May 22, 2018

Harris, Leahy & Hirono Lead Colleagues in Legislation to Protect Civil Rights of All Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Harvey Milk Day, U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), members of the Judiciary Committee, and their Senate colleagues, introduced legislation to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Do No Harm Act. Since its 1993 inception, the original intent of the RFRA has been misappropriated and used to discriminate and harm others such as LGBTQ individuals, women, and children.

The Do Not Harm Act ensures that RFRA can no longer be invoked to threaten fundamental civil and legal rights. In addition to Harris, Leahy and Hirono, the bill is co-sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). This bill is the Senate companion to legislation introduced last year by Representatives Joe Kennedy (D-MA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) and 120 co-sponsors. 

“The freedom to worship is a founding principle of this nation as well as the right to live free of discrimination or fear that one’s civils rights will be undermined because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” said Sen. Harris. “The Do No Harm Act will ensure we protect both these rights for all.”

“I am proud to be a lead cosponsor of the Do No Harm Act, which will prevent the shield of religious liberty from being used as a sword for discrimination,” said Sen. Leahy. “While the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was originally passed by Congress to protect the rights of religious minorities, it has been contorted in recent years to defend discriminatory practices against LGBTQ individuals and women seeking access to reproductive health services. The Do No Harm Act would help put an end to misuse of the act and ensure that longstanding anti-discrimination protections in the law are not eroded.”

“While our country was founded on the value of religious liberty, that freedom cannot come at the expense of others’ civil rights,” said Sen. Hirono. “The Do No Harm Act would prevent the President and his far-right allies from twisting RFRA to justify bigotry and hate.”

“Our legislation safeguards the constitutional and civil rights of all Americans,” said Sen Feinstein. “The Supreme Court has held that the Constitution protects women’s right to health care and the right to marriage equality. This bill ensures that Americans will be able to exercise those and other fundamental rights freely, while at the same honoring the Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s intent to protect Americans’ freedom of religion.”

“Religious freedom should never be used as an excuse to discriminate, whether it’s to take away women’s health care or deny LGBTQ individuals full equality,” said Sen. Merkley. “In America, we can and should honor religious freedom without infringing on others’ rights—and that’s exactly what this bill does.”

“Discriminating against anybody because of how they look, who they love or what religion they practice has no place in our country,” Sen. Wyden said. “I have always been proud to fight for LGBTQ Americans and the equal rights they deserve, and I’m proud to sponsor this bill that protects against discrimination under a false pretense of religious freedom.”

"Since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was enacted to protect the constitutional rights of religious minorities, it has been distorted into a license to discriminate,” said Sen. Markey. “The Do No Harm Act makes clear that no one can undermine essential non-discrimination protections under the guise of religious liberty. I stand with Senators Harris, Leahy, and Hirono in affirming the importance of our federal civil rights, labor, children welfare, and health care laws and ensuring that RFRA is not used to undermine the fundamental rights of others."

“Religious freedom does not give anyone the right to discriminate,” said Ian Thompson, ACLU Legislative Representative. “But RFRA has already been used to advance discrimination against women, LGBT individuals, and others. 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. The ACLU applauds Senator Harris and the co-sponsors of this bill for their leadership in introducing the Do No Harm Act. This legislation represents a meaningful step toward protecting women and LGBT individuals from discrimination, denial of health care, and other harms.”

In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in response to a Supreme Court case undermining the rights of religious minorities. But since its passage, twenty-one states have passed state RFRAs and it has been used to defend employment discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, deny health care coverage for employees, claim exemptions to civil rights law, and complicate justice in child labor and abuse cases.  

The Do No Harm Act would prevent the RFRA law 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 is supported by a broad coalition of LGBTQ, civil rights, women’s rights, and faith groups. For a full list of supportive organizations, click HERE.

Text of the bill is available HERE.

A one-pager of the bill is available HERE.