Civil Rights Leaders Reintroduce Bill to Strengthen Protections, Restore Intent of Federal Religious Freedom Law

Do No Harm Act would address increasing use of religious freedom law to undermine civil rights protections

April 19, 2023

WASHINGTON – Today, House and Senate civil rights leaders reintroduced the Do No Harm Act, to address the increasing use of religious freedom to undermine civil rights protections. The bill restores the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to its original purpose, which is to protect religious exercise while ensuring religious freedom is not used to erode civil rights protections.

The legislation is sponsored by House Committee on Education and the Workforce Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA-03), senior Judiciary Committee member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (MD-08), House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government Ranking Member Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).

The legislation comes amid a sharp rise in the misapplication of RFRA to justify discrimination in a wide range of scenarios. The Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. permitted corporations to rely on RFRA to deny certain health care services to employees. In the Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County indicated RFRA could be a “super statute” that supersedes protections against employment discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Last year, a District Court judge in Texas ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers cover HIV-prevention medication, known as PrEP drugs, violates RFRA.

The Do No Harm Act limits the use of RFRA in cases involving discrimination, child labor and abuse, wages and collective bargaining, access to health care, public accommodations, and social services provided through government contract.

“When Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, it was intended to protect religious exercise—not to erode civil rights under the guise of religious freedom.  Regrettably, we have seen RFRA repeatedly used to attack civil rights protections, deny access to health care, and allow discrimination in federal contracts and programs,” said Ranking Member Scott. “The Do No Harm Act simply provides that RFRA cannot be used to limit access to health care, deny services supported by taxpayer dollars, or undermine the Civil Rights Act or other anti-discrimination protections.  Congress must take this critical step to ensure no one can weaponize religious freedom to erode our fundamental civil and legal rights.”

“The right to practice one’s religion should not come at the cost of depriving others of their civil rights,” said Sen. Booker. “That is why I am proud to join my colleagues in reintroducing the Do No Harm Act, which would protect religious freedom and ensure no one can use it to deny others access to health care, government-funded services, and protections under the Civil Rights Act.”

“An honest application of a civil rights law doesn’t infringe on the civil rights of others, and doesn’t pit one group’s rights against the legitimate rights of another’s. The Do No Harm Act protects the original intent of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and corrects the courts’ misguided interpretations that have allowed the religious rights of some to be used to undermine the civil rights of others,” said Rep. Cohen, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee.

“Your freedom to exercise your religion does not give you the right to violate your fellow Americans’ basic equal rights,” said Rep. Raskin. “The Do No Harm Act makes an essential clarification to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, prohibiting weaponization of the law by bad-faith actors who want to redefine freedom of religious conscience as license to discriminate. I’m grateful to my House and Senate partners in this effort who recognize that freedom from discrimination is foundational to both equality and religious liberty itself.”

“The free exercise of religious beliefs is one of our country’s founding principles,” said Rep. Scanlon. “But religious freedom laws are increasingly being weaponized to justify discrimination and undermine civil rights protections. I’m proud to introduce the Do No Harm Act to restore the chronically misused Religious Freedom Restoration Act to its original intent – which is to provide protections for religious exercise while ensuring that RFRA is not used to erode civil rights under the guise of religious freedom.”

For a fact sheet on the Do No Harm Act, click here.

For a section-by-section summary of the Do No Harm Act, click here.

For the bill text of the Do No Harm Act, click here.