drugs to your employees is “imposing” your religion on them; causing “dignitary harm” is another way of saying you’ve offended someone; and “discriminating against persons of another religion” is a catch-all phrase that is probably meant to include everything else the Left doesn’t like about people of faith believing or exercising their faith in public.
Some of those same senators and representatives who voted for RFRA in 1973 now oppose it and support the Do No Harm Act. Their flip flop on this issue can be attributed almost entirely to the success of religious freedom objections relating to abortion and LGBT “rights” as evidenced in the Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop rulings.
The bill will hopefully die in the Senate, which still has a majority that supports religious freedom. But the House, with a shift in control after the 2018 elections, is likely to pass it. Please pray for the defeat of this freedom-killing bill in Congress.
In the end, who we elect has consequences. People who honor religious freedom deserve our support.