Throwing Religious Freedom Under the Washington, DC Busses

James Tonkowich | Columnist | Thursday, December 11, 2014

Throwing Religious Freedom Under the Washington, DC Busses

Washington, DC is home for pro-life groups such as March for Life, Americans United for Life, Family Research Council, the Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women for America, Catholic Charities, the Archdiocese of Washington, and many pro-life churches. 

In addition, of the forty-six private schools in the District of Columbia, twenty-four are Catholic parochial schools and another seven have Christian roots.

Why should you care? Because the DC City Council seems to be working overtime to eviscerate their religious freedom and when anyone’s religious freedom is stripped, everyone’s religious freedom suffers—yours included.

This summer, DC City Council member David Grosso introduced the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014. The bill, seeking to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby recognizing religious exceptions in providing contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs states, “An employer or employment agency shall not discriminate against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of or on the basis of the individual’s or a dependent’s reproductive health decision making, including a decision to use or access a particular drug, device or medical service, because of or on the basis of an employer’s personal beliefs about such services.”

“An employer,” that is, all employers in the District—including the pro-life employers listed above—would need to cover all contraceptives and even abortions in their insurance programs, could not restrict hiring to pro-life candidates, and would have no recourse with employees who for whatever reason betrayed the pro-life position or mission of the organization. 

There is, needless to say, no provision in the legislation burdening abortion advocacy groups in a similar way.

Anthony Picarello Jr., the associate general secretary and general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Catholic Standard, “This kind of bill represents a radical attempt to undermine religious and associational liberty, and to date has not passed anywhere in the country. No organization should be required to hire and retain persons whose speech and conduct hinder or contradict the organization’s identity and purpose. This is a matter of constitutional right and common sense.”

Casey Maddox of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) who testified at the one hearing wrote in the Washington Times, “Helpfully recorded, the committee hearing focused not only on forcing employers to provide coverage for ‘reproductive health decisions,’ but on the religious convictions of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., itself. Mr. Grosso made his intent clear to ‘address’ the Hobby Lobby case and require D.C. employers, even those nonprofit pro-life organizations with religious or moral objections, to provide coverage for all ‘reproductive health decision[s].’”

The DC City Council has delayed a vote until December 16 and, in light of the Hobby Lobby decision, even if they pass the legislation, it’s probably not constitutional. After all, as a group including Catholics, Baptist, Scientologists, and an Imam (Where in the world were the rest of the pastors in Washington, DC?), wrote in a letter to the City Council, “While religious employers do not police employees’ or dependents’ private reproductive health decisions, these employers must have the freedom to respond to employees’ public behavior repudiating their religious mission and identity.”

Regarding religious freedom and private schools, in an under-reported action, the DC City Council passed legislation that eliminates the religious freedom that has allowed faith-based private schools to teach about sexuality in ways that are consistent with their religious faith. The Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014 creates a situation where the schools would not even be able to deny “endorsement, approval or recognition” to people or groups “promoting, encouraging, or condoning any homosexual act, lifestyle, orientation, or belief” regardless of biblical and Church teachings.

It would also restrict the religious liberty of counselors, psychologists, and pastors counseling individuals who come to them wanting to be rid of their same-sex attraction as well as the religious freedom of clients who request such counseling. 

As Charisma News quoted Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel: “This vote will have a severe impact on religious liberty in our nation's capital. Religious schools and church-affiliated schools must now choose whether to obey God or to obey government. In addition, if signed into law by the mayor, the law will trample the First Amendment rights of counselors to provide, and patients to receive, counseling consistent with their religious beliefs.”

Congress can and should intervene in both of these egregious violations of religious freedom in the District. But regardless of whether they survive Congress and the courts, we should all take note of this aggressive secularism involved and the potent threat it poses to all Americans.

Publication date: December 11, 2014