Congress takes a Break with Work Left to Do on Religious Freedom
With temperatures inching up into the nineties and the Potomac humidity building to unhealthy levels, the Congress did what they always do this time of year. They left town for a long summer break and will not return until after Labor Day. Because of the upcoming elections it is not likely that they will accomplish much when they do return out of fear of further angering voters who are clearly in a “throw out the incumbents” mind set. What have they left undone? A lot, including three important measures designed to protect American’s religious freedoms.
Use the Education Budget to Put the Transgender Restroom Edict on Hold – Polling indicates that an overwhelming majority of American’s disagree with the absurd restroom and locker room mandate that the US Department of Education is attempting to foist upon schools across the nation. Congress is determined to block the Department of Education from withholding funds from schools that do not comply with the May 13 Dear Colleague letter. To accomplish this the House Appropriations Committee inserted language into the Education Appropriations Act,
prohibiting funds from being used to withhold Federal financial assistance to public education institutions subject to the May 13, 2016 Dear Colleague Letter published by the Departments of Education and Justice until an appropriate court determines violations have occurred.
When Congress returns the Education Appropriations Act, including this important amendment, it will go to the entire House for a vote.
Protect Religious Liberties for Public Employees and Private Schools – Last June, when the Supreme Court required all states to recognize and permit gay marriage, Justices Alito and Roberts filed dissenting opinions registering concerns that the decision could lead to public employees being prevented from fully exercising their faith. To protect religious institutions and public employees from being forced to support gay marriage against their religious convictions a group of Senators and Representatives introduced the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). After languishing in committee without a hearing for a year FADA was finally heard by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 12. While Democrats in committee raised many objections to the bill, most of them based on myth, the bill did pass this committee.
For public employees the most important language in the act states,
[The] federal government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly served to such a marriage.
Because the law would only protect federal employees, similar bills have been introduced in some states to protect state public employees (which would also include teachers) from being disciplined for advocating and promoting a biblical definition of marriage.
The next step for FADA is a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Support Freedom of Conscience for Medical Providers – Also, in the closing days before the break, the House took a bill that had already passed the Senate, renamed it The Conscience Protection Act of 2016 (CPA), and amended it to prevent discrimination against health care providers (includes churches, doctors and nurses) for not providing abortions, “if based on an individual’s religious belief, moral conviction, or refusal to be involved in an abortion.” The bill passed the House of Representatives by a near party line vote of 245-182 and must now move back to the Senate for approval of the House Amendment.
If the Senate approves the House amendment, President Obama has already vowed to veto the bill. It is likely that if they pass the President will also veto the First Amendment Protection Act and the Education Appropriations Act discussed above. Since there are not enough Republicans in the Senate and House to generate the 2/3 votes of both Houses that is necessary to override a Presidential veto, it is likely that the President would be able to block all three of these measures.
If President Obama will veto all three of these measures, why is it important to pass them and send them to him for consideration? There are two important reasons: First, one never knows when the Holy Spirit might move the President to take an action out of character and support one or all of these measures. Second, in light of the up-coming Presidential elections it is important that each of these measures be framed as items that have been blocked by the President. This would give all supporters of religious liberty a very important reason to look at the positions of the Presidential candidates on religious freedom issues.
You can address your comments on this column to JMitchell@ceai.org. John Mitchell is the Washington, DC Area Director for the Christian Educators Association.
© 2016 Christian Educators Association International www.ceai.org/ 888.798.1124
Washington Education Watch 07/2016 Used with permission.