Feb 28, 2019

Today, members from both chambers of Congress reintroduced legislation that will provide critical protections for religious freedom. The Do No Harm Act – introduced by U.S. Reps. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) –  will restore the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to its original intent by preserving the law’s power to protect religious exercise, but clarifying that it may not be used to harm or discriminate against others.   

“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 applaud Reps. Kennedy and 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.”

The federal RFRA was enacted with the goal of protecting religious freedom, especially for religious minorities. But since then, it has become a vehicle for those who want to discriminate in the name of religious freedom.

The Do No Harm Act will ensure that RFRA can’t be used to:

  • trump non-discrimination laws
  • evade child welfare laws
  • undermine workplace laws
  • deny access to health care
  • refuse to provide government-funded services under a contract
  • refuse to perform duties as a government employee

“We need to pass the Do No Harm Act now more than ever to protect people like our client Aimee Maddonna, who wanted to help children in foster care, but was turned away by a government-funded agency for being the ‘wrong’ religion,” Laser said. “We urge all members of Congress to support this legislation and defend religious freedom, one of our country’s most sacred principles.”

Aimee Maddonna and her family tried to mentor foster children through Miracle Hill Ministries, a taxpayer-funded foster care provider in South Carolina. But Miracle Hill turned the Maddonnas away solely because the family is Catholic; the agency will only work with evangelical Protestants – not Catholics, Jews or people of any other faith.

Instead of denouncing this discriminatory practice, the Trump administration and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster doubled down and sanctioned the government-funded religious discrimination – citing RFRA as the justification. On Feb. 15, Americans United filed a federal lawsuit, Maddonna v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to stop the federal government and South Carolina from authorizing and encouraging religious discrimination with taxpayer dollars.

Learn more about Aimee and her lawsuit here.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.  

(PHOTO: Aimee Maddonna, the plaintiff in Maddonna v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)