On Wednesday, September 15, 2021, Senator Cory Booker reintroduced the Do No Harm Act, a top legislative priority for Interfaith Alliance. A broad coalition of over 100 faith-based and civil rights groups welcomed the bill as organizational supporters as well as 28 Senate co-sponsors.
The Do No Harm Act clarifies the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to protect religious freedom while ensuring it cannot be misused as a weapon of discrimination. Originally passed in 1993, RFRA affirmed the free exercise rights of religious minorities, after two Native American men were fired for participating in a religious ceremony involving peyote. The bill passed Congress with nearly unanimous support and was signed into law by President Clinton.
But, in recent years, bad faith interpretations of RFRA have distorted its purpose to justify discrimination and grant individuals and businesses the authority to impose their religious beliefs on others. Decades of systematic efforts by the Religious Right, galvanized by 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.
RFRA has been cited by those seeking exemptions to civil rights laws, to exclude LGBTQ+ people and members of religious minorities from federally funded social services, and to impede justice in child labor and abuse cases. And, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, RFRA has even been used to undermine public health measures designed to keep our communities safe. These claims often hurt the very people RFRA was designed to protect, undermining the First Amendment in the process.
The Do No Harm Act would amend RFRA to clarify that no one can cite religious belief to undermine the Civil Rights Act, limit access to health care, or refuse services to those who live or love differently than they do. “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.”
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, emphasized that “we have watched the Religious Right manipulate and weaponize RFRA and turn it inside out. The Do No Harm Act is a major step in the attempt to remedy the abuse of this legislation.”
True religious freedom protects the freedom to believe as we choose, without fear of discrimination or harm. In an increasingly diverse nation, it is imperative that our federal laws make clear that freedom of belief does not include a license to discriminate.
Learn more about Interfaith Alliance’s work to advance an inclusive vision of religious freedom.