Twenty-two Republican U.S. senators have reintroduced the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would potentially allow people to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals or same-sex couples under the guise of “religious freedom,” reports The Hill.
The bill would insulate any individual who holds “a sincerely held religious belief” opposing homosexuality, transgenderism, or same-sex marriage, or any business operated by an individual with such beliefs, from being penalized or punished by the government should they be found to have discriminated against such people.
As a result, it would prohibit the government from levying fines against people who discriminate, denying them government contracts, or taking away special tax breaks, so long as the person claims that their refusal to provide goods or services was motivated by their religious beliefs.
Critics have warned that the bill is so broadly written that it would not just condone discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and same-sex couples, but single mothers, divorcees, those who engage in premarital sex, or anyone else whose lifestyle does not comport with a person’s religious beliefs, no matter how radical or out-of-the-mainstream those beliefs may be.
The bill was sponsored and introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and co-sponsored by several prominent conservative senators, including Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wis.), and Rand Paul (Ky.).
A similar iteration of the bill was introduced in both the House and Senate in 2015, but only received a hearing in the House. The measure failed to gain traction, and was eventually set aside by leadership amid protests from Democrats, and the realization that then-President Obama would veto the measure if it managed to pass Congress.
Lee had previously promised to reintroduce FADA after Donald Trump was elected president. Lee’s House counterpart, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), now running to be the next governor of Idaho, said last he would introduce similar legislation in the House during the current session, but never did, according to a search of filed bills on Congress.Gov.
During his campaign for president, Trump promised to the First Amendment Defense Act into law if Congress passed it, saying it would “protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths.”
The Human Rights Campaign blasted the bill, noting that it would roll back critical protections for LGBTQ people by undermining Executive Order 11246, which prohibits anti-LGBTQ discrimination by federal contractors, revoking guidance for the Department of Housing and Urban Development that requires same-sex couples to be guaranteed equal access to shelters, eliminating protections for LGBTQ victims of domestic violence contained in the Violence Against Women Act, and relaxing enforcement of the Family and Medical Leave Act’s protections for spouses, which are supposed to be extended equally to same-sex couples.
“The First Amendment Defense Act is harmful legislation that would legalize state-sanctioned discrimination and undermine key civil rights protections for LGBTQ people,” David Stacy, the government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “Supporters of this legislation are using religious liberty as a sword to hurt LGBTQ families rather than staying true to our long tradition of it serving as a shield to protect religious expression from government overreach.”
A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that a majority of Americans purport to oppose laws that provide religious exemptions that would enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
“America was founded on the freedom of religion and this shared value continues to be critical to our nation’s success, but it does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “While President Trump and the Senate Republicans behind this bill are pushing for discriminatory legislation, the LGBTQ community will not be silent and continue to protect the hardworking LGBTQ American families who would be placed in direct harm by this unjust bill.”
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