On August 12, 1480, the Martyrs of Otranto were beheaded. The Ottomans ordered 800 Christians to convert to Islam following the successful siege of Otranto. The massacre happened when the Christian men refused to convert. Such barbarity is a ghost from the past but brings up a worthy question-what is the state of religious freedom in America today? The Do No Harm Act provides insights.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)
While it is clear western civilization has advanced to the degree in which such violations of religious freedom are no longer common, the battle for religious freedom continues in the west. In the 2014 Supreme Court case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, SCOTUS ruled that for-profit companies have no obligation to provide health care insurance that covers expenses for services that go against their religious beliefs. Democratic politicians in Washington D.C. have sought to change this policy, and re-proposed the Do No Harm Act, an amendment to the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has introduced The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the House of Representatives. On the same day, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the bill in the Senate. With only three votes against the RFRA in the senate, it passed both chambers and was signed into law by Bill Clinton. The law found that a religiously neutral law can be as a burdening as a law that is specifically designed to target religion. As a result, strict scrutiny is used to interpret the Free Exercise Clause.
Do No Harm Act (DNHA)
The DNHA, known as H.R. 1450, currently sits in the House Judiciary Committee, on the subcommittee of the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. Representative Kennedy (D-MA), great-nephew of the senator who proposed the RFRA in the senate, proposed the bill in the House. Rep. Kennedy stated, “We cannot be equal or free if our government grants select Americans a license to discriminate against their neighbors under the guise of religious freedom.”
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) proposed companion legislation to the DNHA in the senate. Harris stated, “The freedom to worship is one of our nation’s most fundamental rights. That First Amendment guarantee should never be used to undermine other Americans’ civil rights or subject them to discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
The Do No Harm Act would force for-profit companies, such as Hobby Lobby, to provide insurance and help pay for employees access to items such as contraceptives. This would prohibit businesses from denying coverage on the basis of religious grounds.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
The Constitution guarantees individuals rights by being citizens of the United States. Do corporations in the United States get the same protections as individuals? The Supreme Court ruled ‘yes’ in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. The 2010 case established corporate personhood. As a result, for-profit companies have the rights and privileges a person would hold. Although a corporation holds rights, such as those in the Free Exercise Clause, it isn’t clear if that right supersedes the Equal Protection Clause. The Do No Harm Act seeks to end this confusion.
Democrats hope that by passing the Do No Harm Act, the Equal Protection Clause will prevail. Thus, all employees, regardless of gender identity, will have equal access to health care opportunities their employer provides. The Democratic-held House of Representatives (235-197-1) will likely pass the bill; however, the Republican-controlled Senate (53-45-2) is expected to fail the Do No Harm Act.
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