Guest Opinion: A wrong idea for government and religion
The First Amendment Defense Act is one of those proposals that will sound good to almost everybody — until you read beyond the title.
We applaud any effort to defend the First Amendment to the Constitution and its guarantees of Americans’ freedoms of religion, speech, press and peaceable assembly, as well as our right to petition the government.
But defending the First Amendment isn’t what this bill is really about. Introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, it plays offense more than defense. It’s a new effort by some in Congress to expand the definition of religious freedom to make it something more like religious privilege.
According to the official summary, the bill “prohibits the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”
By “discriminatory action,” it means, among other things, government action to withhold tax exemptions, contracts, loans and licenses to people or corporations that defy federal laws requiring equal treatment of LGBT people.
The proposed law could be used “as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding and to obtain compensatory damages or other appropriate relief against the federal government.”
Sen. Lee has said the bill is pushback against the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage. It is meant to provide legal protection, should protection be needed, for religious groups that object to gay marriage.
This worries advocates of the LGBT community, who fear the bill could allow a business to deny time off to a gay or lesbian employee to care for an ailing spouse, an insurance company to deny coverage to a gay couple or a school to refuse to accept the child of gay parents.
It also should worry those who believe in what Thomas Jefferson called “a wall of separation between church and state.”
Americans should be free to believe and worship as they choose without interference from the government. They should not be able to wave their religious beliefs as Get Out of Jail Free cards to get around democratically elected laws that apply to everybody else.
Finally, Americans who believe in limited government should oppose a bill that would have the legal system act as a biased referee, tilting the playing field to the advantage of people of faith.
This wouldn’t strengthen the First Amendment. It would twist the First Amendment’s fundamental value.