Pro-life, religious groups resist illegal DC bills; ADF ready to defend those affected

Laws could force religious, pro-life organizations to operate contrary to their beliefs
Monday, May 04, 2015

Attorney sound bites:  Casey Mattox  |  Gregory S. Baylor

WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom and other pro-life organizations released a joint statement Monday as a District of Columbia law is set to go into effect that could force such groups to operate contrary to their missions and beliefs.

Partly due to the agreement of many people, including the former D.C. mayor, that the law raises serious concerns under the First Amendment and federal law, the D.C. Council retreated from its original purpose for the law and passed a temporary measure stating that it will not require any employer in the District to provide insurance coverage for abortion, contraceptives, or any other “reproductive health decision.” The temporary measure will expire in 225 days, however, and therefore leaves pro-life employers open to unconstitutional treatment by the government.

“Pro-life organizations in our nation’s capital should not be forced to pay for abortions or hire those who oppose their pro-life beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “While the D.C. Council has retreated from this law’s original goal, which was to force pro-life organizations to pay for abortions in violation of their conscience, RHNDA remains an unnecessary and illegal attack on pro-life conscience that Congress must stop and that we will fight, if necessary, in the courts.”

In addition to ADF, the signers of the joint statement include representatives from the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Americans United for Life, Americans United for Life Action, March for Life, Concerned Women for America, Susan B. Anthony List, Family Research Council, and the Association of Christian Schools International.

The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 still prohibits even pro-life and religious organizations from “discriminating” against employees and potential employees for any “reproductive health” decision, including elective abortions. If the District does not make its temporary amendment to the law permanent, it could also force employers to provide health insurance for elective abortions regardless of the organization’s religious beliefs or pro-life mission.

“That the House of Representatives took the extraordinary step of formally disapproving this bill demonstrates just how unprecedented and illegal RHNDA is. We will continue to resist, and encourage Congress to address, the District’s egregious violation of the First Amendment and federal law…,” the joint statement says. “We are nonsectarian pro-life organizations and religious ministries that make the nation’s capital our home. Despite the enactment of this unjust law, we will continue to hire employees who share our commitment to the dignity of every member of the human family. We will not abandon the purpose of our organizations in order to comply with this illegal and unjust law. We will vigorously resist any effort under RHNDA to violate our constitutionally protected fundamental rights.”

The District’s Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014 is also set to go into effect. HRAA overturns decades-old law and requires faith-based educational institutions to endorse and to provide school resources to individuals and groups who oppose the schools’ religious teachings on human sexuality. ADF attorneys say that both laws violate constitutionally protected freedoms and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that ADF will be available to legally represent organizations that are negatively impacted by either law.

“ADF stands ready to protect the freedom that schools have not to support student groups whose objectives clearly contradict the schools’ religious values,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor. “The government should not be in the business of forcing people to act contrary to their beliefs when it has no compelling reason for doing so. Federal law and numerous court decisions support that point.”

As a federal district, D.C. laws are subject to review by Congress before they go into effect. Some members of Congress introduced resolutions to disapprove the bills, but they failed to pass. President Obama threatened to veto the resolutions if Congress passed them.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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