June 29, 2016 at 10:39 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
House hearing for ‘religious freedom’ bill set for July 12
Jason Chaffetz, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) chairs the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A U.S. House committee has scheduled a hearing on July 12 for federal “religious freedom” legislation seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination, the Washington Blade has learned.

The House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform is set to hold a hearing on the First Amendment Defense Act amid pressure from anti-LGBT advocates, including the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, to move forward with the legislation.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who’s gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, denounced the committee’s decision to hold a hearing in a statement as “nothing more than an election-year stunt to rally conservatives at the expense of LGBT Americans.”

“In most states, you can get married on Saturday, post photos of your wedding to Facebook on Sunday and then get fired or kicked out of your apartment on Monday just because you’re gay,” Cicilline added. “FADA exacerbates this injustice by allowing religion to be used as a blanket excuse for denying LGBT people access to employment, housing, mental health care, emergency shelters and other essential services. This is wrong. Fairness and equality are core American values.”

Cicilline called on Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a supporter of the legislation and chair of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, to cancel the hearing.

“And in 2016, no American should ever be made to feel less than equal – especially not by their elected representatives,” Cicilline said. “On behalf of the LGBT Equality Caucus, I call on all members of Congress to oppose H.R.2802 and urge Chairman Chaffetz to cancel this hearing immediately.”

Introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the U.S. House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the U.S. Senate, the First Amendment Defense Act has the purported purpose of preventing federal government action against individuals and businesses that oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons. Critics say it essentially carves out a legal exemption for anti-LGBT discrimination.

In May, the Washington Blade reported the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform was “working toward a hearing” on the legislation, although at the time no date was scheduled. The committee is packed with conservative Republicans, including Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), who recently attached to a major defense spending bill an amendment that would undermine President Obama’s executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.

A senior Hill staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the committee sent out invitations to witnesses on the conservative side designating July 12 as the date of the hearing. The staffer declined to share a copy of the invite with the Washington Blade.

The invited witnesses, the Hill staffer said, are Kelvin Cochran, a former Atlanta fire chief fired for distributing a book making a biblical case against homosexuality; Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel and senior vice president of U.S. legal advocacy for the anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom; and Matthew Franck, a political science professor from the Witherspoon Institute.

It’s unknown at this time if opponents of the legislation will be able to invite witnesses to the hearing. The majority allocates the number of witnesses the minority can invite, which in this case could be one or zero.

MJ Crenshaw, a spokesperson for the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, confirmed the hearing will take place on July 12 in Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building, but said no further details are available.

The invitations are jointly from both Labrador and Lee, the Hill staffer said, suggesting a joint hearing with the Senate is possible, or just that Lee will be present at the House hearing.

Conn Carroll, a Lee spokesperson, said her boss hopes the Senate will follow up with a hearing of its own, but “no date” has been set.

Introduced last year prior to the expected ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, the First Amendment Defense Act is seen as an attempt to make a carve out into that decision without entirely overturning it.

Among other things, LGBT advocates have said the legislation as introduced would 1) permit a federal employee to refuse to process tax returns, visa applications or Social Security checks for same-sex couples; 2) allow 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; and 3) permit anyone 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 funds.

On the Senate side, Lee has presented a new version of the First Amendment Defense Act that limits that carve-out for opponents of same-sex marriage, although the update hasn’t officially been filed.

The new version, which is displayed on Lee’s website, spells out protections from government action won’t apply to publicly traded for-profit entities; federal employees acting within the scope of their employment; federal for-profit contractors acting within the scope of their contracts; and hospitals and nursing homes with respect to visitation, decision-making on health care and certain treatments.

The anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage has been pushing for a hearing on the First Amendment Defense Act in a campaign it calls “Fax for FADA.” The effort encourages supporters to sign a petition in support of the legislation, which triggers a fax sent to House Republican leadership and the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee.

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

  • I wonder how many of these right wingers will still feel like praising Putin when they find out they are pushing a no proselytizing law in Russia.

