Church in DC Appeals to US Senate over Religious Liberty

by Gjergji Evangjeli

 

Last December, the Human Rights Amendment of 2014 and The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act of 2014 were passed by the D. C. Council and signed into law in January by Washington D.C.’s mayor, Muriel Bowser (D). The Catholic Church, however, has expressed that they cannot comply with the regulations they entail out of conscience.

 

The Human Rights Amendment (HRAA) forces religious schools to recognize persons and groups that might conflict with their stated mission and allow them to use their facilities and benefits. A Catholic school, for example, would have to recognize a pro-abortion student group and could not deny them use of their facilities or funds.

 

The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA) prohibits all employers from discriminating against their employees over “reproductive health decision making.” A pro-life group, for example, could not bring reproductions against one of their members even if they decided to procure an abortion and make this decision public, an action which would run counter to the group’s stated mission.

 

Congress has 30 days to review and approve the bills, before they officially become law on April 17.

 

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has joined the opposition of the bills and is calling for support of two resolutions introduced by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and James Lakford (R-Okla.) which oppose “the unprecedented attack on religious freedom” in D.C. Joined with the Archdiocese is a number of religious groups and schools, including the USCCB, Catholic University of America, the Knights of Columbus, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Susan B. Anthony List, March for Life, the Family Research Council.

 

In a March 18 statement, the Archdiocese said the laws, “subjugate the Church’s moral teaching to the moral views of the government” and “result in discrimination against religious believers.”

 

HRAA would repeal the ‘Armstrong Amendment’, which recognizes the freedom of religious schools not to fund or provide facilities or otherwise endorse or recognize persons or groups promoting stances which run counter to their sincerely-held beliefs. If the Armstrong Amendment is repealed, HRAA could lead to religiously affiliated schools in D.C. being forced to violate their beliefs—and thus their conscience—or else be subjected to lawsuits  and be forced to spend considerable amounts of money to protect their viewpoint in court.

 

On December 2, then-Mayor Vincent Gray asked the Council to postpone the final vote on RHNDA following a legal analysis by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) which deemed the bill, “legally insufficient.” Grey stated that, “According to the OAG, the bill raises serious concerns under the Constitution and under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). Religious organizations, religiously-affiliated organizations, religiously-driven for-profit entities, and political organizations may have strong First Amendment and RFRA groups for challenging the law’s applicability to them.” Gray informed the Council that he would not sign the legislation unless it provided an exemption for religious institutions and organizations, views that were not carried over when he was replaced by Mayor Bowser.

 

The passing of the two resolutions of disapproval by the US Senate before April 17 will effectively bar the two legislations in question from being officially recognized as law. 

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