Metro Weekly

Do No Harm Act would prevent RFRA from being used to discriminate

Supporters note that some are trying to use RFRA to justify discrimination against LGBTQ people and others

Sen. Kamala Harris (right) – Photo: Mobilus in Mobili, via Wikimedia.

Earlier this week, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would prevent the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act from being used to avoid complying with civil rights, labor, child welfare, or health care laws.

As written, the Do No Harm Act seeks to clarify that RFRA should not be interpreted by governments or by courts to allow believers of one creed or adherents to a narrow set of beliefs to impose those beliefs on others, or use those beliefs to justify discrimination or impose harm on a third party.

Supporters often speak of the importance of RFRA being used “as a shield, not as a sword.” So, for example, members a religious sect may be allowed to practice their beliefs freely without government interference, so long as the practice of those beliefs does not infringe on the rights of others, such as discriminating against LGBTQ people.

The bill also specifically prohibits RFRA from being used as justification for flouting civil rights laws, labor laws, child welfare laws, and health care laws. A similar version has been introduced in the House, garnering 120 co-sponsors.

“Religious freedom does not give anyone the right to discriminate. But RFRA has already been used to advance discrimination against women, LGBT individuals, and others,” Ian Thompson, a legislative representative with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is backing the bill, said in a statement. 

“In this current climate, with a White House and Justice Department committed to using RFRA as a license to discriminate, it is more important than ever for Congress to make clear that this law is a shield for religious freedom — not a sword for discrimination. This legislation represents a meaningful step toward protecting women and LGBT individuals from discrimination, denial of health care, and other harms.”

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the National LGBTQ Task Force are among the other groups that support the bill.

“The Do No Harm Act will ensure that we honor two core American values: religious freedom and the promise of equal protection under the law,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, said in a statement. “America is at its best when we all free to believe, or not, as we see fit and to practice our personal faith without hurting others.”

“The National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund supports the Do No Harm Act. No one should use the guise of religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people,” Stacey Long Simmons, the director of advocacy and action at the Task Force Action Fund said in a statement. “We believe in a vision of full equality for all LGBTQ people and their families.”

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