From Wall of Separation:
Today, 42 senators, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), took a strong public stand against taxpayer-funded employment discrimination. They joined a letter urging that a dangerous provision, which was snuck into a version of the national defense bill in the dead of the night, be stripped out before the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) becomes law.
Here’s why it’s so dangerous: known as the Russell Amendment, the provision would authorize taxpayer-funded discrimination in every single federal contract and grant issued by the federal government, whether defense related or not. In fact, Barry Lynn, AU’s executive director called this “the most sweeping proposal” he’s seen in the twenty years he’s fought against legislation and policies like this. The Russell Amendment would jeopardize critical workplace protections for anyone who works for a religiously affiliated contractor or grantee. It’s probably no surprise that the people most likely to face discrimination are workers who are of minority faiths, of no faith, women, and LGBT individuals.
Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), the source of this bad idea, claimed his amendment is about “religious liberty.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, but it does not give you a right to discriminate, especially with taxpayer dollars. No one should be disqualified from a taxpayer-funded job because they are the “wrong” religion or they don’t follow the same religious tenets as their employer.
Last month, nearly 90 members of the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), urged that the extreme Russell Amendment be removed from the NDAA. More than 90 national civil rights, faith, LGBT, and reproductive rights groups sent a similar letter calling for it to be stripped out. This, on top of the President’s longstanding threat to veto the bill because of this radical provision, which, according to a report today, the President’s own chief of staff has relayed to lawmakers.
And after today, the opposition may be insurmountable. You see, 42 is a magic number. In order to advance legislation in the Senate, you need 60 senators to support it. Today’s letter shows there may be enough votes to block the defense bill.
This is good news. The Russell Amendment and its taxpayer-funded religious discrimination is contrary to our nation’s laws and values. It has no place in the must-pass bill setting defense policy.