No one should face discrimination or harm when trying to access services, yet increasingly, religious beliefs are being used to justify discrimination and service refusal, including to members of the LGBTQ community. In recent years, some individuals and businesses have attempted to distort the original intent of a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to justify such discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs.
The federal RFRA was passed over two decades ago, and was celebrated by many civil rights organizations at the time as a law that was designed to protect minority religious groups’ constitutional right to freely exercise their religious beliefs. RFRA prohibits the federal government from “substantially burden[ing]” a person’s religious exercise unless doing so is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. RFRA’s original intent, however, is now being distorted and used to justify discrimination, and those relying on this distortion have seen some success in recent court cases, most notably in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that RFRA exempts closely-held, for-profit corporations from complying with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate based on the company’s religious beliefs.
Family Equality supports the Do No Harm Act, which would limit the ability of institutions and individuals to use RFRA to avoid complying with federal non-discrimination laws and other laws regulating wages and compensation, child labor, health care services, and other services. Passing the Do No Harm Act would restore RFRA to its original intent — protecting religious freedom in cases such as those involving the right to wear religious garb and observe religious holidays — while making clear that it cannot be used to harm others.