Sending Office: Honorable Joseph P. Kennedy III
116th Congress (166): Adams, Aguilar, Barragan, Bass, Beatty, Bera, Beyer,
Blumenauer, Blunt Rochester, Bonamici, Boyle, Brown, Brownley, Bustos, Butterfield, Carbajal, Cardenas, Cartwright, Case, Casten, Castor, Castro, Chu, Cicilline, Cisneros, Clark, Clarke, Cohen, Connolly, Cooper, Correa, Costa, Courtney, Craig, Crist, Cummings,
Susan Davis, DeFazio, DeGette, DeLauro, DelBene, Demings, DeSaulnier, Deutch, Dingell, Doyle, Engel, Eshoo, Espaillat, Evans, Foster, Frankel, Fudge, Gabbard, Gallego, Garamendi, Garcia, Gomez, Gonzalez, Grijalva, Haaland, Hastings, Hayes, Himes, Huffman,
Jackson Lee, Hank Johnson, Heck, Higgins, Jeffries, Keating, Robin Kelly, Khanna, Kildee, Kilmer, Kind, Kirkpatrick, Krishnamoorthi, Kuster, Lamb, Langevin, Larsen, Larson, Lawrence, Lawson, Barbara Lee, Susie Lee, Andy Levin, Mike Levin, Lieu, Loebsack, Lofgren,
Lowenthal, Lowey, Lujan, Lynch, Carolyn Maloney, Sean Patrick Maloney, Matsui, McCollum, McEachin, McGovern, McNerney Meeks, Meng, Morelle, Moulton, Stephanie Murphy, Nadler, Napolitano, Norcross, Norton, Omar, Pallone, Panetta, Pappas, Payne, Perlmutter,
Peters, Pingree, Pocan, Porter, Price, Quigley, Raskin, Rice, Roybal-Allard, Ruppersberger, Rush, Tim Ryan, Sanchez, Scanlon, Schakowsky, Schiff, Schneider, Schrader, Schrier, Serrano, Shalala, Sherman, Sires, Slotkin, Adam Smith, Soto, Speier, Stevens, Suozzi,
Swalwell, Takano, Bennie Thompson, Tonko, Torres, Trahan, Trone, Vela, Velazquez, Visclosky, Wasserman Schultz, Waters, Watson Coleman, Welch, Wexton, Wild, Wilson, Yarmuth
Supportive Organizations (82): Abortion Care Network, Advocates
for Youth, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), American Atheists, American Civil Liberties Union, American Humanist Association, American Psychological Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and
State, Anti-Defamation League, Basic Rights Oregon, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, BiNet USA, Call To Action, Catholics for Choice, The Center for American Progress, Center For Black Equity, Center for Inquiry, Center for Reproductive Rights, DignityUSA, Disciples
Center for Public Witness, Disciples Justice Action Network, Equal Partners in Faith, Equality California, Equality Federation, Family Equality Council, Feminist Majority, FORGE, Inc., Freedom for All Americans, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), Friends
Committee on National Legislation, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Global Justice Institute, Metropolitan Community Churches, GLSEN, Hindu American Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, Institute for Science and Human Values, Interfaith Alliance, Lambda
Legal, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Legal Voice, LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute, Medical Students for Choice, Movement Advancement Project, Muslim Advocates, Muslims for Progressive Values, NAACP, NARAL Pro-Choice America,
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Association of Social Workers, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Council of Jewish Women, National Employment
Lawyers Association, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, National Partnership for Women and Families, National Women’s Health Network, National Women’s Law Center, NEAT – National Equality Action Team, NMAC, Nurses
for Sexual & Reproductive Health, Organization, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, OutServe-SLDN, Physicians for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Pride at Work, Religious Institute, Reproductive Health
Access Project, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Policy Institute, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), The Trevor Project, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of
Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries, Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice, Whitman-Walker Health, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER), YATOM: The Jewish Foster & Adoption Network
When Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993 with overwhelming bipartisan support, the intent was not to undermine civil rights, but to protect
them, especially for religious minorities. Religion is a protected class under the Civil Rights Act, and the freedom to exercise religious beliefs is constitutionally protected as a fundamental American value.
After the Supreme Court’s 1990 ruling in
Employment Division v. Smith called the free exercise rights of religious minorities into question, Congress passed RFRA to affirm that laws intended for the general good can have unintentional impacts on free exercise, and persons of faith need recourse
and remedy when they do.
There is a difference, however, between exercising religious beliefs and imposing them upon others. Our Constitution fiercely protects the former and expressly prohibits the
latter, but RFRA, sadly, has been used as a tool to do both. Witnesses have cited RFRA to avoid testifying in child labor and abuse cases and employers have raised religious objections to recognizing worker protections under the National Labor Relations Act.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores made it possible for corporations to rely on RFRA in denying health care to their female employees. Most recently, the Trump Administration granted a request from South Carolina to use RFRA
to waive non-discrimination requirements for state-contracted child welfare agencies. This RFRA waiver permits South Carolina to use federal funds to contract with child placement agencies that impose religious litmus tests on families seeking to foster or
adopt children in the public child welfare system. These agencies will now be allowed to turn away families because they are “the wrong religion” or because of religious objections to their sexual orientation or gender identity, notwithstanding a federal
regulation that prohibits exactly this kind of discrimination in federally-funded programs.
With these issues in mind, we invite you to join us as co-sponsors of the Do No Harm Act. This legislation would restore RFRA’s purpose as a protective shield for religious
minorities and free exercise. The bill makes clear that RFRA does not preempt laws that protect against discrimination, govern wages and collective bargaining, prohibit child labor and abuse, provide access to health care, govern public accommodations, or
require that goods and services be provided via government contract. These areas of the law protect important civil and legal rights of every American, and they are places where a religious exemption for one results in harm to another.
Religious freedom is an anchoring value of American democracy, but so, too, is equal protection under the law. Both can be honored and upheld by a RFRA that is faithful to
its original intent and to American values. The Do No Harm Act would safeguard the civil rights, religious freedom, and dignity of every American by affirming that one person’s rights count no more or less than another’s. Please contact
Qais Roshan (Kennedy) or
Carolyn Ronis (Scott) if you would like to co-sponsor or have additional questions.
Joseph P. Kennedy, III Robert C. “Bobby” Scott
e-Dear Colleague version 2.0