May 23, 2018

Wyden, Merkley Introduce Legislation to Protect Civil Rights of All Americans

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley joined Sens. Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and their colleagues in introducing legislation to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Do No Harm Act.

Since its 1993 inception, the original intent of the RFRA has been misappropriated and used to discriminate and harm others such as LGBTQ individuals, women and children.

The Do Not Harm Act ensures that RFRA can no longer be invoked to threaten fundamental civil and legal rights.

“Discriminating against anybody because of how they look, who they love or what religion they practice has no place in our country,” Wyden said. “I have always been proud to fight for LGBTQ Americans and the equal rights they deserve, and I’m proud to sponsor this bill that protects against discrimination under a false pretense of religious freedom.”

“Religious freedom should never be used as an excuse to discriminate, whether it’s to take away women’s health care or deny LGBTQ individuals full equality,” Merkley said. “In America, we can and should honor religious freedom without infringing on others’ rights—and that’s exactly what this bill does.”

In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in response to a Supreme Court case undermining the rights of religious minorities. But since its passage, 21 states have passed state RFRAs and it has been used to defend employment discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, deny health care coverage for employees, claim exemptions to civil rights law, and complicate justice in child labor and abuse cases.  

The Do No Harm Act would prevent the RFRA law from being used to deny:

  • Protection against discrimination laws or the promotion of equal opportunity, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws;
  • Workplace protections or protections against child abuse;
  • Healthcare access, information, referrals, provisions, coverage or services to which persons are otherwise legally entitled;
  • Services that the government has contracted to be provided to beneficiaries through a government contract, grant, or cooperative agreement; and, 
  • Accommodations or other benefits and services provided by the government.

The bill is also cosponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. This bill is the Senate companion to legislation introduced last year by Representatives Joe Kennedy, D-Mass. and Bobby Scott, D-Va. and 120 cosponsors. 

The Do No Harm Act is supported by a broad coalition of LGBTQ, civil rights, women’s rights, and faith groups. For a full list of supportive organizations, click HERE.

Text of the bill is available HERE

A one-pager of the bill is available HERE