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Elected officials flip-flop on religious freedom

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is under fire from the very same Senators and Congressional Reps that previously voted for it it.

The act, known as RFRA, was introduced in 1993 by then-Representative Chuck Schumer (D-New York). Many other Democrats came on board to get it from the House to the Senate and eventually to then-President Bill Clinton’s desk.

“We all have a shared desire here to protect perhaps the most precious of all American liberties: religious freedom,” Clinton said at the signing ceremony on November 17, 1993.

Vice President Al Gore, a former student of Vanderbilt Divinity School, talked up the legislation, and the various faith groups worked together to get the bill passed.

“I’m glad that we’re not the only two Baptists in the crowd here today,” he quipped. “The fact is that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is something all Americans can support.”

Today, House Democrats are singing a different tune. In fact, a majority of the Democrats in the House now support legislation known as H.R. 3222. As explained on Congress.gov, this bill makes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) inapplicable to federal laws (or implementations of laws) that:

  • Protect against discrimination or the promotion of equal opportunity, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, Executive Order 11246 (concerning equal employment opportunity), the Violence Against Women Act, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) rules entitled “Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity”;
  • Require employers to provide wages, other compensation, or benefits, including leave;
  • Protect collective activity in the workplace;
  • Protect against child labor, abuse, or exploitation; or
  • Provide for access to, information about, referrals for, provision of, or coverage for, any healthcare item or service.

“I think this really shows their party’s increasing hostility to faith in the public square,” says Travis Weber, vice president for policy at the pro-RFRA Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. “Religious freedom used to be a bipartisan issue, as RFRA support in 1993 evidences. But now that’s no longer the case.”

Weber saw it coming with increasing opposition to states passing or discussing their own RFRAs based on the federal legislation.

“The issue is not religious freedom on its face,” he continues. “The issue is opposition to historic Christian teaching on sexuality, including issues relating to the LGBT movement and abortion-related issues.”

Weber adds that Democrats do not oppose religious freedom when it protects a person serving the homeless or when it protects a prisoner’s religious freedom claim, but they do oppose it in these other areas relating to sexuality.

“So they’re the ones picking and choosing what religious freedom claims to protect, and they’re being discriminatory in their treatment of religious freedom, and that’s really the story here,” Weber concludes.