  • The committee hearing is a mere formality for this so-called FADA. These people do not care what GLBT have to say on the matter. That’s why those invited are exclusively in favor of the legislation. Our enemies don’t give up on opposing our freedom and equality anymore than they have on opposing abortion despite the court rulings.

    The cultural wars are only heating up again. Republicans have control of Congress and if they keep it, then FADA gets on the fast track to come up for a vote while the Fair Equality Act can’t even get a hearing in Congress from a committee.

    Social conservatives are attempting to set up the framework to be able to challenge marriage equality by pitting it against their freedom of religion. If FADA becomes law, then we have another challenge of it’s constitutionality in relation to marriage equality don’t we, and the makeup of the SCOTUS all the more important regarding a ruling on the issue.

  • It is never good to use religion to harm people – they are targeting gay friends and family for discrimination for not adhering to the officials’ Middle East religious beliefs.

  • Even if it passes, it will be struck down in court.

  • This illustrates the importance of getting Hillary elected. As long as we have a democratic president, no bill like this will ever become law. Always vote and always vote Democratic.

    • She’s a republican. She won’t do anything about it. Who signed RFRA?

      • She has evolved over the years, Some things she’s better about, some, not so much. She isn’t against minority groups. It really isn’t part of the Dem. platform. It truly is the big tent, although they don’t always come through on pro legislation, they don’t pass negative laws, mostly.
        This is not true, nor has it ever been true of the GOP since the Southern Strategy in the 60’s, and the racists in the Democratic party, the Dixiecrats, left over Johnson’s civil rights act in 1963.
        You do know that the gay Republican caucus disbanded, because the GOP didn’t want them. No big tent there.
        The GOP has spent years and years ‘investigating’ Bill and Hillary, and couldn’t find anything but a blow job. But you wouldn’t know it to listen to them. Hypocrites, every one. What they’ve done to this country is an abomination. (Damn, I’m tired of that word.) Trump’s policy is, truly, “Tell the same lie more than 3 times, and it passes as fact.” Stop believing the lies.

      • Back then, it was Justice Scalia who ruled against religious freedom, and RFRA was unanimously passed by Congress.

  • Can LGBT & pro-LGBT individuals & companies discriminate against anti-LGBT savages on the basis of “religious belief or moral conviction.”? Oh right it’s illegal to refuse service or employment to people based on their religious belief or affiliation so once again here are the Reichpublicans demanding & forcing LGBT Americans serve them as their slaves while forcing us against our free will to tolerate Jim Crow savagery. LGBT people need to wake the f@$k up & stop the passive aggressive bullshit & start treating these savages the exact same away they treat us. Don’t serve them. Don’t employ them. Buy buildings & refuse to rent to them. Don’t do their hair, don’t bake their wedding cakes, don’t sell them flowers. When they come into your restaurant tell them to go somewhere else. When they want help finding a size at a retail store, tell them “I don’t offer my help to anti-LGBT savages”. They will never learn how wrong & uncivilized their behavior is, unless it is done to them. Lastly stop allowing them to use your tax dollars to pass these illegal unconstitutional laws that directly harm you. I own my own design business; I have not paid one direct dime in taxes to this government in 10 years & this is the main reason why I refuse to fill their bank account with my hard earned money. The Reichpublicans in Congress swore a legally binding oath to serve & protect you AS YOU ARE, not as they allow & approve. Force them to bow down to their masters, LGBT tax payers BY LAW own them – they are the ones that are property, NOT YOU..

    • I’ve been saying that for quite awhile now. My deeply held beliefs preclude me from serving straight,republican christians. Having a cross on your neck is anathema to my beliefs & cannot in good conscious, serve you.
      *BTW, I’m a progressive, liberal atheist, but this PO’s me off.

    • So wrong…cutting off your nose…you know the drill. We need laws that protect us now. The Pres. Needs to put an end to this discrimination once and for all. They know they are wrong, we all know it too.

    • Honey, we just need a GLBT church with non-profit status, and a list of ‘commandments’ and we’re good.

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