How The First Amendment Defense Act Would Be A Disaster For Women

The same week the Conscience Protection Act was brought to the floor, which would allow health care providers the right to refuse patients access to reproductive health services like abortion due to their personal religious values, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing Tuesday on a bill called “the First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA). The bill justifies discrimination, predictably enough, by asserting that people have the right to refuse others services based on their own beliefs, because in this deeply fucked up world, this apparently constitutes “freedom of religion.” Although the ways in which the bill allows for LGBTQ discrimination have been widely discussed, FADA would also be a disaster for all women.

As NARAL Pro-Choice America pointed out in a press release sent earlier this week, broad interpretations of FADA, a bill introduced by Republican Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho, could even “let your boss fire you for having premarital sex.” The law specifically notes that individuals who believe “sexual relations are properly reserved to … marriage” can’t be punished for discriminating based on this belief. It allows individuals to “refuse to do anything” in violation of their personal religious values, whether this is standing against marriage equality or employing a promiscuous woman, and face no punishment from the federal government.

Your landlord could refuse to house you, your healthcare provider could refuse to give you birth control, the local baker could refuse to prepare your wedding cake — the list goes on and on. In fact, the FADA would even allow government workers to freely discriminate, which means your taxpayer dollars could literally be going toward bigotry.

Naturally, Democratic senators aren’t happy about this. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren took to Twitter to blast the bill, while Senator Barney Frank, a gay Democratic senator also from Massachusetts, vocally protested it in Congress. “My objection in no way means that I do not recognize his or her right to any opinion whatsoever,” Frank said. “But neither does it mean my acquiescence in his opinion diminishing my ability to participate in an activity which he has not only volunteered to perform, but has almost certainly worked hard for the right to do so and be financially rewarded for it.”

Essentially, to Frank, everyone has the constitutional right to have and be able to express their own opinion, but that doesn’t mean simply because of their religion, individuals should be able to do whatever they want if this means diminishing others’ “ability to participate.”

Republicans have a long history of only being concerned with protecting the religious freedoms of Christians, some supporting radical discrimination against Muslims and marginalizing the whole group in the wake of any terror attack while turning a blind eye on Christian extremists’ attacks on abortion clinics. They love “freedom of religion” when it means having the freedom to discriminate against gay people and women, and then conveniently forget how freedom of religion for gay people means being able to get married, or for trans people, to use the bathroom, or for women, to choose to not be mothers.

In this sense, non-Christians, the LGBTQ community, and women are essentially reduced to second-class citizens, as their religious freedom is prioritized below the religious freedom of fundamentalist Christians. In turn, Christians are accorded so much power by conservatives as to be above the whole “separation of church and state” clause of the Constitution, so that everyone, whether they’re a Christian or not, must be held to the values of a religion they may not even practice.

I’m not saying it’s not difficult for the lines around letting someone practice their religious values and not affecting others to get blurry, or that people shouldn’t have the right to live the lifestyle they please. But if practicing your religion is impeding other people’s ability to freely practice their own, or peacefully live life on their own terms, let’s draw the line there, shall we?

Having been assigned to a committee (the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform), FADA will probably receive a public hearing soon, and subsequently, the House will vote on it.