What is the Do Not Harm Act?
The Do Not Harm Act seeks to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. Its’ purpose is to protect the civil liberties of third parties from religious organizations. It was brought to the Senate in 2018 and had a case before the House Committee on Education and Labor in June 2019.
What is the RFRA of 1993?
In 1993, Congress and Former President Bill Clinton passed this bill almost unanimously 97-3 (54 Democrats and 43 Republicans). The RFRA essentially provides every person of faith a chance to make their case in court – regardless of their beliefs. It presents a three-part test that a court must use when the government infringes on religious freedom: Has the federal government substantially burdened a person’s faith? If so, does the government have a compelling reason to burden the person’s faith? And has the government used the least restrictive means to achieve its goals?
The RFRA protects Americans’ right to religious freedom. If this constitutional right is infringed on, then the person(s) of faith may have their day in court. This seems reasonable. So, the burning question is why is the Do Not Harm Act making an appearance in Congress?
Proponents of the Do Not Harm Act claim that the RFRA infringes on civil liberty protections, specifically LGBTQ and abortion rights. Common examples are the Colorado cake baker and Hobby Lobby Supreme Court cases. A Christian, Colorado cake baker refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. Hobby Lobby, a Christian organization, refused to provide contraceptive coverage, including the morning-after pill, for their employees. The amendment proponents claim that the RFRA protects these Christian businesses that have “harmed” LBGTQ and abortion rights. Thus, RFRA must be amended. These are commonly used examples because they are major culture war issues. But these types of cases do not represent the common majority of cases that enact RFRA protections. Instead, RFRA is primarily used for minority faith groups.
It is a misnomer to use the word “harm” in the amendment title. The dictionary definition of harm is, “to damage or injure physically or mentally.” In the Supreme Court cases mentioned, the cake baker did not damage or injure the gay couple by refusing to bake a cake for their wedding. Additionally, Hobby Lobby did not damage or injure their employees by refusing to provide contraceptive care. Amendment proponents use this language to propel an agenda. Their true intent is to use the government to coerce religious businesses into conforming to the current civil rights agenda. Just look at the proponents of the amendment. All supporters of the Do Not Harm Act are liberal, civil rights organizations. The ones worth mentioning are Planned Parenthood, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the American Civil Liberties Union. This is a fight to strip our constitutional right to religious freedom and inject current liberal cultural values into religion. If this were to pass, faith-based groups will not have their day in court.
Why should you care?
The beauty of the First Amendment is that the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion or establish a nation-wide religion. However, permitting the government to infringe on religious liberty under the vague pretense of “harm” is a slippery slope. The Do Not Harm Act strips our constitutional religious protections in the name of civil liberties. In other words, if your religious convictions put you in the middle of the latest culture war, you will not be able to defend such convictions in court.
Last and most important to note is the Senator who sponsored this bill in 2018. The Senator is none other than Vice-President, Kamala Harris. With a new Congress and a presidential administration, this bill has a chance to gain momentum.