It’s hard to deny that religion has shaped America.
And we are better off for it.
Thousands of faith-based organizations in America serve their communities by offering food, clothing, shelter, counseling, and other social services; they provide jobs for thousands of Americans; and they produce goods and services that drive our economy. In a recent study, Brian J. Grim and Melissa E. Grim estimated that religious organizations contribute approximately $1.2 trillion annually to the U.S. economy.
These good works are possible, in part, because for over 25 years the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has protected believers against laws and regulations that would force them to stop serving the general public and retreat within their walls.
But now RFRA is being threatened.
Congress has proposed the “Do No Harm Act”, which would strip the protections that RFRA provides for people of faith.
The “Do No Harm Act” hand-picks certain religious beliefs and practices – specifically those related to abortion, sterilization, marriage, and human sexuality – and strips protection under the federal law from those of faith who hold disfavored viewpoints on these issues.
Simply put, the “Do No Harm Act” demonstrates outright hostility and intolerance for certain people of faith.
But these believers are American too.
I went before the Committee on Education and Labor today to explain why preserving RFRA is vital to our nation.
1. RFRA keeps the government from deciding which viewpoints are welcome in the public square.
The “Do No Harm Act” singles out and targets certain individuals and organizations who hold minority beliefs and engage in faith-based activities that are unpopular or politically incorrect at the moment. But government should not have the power to suppress a few types of free exercise it dislikes.
If the government has the power to punish people of faith for holding viewpoints that it has deemed unacceptable, what’s to say it will not target your viewpoints next?
The bottom line is that RFRA protects every person—no matter their faith, background, political affiliation, or orientation—by providing a check against government overreach that burdens their ability to freely exercise their faith.
2. RFRA gives religious minorities a voice in court.
RFRA is a shining example of America’s historical protection of vulnerable minorities. And it is truly utilized by a diverse group of religious minorities. The religious affiliations of individuals in federal court opinions involving a RFRA claim includes: Islam, Native American, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Sikhism, Humanism, Rainbow Family, Rastafarianism, Tien Tao, Protestant, and many more.
Under RFRA, every believer gets a chance to make their case as to why their right to free exercise should be protected. It does not mean that religion always wins. It simply gives people of faith their day in court.
But if the “Do No Harm Act” is passed, it would shut the courthouse door in their faces, denying them entry into one of the few places in our country where any citizen can stand up for what they believe in no matter how marginalized or politically unpopular their beliefs may be.
3. Religious freedom benefits our society as a whole.
The importance of meaningful protections for religious liberty to our nation’s vitality cannot be understated.
One study found that countries with high levels of religious freedom performed better on indicators of global competitiveness, including education, health, innovation, and technological readiness. And the benefits go far beyond mere economics to encompass a multitude of civil liberties and indicators of a healthy society – including civil and political liberty, press freedom, and economic freedom.
Countries that protect religious freedom through laws like RFRA are linked to vibrant democracies, gender empowerment, robust freedom of the press, and economic freedom. Countries without religious freedom, on the other hand, often face more poverty, war, suppression of minorities, and violent extremism.
Ultimately, the “Do No Harm Act” sends an unmistakable message to the American people: If the government tramples on people of faith and forbids them from living consistently with their beliefs, they have no recourse. The legal system will not even permit them to plead their case.
That should concern us all. And it should not be tolerated here in America.