Editor’s Note: This week and next, “The Wall of Separation” blog will run a series of special posts examining the policy proposals in AU’s “Agenda to Restore & Protect Religious Freedom.” Developed by Americans United’s Public Policy Department, the agenda lists 10 proposals the incoming administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can take to undo the damage done to church-state separation during the Trump years.
Over the past several days, we’ve been describing all the items on our Agenda to Restore & Protect Religious Freedom for the incoming Biden-Harris administration. Next up on our list is an agenda item that has been championed by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the Senate for the last two sessions of Congress: the Do No Harm Act.
The Do No Harm Act, sponsored by Sen. Harris since 2018, is a bill to restore the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to its original intent. RFRA is a federal law that was passed in 1993 to protect religious freedom, particularly for minorities, but has been often misused in recent years. The Do No Harm Act will preserve RFRA’s power to protect religious freedom, but also clarify that it may not be used to harm others.
With the passage of the Do No Harm Act, Americans could still use RFRA to protect religious exercise, like wearing religious attire and observing religious holidays. But RFRA could not be used to bypass federal protections in ways that harm other people. Throughout her time in the Senate, Harris has been one of the key voices in Congress fighting to reclaim this vision of religious freedom that is true to our Constitution.
Supporting the Do No Harm Act now is more vital than ever. The Trump administration has spent the past four years misusing RFRA left and right to justify discriminatory policies. Its abuse of RFRA results in harm to many marginalized communities, from religious minorities to LGBTQ people. To name just a few examples, the Trump administration cited RFRA as the justification to allow taxpayer-funded child placement agencies to turn away potential parents and volunteers who don’t meet their religious test, allow employers and universities to use religion to deny employees and students insurance coverage for birth control promised as by the Affordable Care Act and expand the ability of federal contractors to cite religious beliefs to discriminate in hiring.
If passed, the Do No Harm Act would ensure that these harms cannot continue or be re-implemented by any future administrations.
The Do No Harm Act has widespread support in Congress, with currently 215 co-sponsors in the House and 33 in the Senate. With a new 117th Congress sworn in for January 2021, the bill has a new chance to gain momentum. Its next steps toward becoming law would be passing a House Judiciary Committee hearing and eventually a House floor vote. We hope that the Biden-Harris administration will get the ball rolling by putting this vital bill at the top of its priorities. Your support of Americans United will help make that happen.