Bill in Congress would reign in abuse of religious freedom act

Amid increasing charges that organizations and individuals are using ‘religious freedom’ as a basis for discrimination against LGBTI people and other marginalized groups in America, two Democratic congressmembers are working to end that practice.

Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts and Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia have reintroduced the ‘Do No Harm Act,’ an amendment to the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Do No Harm Act essentially says that civil rights supersede any claims of religious exemptions.

Specifically, the act would limit the use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in cases involving discrimination, child labor and abuse, wages and collective bargaining, access to health care, public accommodations, and social services provided through government contract.

Kennedy and Scott first introduced the Do No Harm Act last year. Dozens of equal rights groups supported it, but the bill failed to garner enough interest in Congress.

‘Inherent in our nation’s right to religious freedom is a promise that my belief cannot be used to infringe on yours or do you harm,’ said Kennedy in a statement on Thursday. ‘The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was intended to protect against such distortions of faith, not to justify them.’

History of RFRA

Congress passed the RFRA in 1993 in response to outcry about a Supreme Court case involving two members of a Native American church in Oregon who used the hallucinogen peyote in a religious ceremony.

When the two tested positive for a Schedule I drug (peyote), they were fired from their jobs and denied unemployment benefits. In Employment Division vs Smith, the Supreme Court ruled that the individuals were not exempt from Oregon’s narcotics laws.

The Huffington Post Queer Voices section noted that while RFRA was intended to shield individuals’ religious freedoms from government infringement, some Christian groups and for-profit companies have claimed religious rights as justification for discriminating against women and LGBTI people.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled…

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