Federal First Amendment Defense Act Poised To Make A Comeback In 2017

Image by kevinmayer/Getty Images

Image by kevinmayer/Getty Images

This week, U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) announced that next year he plans to reintroduce the so-called First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a bill that would allow individuals and corporations to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against, well, almost everyone. 

The bill would allow individuals, businesses, healthcare providers, and even taxpayer-funded social service providers to ignore laws that conflict with their religious beliefs about marriage and sex. This extreme legislation, aimed at permitting discrimination against same-sex couples, also would sanction discrimination against unmarried couples, married couples in which one person had been married before, single mothers, and individuals who have had sex outside of marriage. In other words, almost everyone.

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value and guarantees us the freedom to believe — or not — as we see fit. What it doesn’t do, though, is grant anyone a right to harm others or discriminate against them. The deceptively named First Amendment Defense Act is actually bad for religious freedom. Indeed, a federal judge in Mississippi struck down a state law that is very similar to FADA because it violated the First Amendment. He explained that the government may not permit some to ignore laws at the “expense of other citizens.”

It’s no surprise that in the past three years, Congress hasn’t done much on this bill — it was too controversial for many. But, now, Senator Lee thinks November’s election results gives FADA momentum. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a co-sponsor of FADA, agrees that the bill’s prospects “are brighter now than they have been in a long time.” There’s good reason to believe that President-elect Donald Trump will support the bill. In September, Trump released a statement promising to sign FADA if it came across his desk, claiming that it would "protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths".

FADA is another example of attempts to corrupt religious freedom. As we make advances in LGBT rights, women’s equality and reproductive health, there are some who seek to undermine this progress. Under the guise of religious freedom, they want to deny health care, refuse to provide services, and disobey laws protecting our neighbors from discrimination and abuse.

That’s why we fought FADAs in Congress and in states across the country last year and why we’ll do it again next year. 

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