Editor’s Note: The year 2021 was full of ups and downs – for the country, and for church-state separation. As the year draws to a close, we're looking back at the top 10 church-state stories, how Americans United rose to the challenge to defend religious freedom and what’s on the horizon for 2022.
This year saw the reintroduction in Congress of an important piece of legislation called the Do No Harm Act (DNHA). The intent of the act is to restore a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to its original purpose of protecting religious freedom while ensuring that the law isn’t used to harm others.
Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate re-introduced the DNHA in 2021. In the House, the bill (H.R. 1378) is sponsored by its longtime advocate U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), joined by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.).
In the Senate, the bill’s lead sponsor is U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Booker took over as lead sponsor of the bill (S. 2752) after its former sponsor, Kamala Harris, was elected vice president. At this writing, DNHA had 143 co-sponsors in the House and 32 in the Senate.
When Booker introduced the DNHA in September, AU President and CEO Rachel Laser said, “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was intended to protect free exercise and religious minorities, yet some are misusing this law to circumvent nondiscrimination protections and deny people access to health care, jobs and government-funded services. This exploitation of religious freedom especially harms LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and the nonreligious by undermining their civil rights and equality. The Do No Harm Act would preserve RFRA’s power to protect religious exercise while ensuring it cannot be used to cause harm.
“We thank Senator Cory Booker for sponsoring the Do No Harm Act, and we urge Congress to quickly pass this critical bill to ensure that religious freedom remains a shield that protects all of us, not a sword used to harm others,” Laser continued.
To learn more about the DNHA, visit this special section of Americans United’s website. There you’ll find background information, a timeline, a list of resources and links to AU blog posts and media statements on the proposed legislation. You can also take action by urging your members of Congress to support the DNHA.
The DNHA was also the focus of Americans United’s 2021 student essay contest for high schoolers. You can read the winning essays here.
AU also is urging Congress to pass other bills that would protect religious freedom, including the NO BAN Act, which strengthens the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion and limits overly broad executive authority to issue future travel bans, and the Equality Act, which will affirm and clarify that existing protections from sex discrimination in federal law include protections based on people’s sexual orientation and gender identity – and make it clear that religion cannot be misused to justify discrimination.