June 20, 2015 at 8:08 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Fed’l religious freedom bill seen to enable anti-LGBT bias

Mike Lee, Utah, Republican Party, United States Senate, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the First Amendment Defense Act. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

New legislation introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has the stated intent of protecting institutions that oppose same-sex marriage, but LGBT advocates are opposing it for what they say is the potential to go further and “open a Pandora’s Box” of anti-LGBT discrimination.

The bill, the First Amendment Defense Act, was introduced on Wednesday ahead of expected decision from the U.S. Supreme Court this month on whether same-sex couples have a right to marry across the country.

Proponents of the religious freedom legislation say it would prevent federal agencies from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license or certification to an individual, association or business based on their belief that marriage should be restricted to one man, one woman. For example, one stated intent of the bill is prohibiting the Internal Revenue Service from a removing a church’s tax-exemption status for refusing to perform same-sex weddings.

Lee said in a statement he introduced the Senate version of legislation because “there’s a reason the right to religious liberty appears first in our nation’s Bill of Rights.”

“The freedom to live and to act in accordance with the dictates of one’s conscience and religious convictions is integral to human flourishing, serving as the foundation upon which America has produced the most diverse, tolerant, and stable society the world has ever known,” Lee said. “The vast majority of Americans today still hold a robust view of religious liberty, yet across the country the right of conscience is threatened by state and local governments that coerce, intimidate, and penalize individuals, associations, and businesses who believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. The First Amendment Defense Act is necessary to ensure that this kind of government excess never occurs at the federal level.”

In the Senate, the bill has a total of 18 co-sponsors, all Republicans, including presidential candidates Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Another Republican U.S. senator who’s a presidential candidate, but not a co-sponsor, is Rand Paul (Ky.). In the House, the bill has 57 co-sponsors, including one Democrat: Rep. Dan Lipinski (Ill).

Similar religious freedom legislation was introduced during the 113th Congress by the same lawmakers and was known at the time as the Marriage & Religious Freedom Act.

Labrador said in a statement he introduced the House version of the bill because “America set the standard for upholding freedom of belief and worship in a diverse society.”

“No American should ever doubt these protections enshrined in the First Amendment,” Labrador said. “Our bill ensures that the federal government does not penalize Americans for following their religious beliefs or moral convictions on traditional marriage. Our bill shields against federal intrusion without taking anything away from anyone. In a shifting landscape, it’s time that Congress proactively defend this sacred right.”

But LGBT advocates oppose the legislation, saying it reaches beyond its stated purpose and, like controversial religious freedom measures in Indiana and Arkansas that were later scaled back, would similarly enable anti-LGBT discrimination, but at a national level.

Ian Thompson, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the legislation would “eviscerate” the executive order signed President Obama last year barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT bias in the workplace.

“This sweeping and dangerous bill would open a Pandora’s Box of taxpayer-funded discrimination against same-sex couples and their children,” Thompson said. “Attempting to wrap this discriminatory proposal in the language of the Bill of Rights does not change the reality of its attack on our national values of fairness and equal treatment under the law for all.”

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, the legislation would “create a breakdown of government services and runaway litigation” and called on members of Congress to oppose the bill.

“Not only is it wrong to promote discrimination with taxpayers’ money, it’s even worse to allow those taxpayer funds to be used to reward discriminatory actions by federal employees,” Stacy said. “We call on members of Congress to oppose this reckless and irresponsible legislation that has nothing to do with the First Amendment and everything to do with taxpayer-funded discrimination. It’s time for Congress to prove they are not out of touch and to stand on the right side of history with the far majority of Americans who support fairness and equality for all Americans.”

The Human Rights Campaign in a statement cited numerous examples of discrimination that would be allowed if the bill became law:

* It would permit a federal employee to refuse to process tax returns, visa applications or Social Security checks whenever a same-sex couple’s paperwork appears on his or her desk.
* This legislation would also permit recipients of federal grants and contracts, including those for social services programs like homeless shelters and substance abuse treatment programs, to turn away LGBT people.
* It would allow any of these individuals or groups, or anyone else who believes they have been somehow required by the federal government to approve of married same-sex couples, to file a lawsuit and potentially receive damages from taxpayer money.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • SCOTUS protects the first amendment just fine, and that’s who ultimately should. Churches getting away with paying no taxes no matter what they do is another matter…

    • Well said! Marriage Equality is a civil, equal right for ALL taxpaying American citizens which includes LGBTs. Marriage licenses are obtained at civil institutions, not churches.

