Last week, U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), joined by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), introduced an important piece of legislation called the Do No Harm Act (DNHA). Americans United supports this legislation and wants to see it become law.
Here are some things you need to know:
In 1993, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The legislation was a response to a 1990 Supreme Court decision that weakened religious freedom protections, especially for religious minorities.
A diverse coalition, including AU, supported RFRA because it was intended to restore those protections – namely, by requiring that the government prove it has a compelling reason for policies that place substantial burdens on someone’s religious practices.
Unfortunately, in the years since, RFRA has been misused in ways many of its original backers would never have supported. For example, RFRA is being cited as the rationale to deny employees and university students insurance coverage for birth control, allow government contractors and other taxpayer-funded organizations to discriminate in employment for jobs in government-funded programs and let taxpayer-funded foster care agencies turn away potential parents because they are the “wrong” religion or LGBTQ, denying children in foster care the opportunity to find loving homes.
It’s vital that we get RFRA back to its original purpose and make it clear that the legislation should never be used to exempt anyone from laws that protect other people’s basic civil rights.
That’s where the Do Harm Act comes in. It will amend RFRA to ensure that no one misuses it to undermine nondiscrimination laws, deny access to health care, thwart workplace protections, refuse to provide government-funded services or evade child labor laws.
Some people have asked why we need DNHA in light of House passage of the Equality Act, a wide-ranging LGBTQ civil rights measure, last week. While the two pieces of legislation complement one another, they aren’t the same.
The Equality Act builds on our nation’s existing civil rights laws to expand comprehensive nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, government services, health care, education and other areas of life for LGBTQ people, women, people of color, immigrants, the nonreligious and religious minorities. The Do No Harm Act, on the other hand, does not create any new nondiscrimination protections; it’s designed to be a comprehensive fix to RFRA. The Do No Harm Act will prevent RFRA from being misused to get out of complying with a wide range of laws that protect people from harm, including nondiscrimination laws.