The religious right in Congress is at it again, pushing for more harmful legislation under the guise of religious freedom—legislation that would actually allow for religiously motivated discrimination and other bad behavior. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) recently reintroduced the First Amendment Defense Act, which has twenty-one co-sponsors in the Senate and is currently garnering co-sponsors in the House, where it was introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO).
According to Senator Lee, this bill ensures that
what an individual or organization believes about the traditional definition of marriage is not – and should never be – a part of the government’s decision-making process when distributing licenses, accreditations, or grants. And the First Amendment Defense Act simply ensures that this will always be true in America – that federal bureaucrats will never have the authority to require those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage to choose between their living in accordance with those beliefs and maintaining their occupation or their tax status.
This bill states that the federal government can’t discriminate against individuals, businesses, or nonprofits that speak or act in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and that pre-marital sex is improper. Essentially, this means that the federal government cannot refuse to fund a nonprofit or an individual who refuses to provide services to LGBTQ Americans or Americans who have done the deed before getting married (who know that pre-marital sex was still so controversial?). The bill would also prevent the federal government from disallowing tax deductions for charitable donations to such nonprofits, or deny individuals, businesses, or nonprofits any government benefit because of these beliefs and actions.
And while the bill is obviously flawed and deserving of opposition from humanists, last Congress’s version was even worse. This year’s FADA at least does not apply to for-profit religious businesses, which is an acknowledgement by the bill’s sponsors that companies like Hobby Lobby don’t have a religious purpose and shouldn’t receive special exemptions from widely applicable legislation like the ones afforded to houses of worship.
Thankfully, due to the hard work of the American Humanist Association and our many coalition partners, the previous FADA failed to pass, and this version is also likely to fail, even though it is slightly narrower in scope. Still, humanists and other Americans who care about religious freedom should be upset by the continuation of an effort by some Republicans in Congress to use religious freedom as an excuse to participate in bad behavior towards other Americans, either because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual history, or other unimportant factor. At the end of the day, these Republicans still have yet to learn the fundamental lesson that can be gleaned from America’s religious diversity and constitutionally mandated pluralism: that religious freedom should be used as a shield, and not as a sword to attack others who believe, look, or love differently than they do.