From its very beginning, our nation has been home, harbor, and refuge to a wide range of religious beliefs. No other country has been as tolerant and accommodating of religion and religious people as America.
But in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court same-sex marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges, our nation’s commitment to religious liberty has been put to the test.
During oral arguments in that case, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli confirmed that if the court created a right to same-sex marriage, then the Internal Revenue Service would be empowered to revoke the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that maintain a traditional belief of marriage.
And the threat doesn’t end there. Schools that have educated children for decades could lose their accreditation. Hospitals could be shut down. This would be a huge blow to the civil society that helps stitch our nation together.
The First Amendment Defense Act would protect these vital institutions. It is a narrow and targeted response that would do one thing and one thing only: prevent the federal government from discriminating against people’s beliefs about marriage and what it entails.
The bill reaffirms the letter and spirit of the First Amendment, by stating unequivocally that the federal government may not revoke or deny a federal tax exemption, grant, contract, accreditation, license, or certification to an individual or institution based on a religious belief about marriage.
The First Amendment protects each of us from punishment or reprisal from the federal government for living in accordance with our deeply held religious or moral convictions. Adhering to these convictions should never disqualify an individual from receiving federal grants, contracts, or a tax status.
This bill is absolutely critical to the many charitable and service organizations in this country whose convictions about marriage are fundamental to their work and mission.
Guaranteeing the full protection of these organizations’ First Amendment rights will ensure that faith-based adoption agencies are not forced to discontinue their foster care and adoption services on account of their belief that every child needs a married mother and father. It will protect religiously affiliated schools from losing their accreditation or being compelled to eliminate housing options for students. And it will protect individuals, regardless of their beliefs about marriage, from being deprived of eligibility for federal grants, licenses, and employment because of their deeply held convictions.
Now, you may hear tall tales—and some outright falsehoods—about this bill. Some may suggest that FADA would give private businesses a license to violate anti-discrimination laws with impunity. This is just not so. The bill does not preempt, negate, or alter any civil rights laws, state or federal. To be clear: This bill does not take anything away from any individual or group, because it does not modify any of our existing civil rights protections.
The First Amendment Defense Act does not allow federal workers or businesses that are contractors to deny services or benefits to same-sex couples; and it does not allow hospitals to refuse medically necessary treatment or visitation rights to individuals in same-sex relationships.
Questions surrounding marriage today are difficult, and reasonable people of good faith will reach different judgments about how best to protect religious liberty. But the First Amendment must remain our lodestar. Any differences of opinion can be constructively worked out—even and especially as to particular provisions of this bill—if our shared concern remains preserving the American tradition of religious liberty.