"As the Supreme Court gets ready possibly to expand even further the ability of businesses to use religion to discriminate, the federal RFRA law absolutely needs this fix."—Lambda Legal Chief Legal Officer Jennifer C. Pizer
(Washington, DC, April 19, 2023) Today, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) re-introduced the Do No Harm Act, a long-overdue correction to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which amends the law to clarify that it does not permit the use of religion to discriminate, impose religious beliefs, deny others specified goods or services, or inflict dignitary or other harm on others. Lambda Legal Chief Legal Officer Jennifer C. Pizer issued the following statement:
"Since long before the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement even started, our communities, women, and other marginalized groups have been targeted by religion-based condemnation and restriction of equal opportunities. In recent years, too many of those who oppose the equality and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people have misused religion in their demands for exemptions from rules that should protect everyone at work, at school, in medical offices, and in social services.
"Lambda Legal has represented LGBTQ+ individuals and same-sex couples in cases involving everyday services ranging from haircuts to vacation lodging to health care, even to funeral services, in which businesses have claimed religious rights to violate state nondiscrimination laws. The broad spectrum of these religion-for-discrimination cases shows the absurd inflation and distortion of religious rights demanded by these business owners, and the breadth of potential consequences for everyone else. The cases represent an enormous overreach by those engaging in commercial enterprises — offering goods or services to the general public, but then singling out some people for discrimination.
"We today are awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in 303 Creative v. Elenis, where a Colorado website designer wants a free speech right to advertise her intent to discriminate and then to refuse service to same-sex couples. As the Supreme Court gets ready possibly to expand even further the ability of businesses to shun LGBTQ+ people in the commercial marketplace, it spotlights the ongoing problem of religious divisions in public life. Misinterpretation of the federal RFRA law is a big part of that problem and why it absolutely needs this fix. Congress never intended RFRA to become, perversely, a tool for imposing religious orthodoxy and discrimination. The Do No Harm Act is an urgently needed course correction.
"For those who hold dear the religious freedom concepts that inspired our Constitution's framers, this bill should be a welcome reaffirmation of the do-no-harm-to-others principle that motivated passage of RFRA in the first place back in 1993. The fast-growing movement of those misusing religion for discrimination shows the urgent need for Congress to reaffirm that principle by passing this bill."
The Do No Harm Act amends the 1993 RFRA law by confirming that RFRA-based rights do not justify harm to others. It identifies contexts in which the religion law cannot be used to justify violation of other federal laws that protect others. These include: federal anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws, child labor laws, workplace compensation laws; provisions of the Affordable Care Act; and rules governing access to goods and services paid for by federal taxpayers to assist members of the general public.
Lambda Legal's U.S. Supreme Court friend-of-the-court brief filed in Hobby Lobby and other legal briefs give examples of religious exemption claims made in various contexts to justify discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV. The briefs and other case information document the health impacts and other harms caused by such discrimination.
Lambda Legal's 303 Creative, Brief for Amici Curiae, can be found here: legacy.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/303-creative_us_20220819_brief-amici-curiae-glad-hrc-lambda-legal-nclr-task-force .
Lambda Legal's Hobby Lobby brief can be found here: legacy.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/sebelius_us_201410128_amicus-lambda-legal .
Information about Lambda Legal's County of Santa Clara v. HHS can be found here: legacy.lambdalegal.org/blog/20191119_victory-third-judge-vacates-denial-of-care-rule .
Information about Lambda Legal's Zawadski v. Brewer Funeral Services can be found here: legacy.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/ms_zawadski-v-brewer-funeral-services .
Information about Lambda Legal's Oliver v. The Barbershop case can be found here: legacy.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/ca_oliver-vs-barbershop .
Information about Lambda Legal's Cervelli v. Aloha B&B case can be found here: legacy.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/cervelli-v-aloha-bed-and-breakfast .
Information about Lambda Legal's Benitez v. North Coast Women's Medical Care Group case can be found legacy.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/benitez-v-north-coast-womens-care-medical-group .
Lambda Legal's Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission brief can be found here legacy.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/masterpiece_co_20150217_brief-amici-curiae .
Information about Lambda Legal's Barber v. Bryant case against Mississippi's discriminatory HB 1523 can be found here: legacy.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/ms_barber-v-bryant .
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work. www.lambdalegal.org