Metro Weekly

Congress considering “religious freedom” bill to discriminate against LGBT people

The First Amendment Defense Act would prevent the government from protecting LGBT people from discrimination

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Photo: Congressman Jason Chaffetz, via Facebook).

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Photo: Congressman Jason Chaffetz, via Facebook).

Apparently, the lesson learned from states like North Carolina and Mississippi is to jump on any chance to refuse service to LGBT people, regardless of backlash. At least, that’s what Congress seems to have embraced as it moves forward with a “religious freedom” bill.

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has scheduled a hearing on June 12 focusing on the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). Proposed by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), with a Senate version by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), it would hamstring the federal government from taking any retaliatory action against a person or entity that discriminates against LGBT people.

Specifically, the bill prevents the government from denying tax breaks or benefits, deductions for charitable contributions, or the denial of any federal grant, contract, loan, licensing or certification to those people or businesses that wish not to serve LGBT people.

It provides protections for people who choose to discriminate based on two beliefs: either that marriage should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations should be reserved only for marriage. It would also allow a person who believes they have been “discriminated against” by the federal government because of their socially conservative or religiously-based views to sue if they are denied those special certifications, tax breaks or other benefits.

The legislation, endorsed by the Republican National Committee last year, mirrors bills like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in Indiana last year, as well as similar ones in ArkansasMississippi, Georgia, and Virginia.

Labrador’s bill has received praise from groups like the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, the American Conservative Union (ACU), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Concerned Women for America (CWA), and the Family Research Council (FRC). U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chair of the Oversight and Government Reform committee, is a cosponsor of the measure and has long championed the need for legislation like FADA to curtail LGBT rights.

The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus criticized the timing of the hearing, coming on the heels of the recent massacre that killed 49 people attending an LGBT nightclub in Orlando earlier this month.

“This hearing is nothing more than an election-year stunt to rally conservatives at the expense of LGBT Americans,” U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said in a statement. “Let’s be clear — there is no religious basis to deny basic rights and liberties to someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Period.”

Cicilline is also the sponsor of the Equality Act, a piece of legislation that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in various avenues of life, including in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations. He argues that FADA will exacerbate discrimination in states that lack strong legal protections for LGBT residents.

“In most states, you can get married on Saturday, post photos of your wedding to Facebook on Sunday, and then get fired or kicked out of your apartment on Monday,just because you’re gay…. This is wrong,” said Cicilline. “Fairness and equality are core American values. And in 2016, no American should ever be made to feel less than equal — especially not by their elected Representatives.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com