    • The 1st Amendment

      “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”

      “Congress shall make NO law respecting an establishment of religion”
      A church

      “prohibiting the FREE exercise thereof
      Don’t have to pay taxes

  • If these religious bigots want to be looney-tunes their Freedom of Religion permits them to do that WITHIN their religion, not outside their religion. Our rights are inalienable and they are trying to force alienable, discriminatory bills against American citizens which includes taxpaying LGBTs.

    • Can’t you see how this issue is framed!?!? THINK ABOUT IT IN AN OBJECTIVE WAY!!!! The LGBT movement is being compared to the civil rights movement and liberation of slavery. We are bigots, homophobes and intolerant just for disagreeing with what 60% of americans think. The ACLU is parading the issue around and suing just about everyone they want. It is illegal to deny services on the basis of race right? Yes!!!! It is!!!! Well now on a government level religious beliefs are no longer a valid reason for allowing another person to provide the exact same services innately tied with approval of gay unions. It won’t be long before all churches are forced to do the same. Churches can’t own slaves right? Of course they can’t!!!! Well then how can you allow them to deny someone a marriage guaranteed by the state? How can you claim it is discriminatory to opt out of one marriage license as a government official but not discriminatory for a priest to refuse to “marry” two individuals of the same sex? On what grounds are you guaranteeing me my Freedom of Religion “within my religion”? Honestly, that is why we are so worried, because the majority of liberals don’t stop the idealistic crusade of glittering generalities and insults long enough to even think intelligently about the situation. So I will ask again, please tell me how you can claim it is ok for my church to define marriage as the indissoluble union between a man and a woman but it is not ok for those same individuals to opt out of endorsing a gay union in a government setting when this issue is framed as a civil rights issue?

      • I do not believe it is OK but I also do not force my beliefs on religions that disagree with me as it is up to the religions members to resolve that.

      • It will NOT apply to Churches. Try suing a Catholic church for denying you the right to get married a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time, good luck
        There’s a big difference between I can’t, and I don’t want to.

        Owning Slaves has nothing to do with religion.

        It also denied by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

  • Lets face it, most people don’t like your life style and deviant nature. We may tolerate you but accept? No more than I accept any other deviant life style like a drug addict or habitual criminal.

    Religous-phobes in the LGBT community should understand that there are limits to their hysteria and absolute hatred toward other people’s opinions and beliefs, it will back-fire….where is the tolerance on your side? I find LGBT to be the most hate-filled and low self esteem people. That probably accounts for the large drug use among that group and abhorrent sexual behaviors that go above and beyond a normal homo-sexual act.

    Like the one times homo-sexual came to the emergency room with gerbil tunnel tubes stuck in their anus, actually had gerbils running between three so-called partners in the tubes to each other anuses. They mentioned this is common type behavior in their community…seriously? Demented doesn’t even explain, let alone the AIDS scourge they brought on that has killed millions.

    • Sick, sick, sick.

    • Being gay isn’t my “viewpoint”, or a “lifestyle” like buying a new pair of fashionable shoes or living near the beach, it is the way I was born, and I can’t change it. But belonging to your religion that preaches contempt for what I am IS a choice that you have made. There are dozens of Christian religions (and quite a few Jewish synagogues) that you could have chosen from, such as Episcopalian, Prebyterian, Quaker, Unitarian, Metropolitan Community Church, that welcome LGBT parishioners with open arms, open hearts and open minds with full sacraments including communion, ordination to the clergy and same sex marriage.

      If I had been born heterosexual like you, then I would be attracted to the opposite sex like you are. However I am not you, and you are not me. You have no experience of being gay and therefore you cannot know for certain whether being gay was decision I made or not.

      Your “anal gerbils” story is a fiction, but even if it wasn’t, it has nothing to do with the overwhelming majority of law abiding LGBT citizens who actually DO pay tax to fund your kids’ education and welfare and to finance your church’s tax exempt litany of anti-gay rhetoric.

      Your story about LGBT “bringing the AIDS scourge” is another shameless lie. Isn’t telling lies a sin in your religion? Isn’t it a sin to judge others? None other then Jesus himself said so, and the Ten Commandments clearly state, “thou shalt not bear false witness”.

      While it’s true that in the West, gay men are still responsible for most of the HIV propagation, LGBT activism has helped educate the wider public and thus stop the disease from migrating into the heterosexual majority, so far. However that is not true in the wider world. Of 33.3 million AIDS cases worldwide, 15.9 million are female, and 2.6 million children, so it’s very clear that your heterosexuality will NOT protect you from HIV infection; only monogamy and safe sex will do that.

