Last week’s religious liberty battles that began on military and veterans legislation spilled over onto another bill on the floor of the House of Representatives this week. Having lost by one vote last Thursday, Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) came back again with a measure supporting President Obama’s executive order in 2014 that required federal contractors to recognize new rights based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Notably, the President then ignored even some of his own religious supporters by neglecting to include any specific religious liberty protection in that order.
Unlike last week, the Maloney amendment was adopted by a vote of 223 to 195. Forty-three Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for the measure. After that vote, another amendment was put forward by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) to reinforce the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and other provisions upholding the rights of religious organizations that partner with the government. That proposal was approved by a vote of 233 to 186.
In response, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, said:
The Obama administration continues to overstep its authority in order to impose a radical and intolerant social agenda, and yet the House of Representatives has now put a stamp of approval on one of the President’s orders that incredibly made no account for people of faith. That is dangerous, but I am thankful that House leadership also ensured a vote reinforcing the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by President Bill Clinton. Frankly, it is sad that House Democrats are apparently so firmly in the clutches of liberal extremists that the vast majority of them voted against such a common-sense measure.
On the Byrne amendment supporting RFRA, Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) were the only Democrats to vote for it. Notably, seven Republicans voted against this religious freedom provision: Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Robert Dold (R-Ill.), John Katko (R-N.Y.), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).
RFRA simply provides a legal balancing test to ensure courtroom deference to the constitutional right of religious liberty unless there is found to be a “compelling government interest” achieved by the “least restrictive means.” Earlier this year, the NRB Board of Directors, a body of approximately one hundred key leaders among Christian communicators, warned in a resolution, “Powerful liberal lobbies seem to be growing generally more intolerant of religious liberty and particularly more willing to use legislation to undermine RFRA and related state laws.” The Board unanimously urged that RFRA be upheld and respected by the government.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: May 27, 2016