Yesterday was a big day on Capitol Hill. Not because of anything House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or President Donald Trump did, but because, in conjunction with three other organizations and two U.S. House members, Americans United hosted a much-needed briefing on the misuse of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993 and the need for the Do No Harm Act (H.R. 1450).
At the dais was AU’s very own Maggie Garrett, vice president for public policy, who moderated the discussion. Alongside her were U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), the Human Rights Campaign’s Robin Maril and the National LGBTQ Task Force’s the Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart. Also in attendance was AU’s President and CEO Rachel Laser. (On June 25, Laser will testify before the House Committee on Education and Labor, chaired by Scott, on why Congress must pass the Do No Harm Act, during a hearing titled “Do No Harm: Examining the Misapplication of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”)
Each speaker took the opportunity to explain why RFRA needs amending and how the Do No Harm Act, endorsed by 80 religious, non-religious, LGBTQ, women’s and civil rights, health and labor organizations, is the best way to do it.
The speakers made the case that RFRA, which was originally intended as a protective measure for religious minority groups, has been misinterpreted and distorted, first by the George W. Bush administration, then the U.S. Supreme Court and, most recently, the Trump Administration. In 2017, the Trump Justice Department interpreted RFRA to allow widespread forms of religion-based discrimination and denials of service. This includes denying employees insurance coverage for birth control.
One such individual case detailed by Garrett was that of Aimee Maddonna, a Catholic woman turned away from the federally-funded foster agency Miracle Hill in Greenville, S.C., on the basis of the agency’s claim that it has a “religious freedom” right under RFRA to serve only evangelical Christians. Americans United has recently filed suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and South Carolina officials on behalf of Maddonna.
“The government should never fund discrimination,” Garrett said. “And no qualified parent should be denied the opportunity to provide a loving home to children in need because they are the ‘wrong’ religion.”
Washington-Leapheart spoke movingly about a woman who began having contractions at 18 weeks of pregnancy and was not informed of the unviability of the fetus by the Catholic hospital where she sought medical treatment, nor her option to terminate the pregnancy. She later went into labor, and the baby did not survive.
The Do No Harm Act, introduced by Kennedy and Scott in the House and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in the Senate, would revert RFRA back to its original purpose of protecting the rights of religious minorities. The bill would put a stop to the misuse of RFRA as a tool to discriminate while maintaining the necessary component allowing religious minorities the ability to practice their religion free from government restraints. That way, a Sikh or Muslim serving in the armed forces can wear special garb, and Native Americans can protect their traditional practices.
You can read more about the Do No Harm Act here. Please urge your legislators to support it!
Photo (from left): Ken M'Bale, AU communications intern; Allison Kimble, AU digital communications manager; Rachel Laser, AU president and CEO; U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott; Maggie Garrett, AU vice president for public policy; Dena Sher, AU assistant director for public policy; Nik Nartowicz, AU state legislative counsel and Samantha Sokol, AU public policy advocate