      African Americans account for only 14% of the US population, yet they account for over 40% of HIV/AIDS infections. It therefore makes no more sense to say that someone should not be gay in order to avoid infection, than it would to say that one should not be black, so as to avoid HIV/AIDS infection. A monogamous same sex couple is at no greater risk of spreading or catching STI’s like AIDS than a heterosexual monogamous couple. HIV/AIDS is an almost completely avoidable infection. The key is safe sex practice, monogamy – every reason to encourage gays to marry. Lesbians are at zero risk of HIV/AIDS, yet they are homosexuals too.

      • No one should try to reason with a troll. Anyway, why is he reading an article in The Blade? Hmmm.

      • Ok, sorry for your condition..good luck to you.

      • OK, I am more mad than you at those banners because they make it sound like God hates people with same sex attraction. He DOES NOT!!! God loves you! At the same time as a catholic I sincerely believe that there is no love without truth and there are actions contrary to the nature of love as God created it. I know there is something SO MUCH MORE you are missing out on so I will speak out against such behavior but not against your dignity. If other Christians were lynching a gay person I would give my life to stop it but at the same time I would not approve of impure actions that often happen in homosexual relationships. The Church teaches it is not a sin to have such desires but it is a sin to act on them. The desires come from the fact that we live in a broken world but I promise you that they can be overcome by God’s grace

  • As usual this bill is nothing but a vehicle for discrimination and bigotry.

    Christians are the group both least likely to be discriminated against and persecuted, as well as the group most likely to discriminate against and persecute others, while also convincing themselves they are the most discriminated against and persecuted folks in the US.

    How this level of cognitive dissonance does not cause their heads to explode is a mystery of science. It seems to prove the existence of an actual binding force in the universe: Hypocrisy.

  • Of course the ingrate Jim Crow loving dross at the Reichpublican Nazi Committee endorsed a bill that forces LGBT & pro-LGBT people to serve & employ anti-LGBT dross (because discrimination against religious belief is already illegal) while giving anti-LGBT the right put up no negr…. I mean gays signs. Of course the ingrate Jim Crow loving dross at the Reichpublican Nazi Committee endorsed a bill that would allow civil servants to bite the hand that feeds them by demanding LGBT Americans work our asses off to fill the bank acounts of these civil servants with our tax dollars yet they do not have to actually earn it. Jim Crow is alive and well in America. I’m done paying taxes & I am done serving & employing anti-LGBT dross & they better f@$king accept it without crying “discrimination”. No Republicans allowed to buy my products; after all the government can’t force me to serve those who do not live as I demand, right, RIGHT???!!!

    • “Christians” are not being persecuted by being required to adhere to the same anti-discrimination laws everybody else in America is required to adhere to regardless of their faith or no faith, race, age, orientation, ability etc. If LGBT people cannot refuse service or employment to anti-LGBT Christians (or other faiths) because discrimination against religious belief or affiliation is already illegal, then anti-LGBT’s cannot discriminate against us. The laws of this country are required BY LAW to be applied to ALL Americans equally or none at all. Jim Crow savagery of any kind will not be tolerated. Besides; there are LGBT & pro-LGBT Christians & under American law they are Christian if they so – not because you say so & not because the government says so.

      REAL persecution is the rape, torture, beating, dehumanizing & demonizing, terrorizing, imprisonment, silencing, hunting, and/or murder of LGBT adults, teens, & children just for living – as well as those perceived to be LGBT & straight people who support & protect their LGBT family, friends, & neighbors by Christians (as well as other faiths & no faith) not only in America but all over the world.

      The shooting, almost murder, of black heterosexual Rev. Dr. Augustus Sealy outside his LGBT-inclusive church last Memorial Day by some anti-gay swine shouting anti-gay slurs as the Rev. planted American flags in front of his church is persecution. The LGBT-inclusive church in Augusta, Georgia that was vandalized last week with the words “You’ll burn” along with anti-gay Bible scripture is persecution. The murder of 3yo Ronnie Paris Jr. by his Christian Bible Study student father who thought his 3yo son was gay is persecution. The gay couple shot with a BB-gun last year in Minnesota inside of a gay bar by a Christian shouting anti-gay Bible scripture is persecution. The 6 people stabbed by am Orthodox-Jewish terrorist at the 2015 LGBT Pride Parade in Jerusalem which resulted in 16yo straight ally Shari Banki dying/murdered by anti-LGBT filth. I could go on & on listing hundreds of events in which LGBT human beings were violently & deadly persecuted by Christians (as well as other faiths & no faith) in the last 7 months alone but you should have been able to get the point by now. Oh right, in the RNC’s mentally unstable minds being required to bake a cake, arrange flowers, take photos, etc one is fairly paid to do is equal to a gay teenage boy in Jamaica being hacked to death and set on fire by a so called “loving Christian”.

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