February 2023 Church & State Magazine - February 2023

Facetime! Americans United’s April Summit For Religious Freedom Gives You The Opportunity To Meet With Members Of Congress And/Or Their Staffs

  Mary Cugini

With Americans United’s Summit for Religious Freedom (SRF) fast approaching on April 22-24, we’d like to take some time to explain a special piece of SRF: Lobby Day. 

Lobby Day, which will take place on April 24, the final day of SRF, will give participants chances for face-to-face conversations on Capitol Hill with congressional staff — and maybe even members of Congress themselves — to talk about the importance of church-state separation. During lobby visits, we will highlight the Do No Harm Act (DNHA), an important bill to ensure that religious freedom is a shield to protect us all, not a sword to harm others. This is an awesome opportunity for AU members to share their own personal stories about why this bill is so important and what passing the DHNA would mean.

Picture of the US Capitol building on a partly cloudy day

Lift up your voice: AU’s Lobby Day will focus on Capitol Hill (Getty Images)

During our inaugural Lobby Day in 2020, AU supporters like you attended meetings with members of Congress, including U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), David Price (D-N.C.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.). We had 104 total lobby meetings with members and staff. Thanks to these meetings, three members of Congress joined AU as co-sponsors of the Do No Harm Act: Davis, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Talk about having an impact!

Don’t worry if you don’t have prior lobbying experience. It’s not necessary. The day before Lobby Day, AU will be leading a training to teach you how to interact with government officials. We’ll give you specific information about the Do No Harm Act and answer questions you might have. If you are nervous about attending meetings alone, don’t worry. We will create groups based on where people live, so if you have a friend or family member that might be interested and lives near you, get them to sign up and lobby together! 

AU will schedule your meetings for you, and we will try our best to ensure that everyone who is participating meets with the office of at least one of their members of Congress. Your lobby group may also include people who live in neighboring Congressional districts, and you’ll have meetings in those offices as well. This is because members want to hear from their constituents, so by meeting with your home state legislators your stories will have a greater impact. 

There are hundreds of issues important to Americans United, and to all of us personally, before Congress right now. The power of this Lobby Day is that we are all lobbying legislators with one unified message.

What is the Do No Harm Act? Here is a brief overview: 

If you care about protecting women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and the nonreligious from discrimination, then you should care about passing the Do No Harm Act. You should also care about this bill if you want to protect civil rights laws and laws that ensure people can access vital health care, if you want to ensure that people who are vulnerable and need social services don’t get left out in the cold, or if you want to end taxpayer-funded discrimination.

The bill is simple: The Do No Harm Act will ensure that a federal law that was designed as a shield to protect religion is not used as a sword to harm others. 

Some background is helpful: In 1993, Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This legislation was intended to protect religious freedom, especially for religious minorities. 

However, it wasn’t long before religious extremists began using RFRA to try to force everyone else to live by their beliefs and to use religion as a license to harm others. That was never the intent of RFRA. 

And that’s why we need to pass the Do No Harm Act, which would stop RFRA from being misused to:

  • Undermine nondiscrimination laws;
  • Deny access to health care;
  • Trump workplace protection laws;
  • Evade child labor laws; or
  • Provide an excuse for government employees to refuse to perform certain services, or for contractors to refuse to provide contract-mandated services.

Under the Do No Harm Act, people can still claim RFRA protection in many cases, including those involving the right to wear religious attire and observe religious holidays. In other words, RFRA could still be used to protect individual rights, as it was always intended to do. However, it could not be used in ways that harm other people, which was never the purpose of the law. The DNHA gets RFRA back to its original purpose. 

Americans United supports the Do No Harm Act because it will protect all Americans’ religious freedom. It upholds the foundational principle of separation of church and state, which safeguards our right to live and believe as we choose. Our nation promises all people the freedom to believe in, and live by, the religion of their choice or no religion at all, but our laws should not allow anyone to use religious beliefs to harm others.

Interested? We hope so! Here’s how to sign up to lobby for the Do No Harm Act: Check out the Summit for Religious Freedom website at thesrf.org to find out more information. Under the tab marked “Register,” you’ll see information about how to sign up for the Summit and Lobby Day. Once you’ve registered, we’ll take it from there and will be in touch with more information. 

We hope to see you in Washington, D.C., this April!

Mary Cugini is public policy assistant at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Can't make it to D.C for SRF?

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If you can’t make it to the nation’s capital for the Summit for Religious Freedom, you can still participate in an impressive virtual program of live, curated sessions from the comfort of your home, local coffee shop or anywhere with an internet connection.

Find out more and register today!