Editor’s Note: The constitutional principle of religious freedom has been undermined like never before under the Trump administration. This year we have seen unprecedented attacks on reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality, and an erosion of church-state separation that threatens religious minorities and the nonreligious in America.
As the new year approaches, we’re taking a look back at the Top 10 church-state separation issues of 2019 – and how AU has led the charge against these blatant violations of our Constitution.
Support is growing for the Do No Harm Act – the federal bill that Americans United is championing to restore the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to its original intent of protecting religious freedom while also clarifying that it may not be used to harm others.
AU was integrally involved in helping to get this bill re-introduced in Congress this year by U.S. Reps. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). To date, the bill has nearly 170 co-sponsors in the House and nearly 30 co-sponsors in the Senate.
In June, AU President and CEO Rachel Laser testified about the vital need for the Do No Harm Act (DNHA) during the bill’s first-ever congressional hearing before the House Education and Labor Committee chaired by Scott.
“RFRA, a statute designed as a shield to protect religious freedom, is now being used as a sword to cause harm,” Laser said during her testimony. “The Trump administration has cited RFRA to create harmful religious exemptions – and more are coming.”
She pointed to the case of AU client Aimee Maddonna, a South Carolina mother of three who was turned away by a taxpayer-funded adoption agency because she’s Catholic, not an evangelical Christian. The Trump administration in January granted a waiver allowing all South Carolina foster care agencies to continue this discrimination. The administration has since announced a proposed rule to broaden this religion-based discrimination by stripping critical antidiscrimination protections across all federally funded programs (including foster care) run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Laser also referenced a Department of Labor rule, formally proposed in August, that would allow government contractors to fire or refuse to hire people who don’t pass a religious litmus test. The proposed rule broadens an existing religious exemption for federal contractors to allow taxpayer-funded employment discrimination against LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and other protected classes.
“We must continue to reject efforts to use religion to justify discrimination,” Laser said during the hearing. “Congress can help … [it] should pass the Do No Harm Act, a simple yet critical bill designed to restore RFRA to its original intent. It will preserve the law's power to protect religious freedom, while clarifying it may not be used to harm others.”