3 Reasons Why America Needs the Do No Harm Act

Democratic legislators in Congress have introduced the Do No Harm Act which would clarify limits to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and prevent discrimination against LGBT people and a host of other minorities.

Reintroduced by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Representatives Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), the legislation leaves the Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s main aim intact: to reinforce that practicing one’s religion is a right guaranteed under the US Constitution.

However, the Do No Harm Act clarifies people can’t use religious freedom as a smokescreen for violating other people’s federally-protected rights, like rights to public accommodations and services or healthcare rights, like the right to access reproductive healthcare services.

Legislator Ian Thompson underscores the need for this legislation in a recently released piece for the ACLU, saying that: “Religious freedom is a core American value and something that the ACLU has fought to defend since the founding of our organization a century ago. That freedom, however, does not include the right to discriminate against or harm others. We have seen the RFRA twisted from a law designed to safeguard the rights of religious minorities into a tool of discrimination. Congress must act to put an end to these abuses once and for all.”

1. The Do No Harm Act Protects All Religious Freedom Instead of Favoring the Majority

As it stands now, Evangelical or extremely conservative Christian majorities are using state-level RFRAs to push forward their very narrow religious agenda. A broad spectrum of religions now support LGBT rights, and yet Evangelicals lag behind. When we hear about RFRAs being used as a license to discriminate, it is usually the majority religion that wants this right. Essentially, this privileges a religion and creates an unequal balance of power.

But if all religions have this same ability, then how does this privilege a majority religion? People can—and in the past have—uses RFRAs to discriminate against people of different faiths, for example refusing service to Muslims or Jews. As a result, the majority religion within the state can quickly avail itself of a power to control who gets the full protection of these new rights and who does not.

The Do No Harm Act would ensure that all recognized religions, whether they are practiced by a majority of the population or not, are given the same weight and allowed the same protections and responsibilities.

2. The Do No Harm Act Protects Minority Rights

As it stands, some states are using the federal RFRA as a means to privilege religious beliefs over civil rights. This is something that even the federal government under the Trump administration is now allowing.

For example, the Trump administration recently backed South Carolina’s Governor Henry McMaster and gave permission for a RFRA waiver to allow a religious institution operating as an adoption and foster care agency the ability to discriminate against prospective parents on the basis of the prospective parents’ religion. These agencies are federally funded, meaning this takes federal money and allows adoption agencies to discriminate against people based on their faith.

Clearly this means religious agencies can discriminate against disfavored or “otherised” religions, including Jews, Muslims and Hindus. By virtue of the exception to civil rights law though, it is also yet another affirmation of the lawfulness of anti-LGBT discrimination in adoption and foster services, something that, several times now, has been a point of contention at the state level.

However, the import of this is broader. People may choose not to marry but rather cohabit, something that may run counter to conservative religious views. Yet, in many states, people may have no choice but to go to an agency that is religiously backed. In this case, they may be denied the right to raise a child simply because they are not married.

It’s worth remembering that service providers do not have to justify their refusal of service beyond saying it is “because of their religious beliefs”. Agencies can also use RFRAs to sneakily discriminate based on race by refusing service to people of color under the guise of religious freedom, for example that the agency is Catholic but the couple are Quakers. This is an extreme example of how agencies could abuse RFRAs, but it is open to this kind of abuse.

Speaking of abuse, the Do No Harm Act would…

3. Help to Once Again Establish that Businesses are not People

People can have sincerely-held religious beliefs. Businesses cannot.

The 2014 US Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores allowed corporations to use the RFRA to essentially deny employees and their families insurance coverage that the company believes goes against the owners’ personal beliefs.

Since that time, the US Supreme Court has made a number of troubling rulings that, at the very least, appear to leave open the door to expanding on that idea. Most recently, the Masterpiece cakeshop ruling which did not directly rule on the right to refuse service to gay couples, once again degrading civil rights protections in favor of religious privilege.

The Do No Harm Act is vitally important in correcting course and reaffirming that private beliefs cannot be used for discrimination in the public sector, something which flies directly against other constitutional rights of equality and autonomy.

Take Action!

The Do No Harm Act stands a good chance of passing in the Democratically controlled House, but in the Senate it’s chances are slim. Let’s raise our voices. Sign and share the petition asking Republican senators to join with Democrats to reaffirm the integrity of religious protections and protect minority rights by passing the Do No Harm Act.

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.

 

Photo credit: Getty Images.

38 comments

Thomas M
Thomas M12 days ago

Thank you for sharing

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Frances G
Carla G18 days ago

Done. Thanks.

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Richard B
Richard B23 days ago

signed

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heather g
heather gabout a month ago

Signed, thanks

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pam w
pam wabout a month ago

No, Anne...I do NOT know what you mean! "Believers" are NOT ''of the same faith." And Atheists have equal rights, equal responsibilities and give equal gifts to this society.

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Coo R
Coo Rabout a month ago

Yes to all of these.

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Sue H
Sue Habout a month ago

Thanks for sharing. Petition signed.

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Anne M
Anne Mabout a month ago

pam w - you know what I mean,, and it goes without saying,, that I’m not talking about Atheists,, only believers.. - And when you believe,, then you are all of the same Faith...

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Lesa D
Lesa Dabout a month ago

#62 petition signed...

thank you Steve...

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Karen H
Karen Habout a month ago

Anne Moran, not everyone believes in god. Atheism is not a religion, but atheists have the right to their non-belief.

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