The headline on this report from The Hill sounds optimistic: “‘Religious freedom’ bill picks up momentum in House.” The report itself sounds less than sunny, however, as Scott Wong notes that progress on the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) may get slowed or stopped altogether because of a long-simmering feud among House Republicans. The primary sponsor of FADA has run afoul of leadership in the past, and some worry that might create roadblocks:
Given the Supreme Court ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage, many Republicans say they hope to pass the bill before they head home and face constituents at August town halls.
But there’s one possible hang-up: The bill’s author is Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a co-founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus, which has caused fits for GOP leadership since its launch in January. Labrador, a Tea Party favorite, also is a one-time rival to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who just happens to control the floor schedule.
Labrador sounded hopeful:
But in an interview, Labrador said he spoke directly to top Boehner aides and McCarthy on Friday, and they assured him they were not trying to derail his bill.
“They are not threatening me personally about my bill. They assured me legislation that is important will go to the floor, so I take them at their word,” Labrador told The Hill. “McCarthy assured me he’s not trying to get in the way of the bill.”
Wong notes that the schedule isn’t favorable to a quick vote. Labrador’s bill has been referred to both Ways and Means and Oversight and Government Reform, but neither has scheduled a mark-up of the bill. McCarthy hasn’t committed to a vote before the August recess, and it’s fair to assume that most of the legislative calendar in the fall will be focused on the budget rather than FADA. If the bill doesn’t clear committees soon and get a floor vote, it might sit in limbo for quite a long time.
The bill would keep the IRS from taking any action against churches and religious organizations who decline to participate in same-sex wedding events as contrary to their faith. It would not, however, extend to the cases that have emerged in the struggle between religious expression and public accommodation laws, which are at the state level. Mark Hemingway gives us a rundown of the most well-known disputes:
* On July 7, Jack Phillips, another baker, this time in Colorado, appealed the state civil rights commission’s ruling against him for refusing to serve a same-sex couple. The pair wanted a rainbow-themed cake. Phillips argued he could not be forced to make a cake that communicated a message he did not agree with. A Colorado civil rights commissioner compared Phillips’s argument to those employed by Nazis and slave owners.
* In Washington state, the attorney general is suing florist Barronelle Stutzman, 70, for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. The gay would-be customer was a longtime friend with whom she had done business for nine years. Stutzman and the customer were so close they hugged each other after she informed him she couldn’t make a cake for his wedding. The customer did not initially press charges, and the state attorney general initiated the case on his own after hearing about it on social media. One of Stutzman’s former employees, who is gay and a same-sex marriage supporter, has filed an affadavit on her behalf. But now the ACLU and national gay rights organizations have taken up the case against her. The state attorney general and the aggrieved customer are not just suing her business, but going after her personal assets.
* Hands On Originals, a printer in Kentucky, ran afoul of a local human rights commission for refusing to print T-shirts for a gay organization. He was told that he had to use his printing press to print messages he disagreed with. After years of administrative proceedings, a state court ruled in the printer’s favor in April: “It is clear beyond dispute that [Hands On Originals] and its owners declined to print the T-shirts in question because of the message advocating sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.” That ruling is being appealed to a higher court.
* In Atlanta, the city’s African-American fire chief Kelvin Cochran was summarily fired after he published a book about helping Christian men avoid sexual temptation. The 162-page book scarcely mentioned homosexual activity but did include it in a list of sexual sins. Cochran’s job record is spotless; he was previously the top fire-fighting appointee in the Obama administration and was named Fire Chief of the Year in 2012. But tolerance has its limits. Atlanta city council member Alex Wan explained, “I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions, but when you’re a city employee and those thoughts, beliefs, and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.” The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year to get Cochran reinstated.
Just as with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), it would likely take state-level FADAs to inoculate against these kinds of actions in the future. The current FADA would at least keep progressives from using the massively destructive power of the IRS to destroy churches and the benefits they provide to American communities, which is one key reason why the tax exemption exists in the first place. Republican leadership in both the House and Senate should expedite the process for FADA, and perhaps set an example for the states to follow.