A House of Representatives committee held a meeting with two expert panels to debate whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act should be limited in its scope in response to recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court and actions by the Trump administration.
The House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing Tuesday titled “Do No Harm: Examining the Misapplication of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
RFRA passed in 1993 with bipartisan, almost unanimous support and was signed by Democrat President Bill Clinton. The law was a reaction to a Supreme Court decision opposing the rights of members of the Native American Church to use peyote, a banned hallucinogenic drug, as part of a religious ritual. It was supported at the time by a large coalition of both liberal and conservative groups. In recent years, however, the law has become controversial as religious conservatives have used the law to defend their right to dissent to liberal agenda items related to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Democrat Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, chair of the committee, claimed that since its passage in 1993, “RFRA has since been used to legitimize housing discrimination against single mothers and minorities, shield church groups from paying child abuse victims, and impose extreme emotional harm on school children based on their gender identity.”
“Since the beginning of the Trump administration, this troublesome trend has only gotten worse,” stated Rep. Scott, arguing that the administration’s guidance on RFRA allows “individuals to use conscience-based objections to override civil rights protections.”
“The guidance has provided legal cover for the administration to permit or even promote government-sanctioned attacks on civil rights and employment, healthcare, foster care, and other areas under the guise of religious liberty. These attacks are spreading.”
Republican Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, ranking member of the committee, defended RFRA as a valuable means of defending religious freedom.
“RFRA stands as our nation’s primary religious liberty statute, enacted to ensure that all Americans can freely express their faith, without fear of discrimination,” Foxx said.
“It recognizes the importance of all religious faiths, including religious minorities and offers a safe haven for anyone seeking to practice their religion freely, by providing a sensible balancing test that allows individuals exercising their religious beliefs a fair hearing under the law.”
The committee oversaw two panels centered on the Do No Harm Act, which if passed would decrease the number of federal laws and rules that RFRA could be applied to.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski