May 18, 2016 at 4:30 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Bill seeks to bar anti-LGBT bias in name of ‘religious freedom’
Joseph Kennedy, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.) (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced legislation in the U.S. House on Wednesday that seeks to bar anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of “religious freedom.”

Kennedy, the lead sponsor of the bill, said in a statement the legislation, known as the “Do No Harm” Act, would “restore the balance between our right to religious freedom and our promise of equal protection under law.”

The right of Americans to freely and fully express our faith is sacred in this country,” Kennedy said. “But in order to guarantee that liberty for every citizen, our system must ensure that my religious freedom does not infringe on yours or do you harm. While not its original intent, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has become a vehicle for those seeking to impose their beliefs on others or claim that the tenants of their faith justify discrimination.”

The “Do No Harm” Act would amend the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prohibit individuals and businesses from invoking its use to justify discrimination, such as by “denying a person the full and equal enjoyment of a good, service, benefit, facility, privilege, advantage, or accommodation, provided by the government.”

Anti-LGBT forces have invoked the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to seek an exemption under the law to discriminate against LGBT people. Among them is Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who in legal briefs cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to argue she could enforce a “no licenses” policy in her office following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage.

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel and director for Lambda Legal’s law and policy project, commended the legislation as a means to ensure “religious freedom” won’t be used as an excuse for discrimination.

“Since long before the LGBT civil rights movement even started, our communities have been targeted by religion-based efforts to condemn, control, and restrict the lives and equal opportunities of gay and transgender people, same-sex couples, and people living with HIV,” Pizer said. “In recent years, too many of those who oppose the equality and inclusion of LGBT people have insisted upon religious exemptions from laws providing nondiscrimination and other protections everyone should have at work, at school, in medical offices and in social services.”

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

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