The Do No Harm Act, proposed by several Democrats in the U.S. Senate ranging from the far left to the farther left, is a sneaky case of mislabeling. If there were truth in marketing, it would be called the Do A Lot of Harm Act.
The new legislation would eviscerate the 25-year-old Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was once favored by liberal members of Congress for its protections of minority religious practices, such as, among other things, the rights of Muslims and Sikhs to wear religious headgear on the job and in driver’s license photographs.
Ironically, that legislation was introduced on that far-away day by one Rep. Chuck Schumer of New York and by Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and it was passed by the House by unanimous vote and only three senators voted against it. President Bill Clinton eagerly signed it. But that was then, and this is now.
The good news is that the new legislation has no expectation of enactment, and was a bone thrown to the expanding Democratic left, and to burnish the credentials of its authors with the radical wing of the party. Still, it shows what some Democrats would do if they could. The Do No Harm Act would amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prevent the law from being invoked as a legal defense against what the Democrats call discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people.
The law would further target private business concerns like the Hobby Lobby and charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor, which insist that the government cannot compel them to provide abortion and contraceptive coverage to their employees in contravention of their religious beliefs.
The Do No Harm partisans want Congress to put its thumb on the scale to favor LGBT and abortion plaintiffs when their legal rights collide with those of the religiously devout. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, puts the goal in plain English: “While our country was founded on the value of religious liberty,” she says, “that freedom cannot come at the expense of others’ civil rights.” Bromides always come with a “but.”
The legislation would not repeal the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion, because a law can’t override a constitutional amendment. But the Do No Harm Act would give liberal federal judges cover for ruling against the religious whenever possible, such as in the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker whose First Amendment free-speech rights were narrowly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Another co-sponsor, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, insists that the Do No Harm Act would simply balance competing rights and “ensure we protect both.” But when two rights collide, only one right will prevail, as the senator knows. She wants to tip the scale to make sure that her favorite prevails. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and sometimes the vigilantes ride from the halls of Congress.
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