Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, grandson of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and other Democratic lawmakers this week introduced a new bill to amend the law to stop federal legal claims and state laws that go beyond protecting religious freedom and instead tread on others' constitutional and statutory rights. Backers of the "Do No Harm Act," say the federal "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" was born of good intentions, but went terribly wrong.
Kennedy, of Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District, called religious freedom "one of the fundamental bedrock values of our country," reports WGBH.
"That free exercise of one's religious beliefs has been used to impinge upon rights and beliefs, and equal protections of others," said Kennedy on Boston Public Radio Thursday.
The Do No Harm act would amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and prevent anyone from using their religion to hinder civil liberties.
While the original intentions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, were in the right place, the act has been used to deny people and employees their rights, said Kennedy. He ensures the new act would not drastically alter the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. "It maintains that act, but it does say that the free exercise of one's religious beliefs should be limited by the harm it inflicts on somebody else," said Kennedy.
Kennedy said the legislation would ensure protections around non-discrimination laws, workplace laws regarding wages and compensation, laws regarding children's welfare, and acts of healthcare.
The measure, co-sponsored by Kennedy and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) is backed by more than 40 organizations. But it so far lacks support from a single Republican - and they control the Congress. Supporters acknowledged the uphill climb, but vowed to press ahead, reports the Boston Herald.
The position of the Interfaith Alliance about the Do No Harm Act, for example, is: "The religious freedom promised by the Constitution, the religious freedom envisioned by our Founders, is one where every person's faith is protected and no one's faith is used to subjugate or harm others," said Rabbi Jack Moline, President of Interfaith Alliance.
"For years the Religious Right has tried to force legislation through Congress and state legislatures designed to turn religious freedom into a weapon used against religious minorities, people of color, women, children and the LGBT community. The Do No Harm act is a critical first step toward counteracting that misguided campaign. I am grateful to Rep. Kennedy and Rep. Scott for their continued leadership on this issue and look forward to working with them and members of Congress of both parties as we continue to find the proper balance in safeguarding the religious freedom of all."
Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life told the Boston Herald that on one hand, Kennedy "is right - it makes sense to say that I can exercise my religious freedom, but in doing so I cannot take away the fundamental rights of someone else." But legislation is the wrong way to address that, he said, because courts can't be the judge of individuals' faith.