Religious Liberty Provision Shelved

As Congress seeks to close out its 2016 business, one set of end-game negotiations has left a contested religious freedom provision on the shelf. The “Russell Amendment,” which had been successfully attached to the House-passed FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), was jettisoned by congressional negotiators wishing to avoid a possible filibuster or veto of the underlying bill.

The Russell Amendment provided clarification that faith-based organizations partnering with the government maintain longstanding religious employment rights already delineated in the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, a left-wing alliance that included Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, and others vigorously assaulted and mischaracterized the provision, and, seemingly in lockstep with them, the White House and all but two Senate Democrats appeared willing to bring down the entire military funding bill over it.

“Many ministries provide invaluable community service in partnership with the federal government, and they shouldn’t be left in limbo about their rights to staff themselves using religious criteria,” said Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, National Religious Broadcasters President & CEO.

Earlier this week on Washington Watch with Tony Perkins, House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) acknowledged the problem the Russell Amendment seeks to remedy “needs to be fixed.” This question was intensified by President Obama’s ENDA-like executive order in 2014, and Chairman Thornberry suggested that its resolution will come by executive action in the Trump Administration.

Dr. Johnson added, “Public service doesn’t require a loss of one’s religious identity. I urge leaders in Washington to quickly rebuff such intolerance and discrimination against faith-based organizations.”

  • Find a detailed analysis here from the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance of what the Russell Amendment actually says and a rebuttal of myths commonly levied against it by opponents.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: December 2, 2016

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