Bishop Robinson calls for Congress to reject the First Amendment Defense Act

Former Bishop of New Hampshire launches petition campaign to rally the religious left against Republican bill

The former Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, has launched a petition campaign in conjunction with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights and other liberal church advocacy groups, to urge Congress to block passage of the First Amendment Defense Act (H.R. 2802).

The New York Times characterized the First Amendment Defense Act as a Republican-led effort to balance the Free Exercise of Religion guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution with recent changes in civil law:

Legislation granting protections for tax-exempt organizations and individuals objecting to same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds is gathering momentum in the House. The bills, drafted by Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho, and Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, already have 130 co-sponsors. …

“All religious Americans deserve assurance that they can carry out their conscience without a federal government crackdown,” said Representative Bill Flores, Republican of Texas and the committee’s chairman.

At the same time, wary Republican moderates have quietly drafted a novel alternative that would actually expand legal protections for gay men and lesbians. Their legislation would narrow the scope of protection offered to groups declining services to same-sex couples seeking to marry.

The petition endorsed by Bishop Robinson seeks to make the case against the bill from a liberal Christian perspective. It states:

TELL CONGRESS RELIGIOUS LIBERTY DOESN’T MEAN LGBT DISCRIMINATION

Why is this important?

The religious liberty upon which our nation was founded has allowed our country’s diverse religious landscape to flourish. Recently, however, what we have seen promoted as defending religious liberty too often reflects one particular religious perspective that does not at all respect that diversity of faith and belief, or the intent of our Founders. We believe that the First Amendment Defense Act does not respect the spirit of religious liberty—nor does it reflect fundamental values of treating all people with fairness and equality—and we therefore strongly oppose this legislation. Further, though people of faith are not a monolith and all are not in agreement on whether their faith sanctions LGBT relationships, we cannot in good conscience support legislation that favors one religious viewpoint over another and in the process discriminates against LGBT people, single mothers and unmarried couples.

The religious freedom of individuals and organizations, including clergy and houses of worship, who object to same-sex marriage are already protected by the First Amendment and federal law—and we, as clergy and faith leaders, continue to stand by the right of others to hold beliefs that may differ from our own while recognizing that for many of us, supporting LGBT individuals and families is a principle of our faith. Rather than protecting the First Amendment, this legislation actually undermines true religious liberty. The religious liberty on which our nation was founded guarantees us the freedom to hold any belief we choose and the right to act on our religious beliefs — but it does not allow us to harm or discriminate against others or to infringe on the religious beliefs of others.

By opening the door to unprecedented taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers and unmarried couples, this legislation does nothing to protect our rights as people of diverse faith traditions and it has the potential to do considerable harm in the name of religion. For example, were this bill to become law it would:

• allow an organization to accept federal funds to run a homeless shelter or drug treatment program but then turn away from that program LGBT people or anyone who has a sexual relationship outside of marriage;

• allow hospitals to refuse dying patients visitation from their spouse or designated support person; and

• permit a government employee to deny services they have a duty to provide, including Veterans or Social Security benefits to a surviving member of a same-sex couple.

We are also troubled that this bill is so broad it could even prevent the federal government from enforcing longstanding laws designed to combat discrimination and promote equality. For example, it would let commercial landlords violate fair housing laws by refusing housing to a single mother based on the landlord’s religious beliefs and allow businesses to violate family medical leave laws by refusing to let a gay or lesbian employee care for a sick spouse.

As people of deep faith committed to a country that supports diverse, robust, and healthy religious expression and in the spirit of equality and justice, we urge you to oppose the First Amendment Defense Act.

How it will be delivered

The petition will be shared with Members of Congress in advance of a possible vote on this legislation in the next two weeks.

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