Today, the American Humanist Association is joining partners across the country to celebrate the reintroduction of the Do No Harm Act in Congress. Join the effort by writing your members of Congress right now to ask them to support the Do No Harm Act.
This vital bill will restore the “do no harm” principle of the First Amendment to make sure no one can use their religion as an excuse to justify discrimination and deny people their civil rights.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits government agencies from burdening an individual’s religious exercise unless (1) there is a compelling state interest and (2) the law is implemented in the least restrictive manner to further that interest. The law was initially viewed by advocates and policymakers as a victory in protecting individual religious freedoms.
However, RFRA has been misapplied in recent years. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014), the Supreme Court broadly interpreted RFRA and negated the “do no harm” principle of the First Amendment. The immediate effect of the decision exempted for-profit companies from federal non-discrimination protections under the guise of religious freedom. Today, RFRA is being misused by organizations—including many that receive taxpayer dollars to provide public services—to evade important civil rights protections, which most often harms LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, women, religious minorities, and nonreligious people. It’s being used to justify paying women less, to deny people healthcare, to restrict people’s access to public services like housing and food aid, and more.
RFRA is being insidiously used to undermine nondiscrimination laws, weaponize religion, and manipulate our country’s longstanding definition of religious freedom—a freedom that should ensure all people can practice their faith or philosophy, so long as they do not inflict harm on others.
The Do No Harm Act accomplishes furtherance of this freedom through several provisions, which include: 1) establishing exceptions to RFRA’s applicability to laws that protect against discrimination or promote equal opportunity, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964; 2) prohibiting RFRA’s applicability to laws that require employers to provided compensation or benefits, protect against child labor or exploitation, or provide healthcare coverage; 3) protecting a person’s enjoyment of established government accommodations, including in government awards and contracts; and 4) requiring the government to be an involved party in any judicial proceeding asserting a violation of RFRA.
Last year, during the 117th Congress, the bills amassed 206 co-sponsors in the House and 35 Senate co-sponsors. Vice President Harris also previously was the primary sponsor of the legislation as a Senator in the 116th Congress. The bill has the broad and resounding support of civil society.
For humanists, supporting the passage of the Do No Harm Act is imperative to preventing RFRA from being used to discriminate on the basis of religious belief. This legislation will respect the equality and civil rights of all and condemn legalized discrimination. Humanists are proud to support the Do No Harm Act as a clarification of RFRA’s intent to protect the constitutional right to freely exercise religious beliefs.
Companies, individuals, and taxpayer-funded organizations—from foster care agencies to universities—have used religion as a sword against LGBTQ+ people, women, religious minorities, and nontheists, often when they are seeking public services or healthcare. The American Humanist Association has never tolerated such harm: now is our chance to make sure that no one can deny others a public service, a fair wage, reproductive healthcare, or any other rights by claiming religious exemptions.