Scott, Kennedy, Harris Reintroduce Bill to Protect Individuals from Discrimination

February 28, 2019
Press Release

As originally released by the Committee on Education and Labor

WASHINGTON, DC – With the support of leaders from the civil rights, social justice and faith communities, Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, Congressman Joe Kennedy III (MA-04), and Senator Kamala D. Harris (CA) 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. Originally introduced in response to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores decision that made it possible for corporations to deny health care to female employees, the legislation would also overturn the Trump administration’s recent waiver allowing child welfare agencies in South Carolina to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals and different religions. 

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.  

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was originally passed in 1993 as a response to a Supreme Court case which undermined the rights of religious minorities. Unfortunately, in recent years, bad faith interpretations of RFRA have been used to deny health care coverage for employees, claim exemptions to civil rights law, and impede justice in child labor and abuse cases,” said Chairman Bobby Scott, Committee on Education and Labor. “The Do No Harm Act would amend RFRA to clarify that no one can cite religious beliefs as grounds to undermine Civil Rights Act protections, limit access to health care, or deny services supported by taxpayer dollars. This bill would restore the original intent of RFRA and 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.”

“We cannot be equal or free if our government grants select Americans a license to discriminate against their neighbors under the guise of religious freedom,” said Congressman Kennedy. “By passing the Do No Harm Act, we can reestablish the sacred balance between religious liberty and the personal liberties of those who have too often had their civil rights bargained away. I’m proud to stand with Congressman Scott, Senator Harris, and civil rights activists from around the country as we continue on our march towards a more perfect union.”

“The freedom to worship is one of our nation’s most fundamental rights. That First Amendment guarantee should never be used to undermine other Americans’ civil rights or subject them to discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” said Senator Harris. “I’m proud to reintroduce the Do No Harm Act in the Senate to more comprehensively protect the basic rights of every American.”

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.  

“RFRA should be a shield for religious freedom — not a sword for discrimination,” said Ian Thompson, senior legislative representative at the ACLU. “But this administration has spent two years weaponizing religious liberty in its hostility against marginalized communities, including most recently allowing government-contracted child welfare agencies in South Carolina to turn away would-be foster and adoptive parents because they are the ‘wrong religion.’ It is now more important than ever for Congress to defend the American people from these attacks. The Do No Harm Act represents a meaningful step toward protecting individuals from discrimination, denial of health care, and other harms.” 

“Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed to reinforce the right of religious minorities to practice their religion. But some anti-equality activists have distorted and manipulated the legislation to try and justify discrimination against others,” said Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “The Do No Harm Act will preserve the core protections of RFRA while clarifying it cannot be used to violate essential non-discrimination protections, including for the LGBTQ community. We thank Senator Harris and Representatives Kennedy and Scott for their leadership on this important issue."   

“In the era of the Trump administration, too many people across the country are suffering the consequences of discrimination in the name of religious freedom,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “We need to pass the Do No Harm Act now more than ever to protect people like our client Aimee Maddonna, who was turned away by a foster care agency for being the ‘wrong’ religion. We applaud Rep. Kennedy, Rep. Scott, and Sen. Harris for continuing to champion this much-needed legislation, which protects the true meaning of religious freedom – everyone’s right to believe or not as they see fit, as long as it doesn’t harm others. We urge all members of Congress to join them in defending one of our country’s most sacred principles.”

"Religious freedom is a fundamental American principle, but it isn't a license to harm or discriminate against others," said Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur. "The Do No Harm Act is a critical step toward protecting all Americans — including LGBTQ people and people of faith — from discrimination. Equality California is proud to support this commonsense bill, and we're grateful to Congressman Kennedy, Congressman Scott, and Senator Harris for their leadership on this issue."

The legislation has received support from the following advocacy and expert organizations: Abortion Care Network, Advocates for Youth, American Atheists, American Civil Liberties Union, American Humanist Association, American Psychological Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Anti-Defamation League, Basic Rights Oregon, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, BiNet USA, Call To Action, Catholics for Choice, The Center for American Progress, Center For Black Equity, Center for Inquiry, Center for Reproductive Rights, DignityUSA, Disciples Center for Public Witness, Disciples Justice Action Network, Equal Partners in Faith, Equality California, Equality Federation, Family Equality Council, Feminist Majority, FORGE, Inc., Freedom for All Americans, Friends Committee on National Legislation, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Global Justice Institute, Metropolitan Community Churches, GLSEN, Hindu American Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, Institute for Science and Human Values, Interfaith Alliance, Lambda Legal, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Legal Voice, LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute, Medical Students for Choice, Movement Advancement Project, Muslim Advocates, Muslims for Progressive Values, NAACP, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF), National Association of Social Workers, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Council of Jewish Women, National Employment Lawyers Association, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, National Partnership for Women and Families, National Women's Health Network, National Women's Law Center, NEAT - National Equality Action Team, NMAC, Nurses for Sexual & Reproductive Health Organization, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, OutServe-SLDN, Physicians for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Pride at Work, Religious Institute, Reproductive Health Access Project, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Policy Institute, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), The Trevor Project, T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries, Uri L'Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice, Whitman-Walker Health, Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER), and YATOM: The Jewish Foster & Adoption Network

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