Some members of Congress are rushing to enact legislation to deal with a supposed threat to religious liberty posed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex civil marriage. But the grandiosely titled First Amendment Defense Act is unnecessary and could allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, says that the federal government “shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”
The bill defines “person” to include both nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and “discriminatory action” is defined to include not just the revocation of tax-exempt status but also the denial or termination of federal contracts. A persuasive analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union concludes that the bill would allow federal employees with objections to same-sex marriage to refuse to process tax returns or Social Security checks for gay couples.
The only aspect of the legislation that is remotely defensible is its language about tax-exempt status. In 1983, the Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because the religious school at the time prohibited interracial dating, a policy the court found to conflict with an “established public policy” against racial discrimination.
A concern about the tax-exempt status of religious schools is no reason to enact the First Amendment Defense Act – and there are many other reasons to oppose the bill.
This is excerpted from the Los Angeles Times.