On the Hill: Two Bad Congressional Bills You Should Know About

With Donald Trump’s presidency well underway, much of the media coverage has been focused on his executive orders and his attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But there is other congressional activity worth paying attention to, especially as two bad bills begin to make their way through the legislative process.

The first of these bad bills, the Sanctity of Human Life Act, also known as HR 586, was introduced by Representative Jody Hice (R-GA), and has the support of twenty-nine co-sponsors.  This legislation states:

(A) the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being, and is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person; and

(B) the life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, irrespective of sex, health, function or disability, defect, stage of biological development, or condition of dependency, at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood; and

(C) Congress affirms that the Congress, each State, the District of Columbia, and all United States territories have the authority to protect the lives of all human beings residing in its respective jurisdictions.

Effectively, this “personhood” bill is an attempt by religious right conservatives to further restrict the rights of women to control their own bodies and make their own decisions on pregnancy and reproductive health. And while it is interesting in a transhumanist sense to see Republican legislators begin to acknowledge the viability of human cloning, this science-y language shouldn’t distract concerned humanists from the end goal of this legislation: restricting women’s autonomy.

Another bad bill to watch is S. Con. Res. 5, which was introduced by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and has thirteen co-sponsors, all Republicans. It’s worth noting that not all things in this bill are bad, as language extolling the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (the basis for much of the First Amendment) and religious freedom rights for all is something to celebrate and support. But in typical fashion, Republicans were unable to stop themselves from inserting language favoring theism over nontheism into an otherwise good bill. S. Con. Res. 5 states:

Individuals who have studied United States democracy from an international perspective, such as Alexis de Tocqueville, have noted that religion plays a central role in preserving the United States Government because religion provides the moral base required for democracy to succeed.

By once again claiming that religion is the foundation and preserver of our democracy, Republicans needlessly insult both nontheists and theists who do not associate with any particular religion (which make up over a quarter of the US population). Frustratingly, the good language in the bill is overshadowed by this pandering to religious faith, and prevents Democrats and other Republicans who support religious freedom but oppose the establishment of religion from becoming co-sponsors and helping to push the bill through Congress.

With several years to go before the next congressional election, humanists should expect to see the introduction of more legislation like the two mentioned here, which use religious beliefs as a basis for bills that seek to deprive Americans of their rights and that tie religion and government even closer together. The American Humanist Association and our lobbying team will be there every step of the way to oppose these efforts and ensure that the separation of church and state is protected.