'Do No Harm Act' generates debate about restrictions on religious freedom
A bill introduced by Congressman Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts is designed to prevent discrimination, but opponents say it restricts religious rights.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A controversial bill making its way through Congress is generating debate about restrictions on religious freedom.
Freedom of Religion is a basic right enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but supporters of the "Do No Harm Act," introduced by Congressman Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts, claim religion is too often used to discriminate against others.
They said Kennedy’s bill would “clarify” that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act may not be used in ways that harm other people.
“When one person's First Amendment rights undermines another person's First Amendment rights, then there's an issue there,” said Kate Miller, Advocacy Director of the ACLU of Kentucky.
Miller points to the Hobby Lobby case in which the Supreme Court allowed the family-owned company to be exempt from offering birth control benefits to employees.
“Individuals might have a religious objection to using birth control, but that doesn't mean that they should be able to force other people to adhere to their religious understanding of whether birth control is right for them,” Miller said.
But the leader of Kentucky's largest protestant denomination said the "Do No Harm Act" does exactly that: harms the faithful.
“I think the 'Do No Harm Act' is a way of discriminating against people of faith,” said Paul Chitwood, President of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Chitwood said the bill would require people of faith to compromise their religious convictions.
“Those freedoms extend beyond a church building or a mosque," he said. "Those freedoms are extended to individuals ... to human beings."
The ACLU has launched an online petition campaign to build support for the "Do No Harm Act."
“We need to create a balance to make sure that we can protect everyone's First Amendment rights and that certain individuals aren't discriminated against because of the religious beliefs of others,” she said.
Seventy-nine progressive groups, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is based here in Louisville, are listed as supporting the bill.
The "Do No Harm Act" was originally introduced in 2016 but never came up for a vote in Congress.
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