The last administration was generally seen — certainly by me — as hostile to the free exercise of religion. Succinctly put, President Obama and his administration held a stunted view of religious liberty as primarily applying to “freedom of worship” — demonstrated by their litigation against an order of nuns for refusing to cover birth control in their health insurance.
The current administration has a more supportive view of religious freedom, illustrated by its plan to emphasize enforcement of medical-conscience rights through the Civil Rights Office of HHS.
Now, Democratic congressmen are seeking to eviscerate the rights of medical conscience and other religious liberties by destroying the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — which passed the Senate in 1993, 97-3. Among other provisions, the RFRA requires that the federal government prove it has a compelling state interest before infringing the religious liberties of individuals.
That was then. Today, many on the left flank believe religious freedom is wielded as a spear of discrimination against gays and women seeking abortion. Accordingly, a bill has been filed in the House, sponsored by more than 40 Democrats, to gut the RFRA’s protective provisions.
Under H.R. 3222, called the “Do No Harm Act,” the RFRA would be substantially eviscerated of muscle. From the bill (my emphasis):
It is the sense of Congress that—
(1) the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 should not be interpreted to authorize an exemption from generally applicable law that imposes the religious views, habits, or practices of one party upon another;
(2) the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 should not be interpreted to authorize an exemption from generally applicable law that imposes meaningful harm, including dignitary harm, on a third party; and
(3) the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 should not be interpreted to authorize an exemption that permits discrimination against other persons, including persons who do not belong to the religion or adhere to the beliefs of those to whom the exemption is given.
That wording would effectively eliminate the Hobby Lobby decision and allow federal bureaucrats to compel nuns to provide contraception coverage.
It would also probably destroy existing medical-conscience protections that prevent discrimination against professionals who refuse to participate in abortion, and would likely be deployed in other areas of health care, compelling doctors to perform medical services with which they are religiously opposed.
Of course, the bill is especially aimed at eliminating religious-rights defenses in LGBT-involved federal cases, and could certainly eliminate crucial shields against government coercion in other areas of public life, such as education.
The bill won’t pass this year, but make no mistake: A gauntlet has been thrown. If Democrats regain control of the government, expect such legislative attacks against religious liberty to be pursued energetically.
If that issue is important to you, remember the potential in November when you decide whether — and for whom — to vote.