Support Mounts for Federal 'Religious Freedom' Bill

| by Alexander Rubinstein

Republican House leaders are facing increasing pressure to call a vote in July on a "religious freedom" bill that would ban the federal government from taking action against churches, charities or private schools for their actions in opposition to same-sex marriage.

The legislation, which has been called the First Amendment Defense Act, has gained 50 co-sponsors in one week. The total number of GOP co-sponsors is now 115.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationally has led Republicans to try to have the bill passed before they return home and face their constituents at town hall meetings.

The bill’s author, Republican Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, co-founded the conservative Freedom Caucus, which has given GOP leadership trouble lately. Labrador, a tea party favorite, has also clashed with Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who controls scheduling for the floor.

Recently, conservative rebels have claimed Republican leadership has blocked votes on legislation they’ve written over criticisms they have made. Co-sponsors of the bill said they would like the bill to be voted on because of its merits, not who introduced it.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced a companion bill to the Senate. He told NPR’s Robert Siegel: “Our country … was founded on a proud tradition of religious freedom and tolerance. This is especially important when it comes to government discrimination.” He added, “And that’s what this bill is aimed at prohibiting.”

Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who opposes gay marriage, has not yet commented on the legislation. McCarthy has also not indicated whether he would schedule a vote before the House leaves in August for recess.

It is not clear if Labrador’s bill can get the 218 votes it needs to get passed. Only one Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, has signed on to the bill.

Labrador will need to appeal to fellow Republicans to get the bill passed, and many of them do not view his politics favorably.

Under the bill, federal agencies would be unable to take action against individuals, organizations, nonprofits and other entities that act on their opposition to same-sex marriage. The government could not revoke a church’s tax-exempt status, or deny federal grants, contracts, or licenses to individuals or institutions.

House Democrats have not yet taken a look at the legislation. Openly-gay Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado told The Hill that the bill could get broad support from the LGBT community, which has previously benefited from religious liberties, in the cases of Reform Judaism and Unitarianism, which have been holding same-sex marriages for decades.

That was until Polis read the bill and followed up with The Hill. He came to argue that it was too broad in its scope, saying that it would allow any business to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Americans.

Source: The Hill, NRP / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons