Booker Reintroduces Legislation Prohibiting Discrimination in the Name of Religion

Booker and Menendez


Booker Reintroduces Legislation Prohibiting Discrimination in the Name of Religion

The Do No Harm Act would prohibit individuals and businesses from using religion to deny others’ civil rights

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reintroduced the Do No Harm Act, legislation to restore the Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s (RFRA) original intent and prohibit individuals and businesses from using religion to deny others’ civil rights. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced this legislation earlier this year in the U.S. House.

In response to the 1990 Supreme Court case, Employment Division v. Smith, which excused discriminatory practices towards American Indians, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993, expanding civil rights protections for religious minorities. However, decades of systematic efforts by some organizations and businesses and the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (which held that RFRA requires closely-held corporations with religious opposition to contraception to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate) have coopted the original intent of the law and turned it into a license to legally discriminate and impose religious beliefs on others.

“Freely exercising your religion shouldn’t mean denying others of their civil rights,”  said Senator Booker. “The Do No Harm Act rights the Supreme Court’s wrong, restoring the careful balance of the First Amendment by both protecting religious liberty and ensuring the law and religious beliefs cannot be wielded to deny people of their right to live free from discrimination.”

“When Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, it was intended to protect religious exercise—not to erode civil rights under the guise of religious freedom.  Regrettably, we have seen RFRA repeatedly used to attack civil rights protections, deny access to health care, and allow discrimination in federal contracts and programs. The Do No Harm Act simply provides that RFRA cannot be used to limit access to health care, deny services supported by taxpayer dollars, or undermine the Civil Rights Act or other anti-discrimination protections.  Congress must take this critical step to ensure no one can weaponize religious freedom to erode our fundamental civil and legal rights,” said Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03).

Specifically, The Do No Harm Act would prevent the RFRA from being used to deny:

  • Protection against discrimination laws or the promotion of equal opportunity, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws;
  • Workplace protections or protections against child abuse;
  • Healthcare access, information, referrals, provisions, coverage or services to which persons are otherwise legally entitled;
  • Services that the government has contracted to be provided to beneficiaries through a government contract, grant, or cooperative agreement; and
  • Accommodations or other benefits and services provided by the government.

“The Do No Harm Act will uphold our country’s founding principle of religious freedom – that everyone has the freedom to believe as they want, but our laws cannot allow anyone to use their religious beliefs to harm others,” said Rachel Laser, American United President and CEO. “We thank Senator Cory Booker, a leader with a long history of putting faith and values into action, for sponsoring this critical legislation.”

“Religious freedom is a core American value, enshrined in our constitution. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was instituted to guard against burdens placed on religious minorities that interfere with the practice of their faith,” said JoDee Winterhof, Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “Anti-equality lawmakers and activists have distorted RFRA’s original intent to achieve political objectives and strip hard-won nondiscrimination and safety protections from marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ people. The Do No Harm Act will remedy this misinterpretation and prevent the weaponization of the RFRA.”

“It has never been more important to clarify that religious liberty is not a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people, those seeking reproductive health care or people of minority faith groups. We see religion being used to turn people away from housing, health care, education and work. There should be no place for this harmful discrimination in our country and in our laws,” said Ian Thompson, Senior Legislative Counsel at American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The following Senators co-sponsored this legislation: Whitehouse (D-RI), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Merkley (D-OR), Klobuchar (D-MN), Feinstein (D-CA), Blumenthal (D-CT), Gillibrand (D-NY), Padilla (D-CA), Murphy (D-CT), Duckworth (D-IL), Shaheen (D-NH), Smith (D-MN), Hirono (D-HI), Durbin (D-IL), Van Hollen (D-MD), Coons (D-DE), Stabenow (D-MI), Carper (D-DE), Sanders (I-VT), Cantwell (D-WA), Brown (D-OH), Menendez (D-NJ), Baldwin (D-WI), Reed (D-RI), Markey (D-MA), Warren (D-MA), Murray  (D-WA), Luján (D-NM), and Rosen (D-NV).

The full text of endorsed organizations can be viewed here.

The full text of the legislation can be viewed here.

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