Senate Republicans introduce bill to give companies a license to discriminate

Unidentified participants ready protest signs at the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally to object to HHS health care mandates protecting transgender people from discrimination on June 8, 2012, in Bakersfield, California. Shutterstock

Civil rights and LGBTQ groups are denouncing a Senate bill that allows companies to claim First Amendment rights as they discriminate against LGBTQ people.

The First Amendment Defense Act, re-introduced by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, from 2015, has 21 Republican senators as co-sponsors.

“FADA prohibits the federal government from taking adverse action against individuals or institutions based on their definition of marriage or beliefs about premarital sex,” Lee said in a press release on his site.

The bill would extend further rights to private corporations. “It creates a cause of action in federal court for individuals or institutions that have been discriminated against by the government,” Lee said. “Plaintiffs can seek injunctive relief, declaratory relief and compensatory damages.”

Civil-rights and LGBTQ groups were quick to criticize the proposal, and it runs counter to recent court decisions that have supported the employment rights of LGBTQ people.

Related: Federal courts are standing up to Trump & Sessions’ anti-transgender agenda

“Whatever the sponsors of this shameful legislation may say, this is a blatant example of using religion as a justification to discriminate,” said Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The bill opens the door to a wide range of taxpayer-funded discrimination. It would let private companies and nonprofit government contractors — which includes a significant portion of social services providers — refuse to provide a service or benefit to people because they do not fit their definition of family, from same-sex married couples and their children, a single parent and their child, or an unmarried couple who are living together.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, linked the effort to President Trump’s ongoing attacks against LGBTQ people.

“America was founded on the freedom of religion and this shared value continues to be critical to our nation’s success, but it does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate,” Ellis said.
She noted that Trump said on his campaign site that he’d sign such legislation.

“While President Trump and the Senate Republicans behind this bill are pushing for discriminatory legislation, the LGBTQ community will not be silent and continue to protect the hardworking LGBTQ American families who would be placed in direct harm by this unjust bill.”

In contrast to this legislation, the majority of Americans oppose religious-exemption laws against LGBTQ Americans, Ellis pointed out. The Public Religion Research Institute also found that 72 percent of Americans support laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

The 21 Senate co-sponsors, all Republicans, include both senators from Idaho, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming —
Tom Cotton, Arkansas
Marco Rubio, Florida
David Perdue, Georgia
Mike Crapo, Idaho
Jim Risch, Idaho
Jerry Moran, Kansas
Rand Paul, Kentucky
John Boozman, Louisiana
Roger Wicker, Mississippi
Roy Blunt, Missouri
Ben Sasse, Nebraska
John Hoeven, North Dakota
Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma
Tim Scott, South Carolina
Mike Rounds, South Dakota
John Thune, South Dakota
Ted Cruz, Texas
Mike Lee, Utah
Orrin Hatch, Utah
Ron Johnson, Wisconsin
John Barrasso, Wyoming
Mike Enzi, Wyoming

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