Congressional Hearings Begin on the First Amendment Defense Act

firstamendmentA congressional committee is considering legislation that would protect the fundamental rights of those who believe in traditional marriage.

The First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) “would prevent the federal government from discriminating against individuals, associations, or businesses, such as churches and religious colleges, by denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license, or certification because they believe marriage is a union of one man and one woman.”

Worried that the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) laid the foundation to undermine religious liberty, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his dissent,

“Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage – when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing to only opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before the court.”

Passing FADA would be a great first step in alleviating these concerns.

FADA is modeled after the Church Amendments, which were adopted after the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade (1973) that found a constitutional right to abortion. The Church Amendments protect the right of those who morally object to abortion to act in accordance with their convictions.

In the aftermath of Obergefell v. Hodges, it is imperative that the government affirms its obligation to protect the fundamental rights of those who believe in traditional marriage. No person or religious organization should be compelled to betray their beliefs about marriage to maintain a tax-exempt status or do business with the federal government.

Sadly, this view is not shared by many progressives and LGBT activists.  Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke claimed that “while religious belief is absolutely protected [under the First Amendment], religiously motivated actions are not.”

The professor’s position is indefensible. This statement is comparable to saying that the First Amendment only protects an individual’s right to hold opinions, but not his or her right to speak publicly about them.

Contrary to Professor Franke’s interpretation, the First Amendment does protect the “free exercise [of religion].” Free exercise includes actions that are motivated by religious convictions. The government can limit these actions only when it has a compelling interest to do so. It is absurd to conclude that the federal government has a compelling interest to ostracize and punish organizations that uphold the traditional definition of marriage.

Our founders understood the danger of allowing government to interfere in religious beliefs, and they protected against that by ratifying the First Amendment. In a letter to a Presbyterian pastor, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I consider the [federal] government of the United States as [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.”

Jefferson continued, “In this enlightened age and in this land of equal liberty it is our boast that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the laws…”

Most Americans, including those who support same-sex marriage, would hopefully agree that it would be wrong for the federal government to discriminate against religious organizations because of their beliefs about marriage.

Religious liberty is too important to be sacrificed on the progressive altar of inclusion and political correctness.

This post was originally written for the Family Policy Institute of Washington: http://www.fpiw.org/blog/2016/07/12/congressional-hearings-begin-on-first-amendment-defense-act/. 

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