In 1993 a bipartisan coalition overwhelmingly passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) through Congress. But a subsequent Supreme Court case partially overturned the RFRA law. In 1999 a similar coalition crafted a curative that would reinstate the RFRA’s approach at the state level.
The resulting Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA) passed the House of Representatives easily. But the ascendancy of the gay rights movement and its leaders’ belief that it would become the pretext for discrimination, the RLPA died in the Senate in large part due to the efforts of Senator and future President Joe Biden.
Where the Left, including Biden who voted for it, once agreed that the RFRA was essential to furthering its mutual benefits, it now views the bill as an excuse for bigotry. He now supports Democratic-sponsored bills that would eliminate the RFRA as an effective protection of religious liberty.
The Equality Act would add sexual orientation, sexual identity and pregnancy to the classes protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It would also explicitly gut the RFRA by banning its use as a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of the law.
Other consequences of this act could result in Catholic hospitals being forced to permit sterlizaton, contraception, abortion and transgender hysterectomies on premises despite these being prohibited by Catholic moral teaching. The Equality Act has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.
The Do No Harm Act would gut the RFRA in most circumstances. The bill specifically states that the RFRA should not “authorize an exemption from generally applicable law if the exemption would impose the religious views, habits or practices of one party upon another.”
It would apply across the board. The practical impact would be to remove the guts from medical conscience rights and moot previously decided RFRA religious liberty cases.
And with that, freedom of religion would shrivel to a mere “freedom of worship.” That is, we would have the right to believe whatever we want inside the walls of a house of worship or our homes, but we wouldn’t necessarily be free to act consistently with those beliefs in the way we live our public lives. What a hollow “freedom” that would be.
If the United States’ “first liberty” can be so casually thrown away, so too could any other American freedom. Religious, secular, liberal, conservative, gay, straight, transgendered; it means we all have an essential stake in preserving freedom of religion. Because once one fundamental freedom disappears, others will surely follow.