February 27, 2020


Testifies against attacks on LGBTQ+ Americans under guise of religious freedom

Washington, D.C. – In both a letter to the President and Congressional testimony delivered this morning, Congressman Joe Kennedy III today took to multiple venues to reject the Administration’s recently announced “faith-based” regulations that would distort religious freedom laws in order to legalize state-sponsored discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans and other marginalized communities. Signed by fifteen House Democrats, Kennedy’s letter was sent minutes after his testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s historic hearing on LGBTQ rights.

“Americans have painfully learned this lesson for generations: if civil and legal rights exist only in the absence of a neighbor’s religious objection, then they are not rights but empty promises,” said Kennedy during his testimony. “The ability to freely and fully exercise sincerely-held religious beliefs in this country is a liberty we cherish. But there is a difference between exercising religious beliefs and imposing them on others. Our Constitution fiercely protects the former and expressly prohibits the latter. If this President and his Administration are too blinded by bigotry to see the harm they are causing not just to LGBTQ Americans and vulnerable communities, but religious liberty itself, Congress must act quickly, and powerfully, to open their eyes.”

Last year, Kennedy reintroduced the Do No Harm Act which would clarify that no one can seek religious exemptions from laws guaranteeing fundamental civil and legal rights. Originally introduced in response to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores decision that made it possible for corporations to deny health care to female employees, the legislation would also overturn the Trump Administration’s recent waiver allowing child welfare agencies in South Carolina to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals and different religions. Specifically, the Do No Harm Act would limit the use of Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in cases involving discrimination, child labor and abuse, wages and collective bargaining, access to health care, public accommodations, and social services provided through government contract.

In their letter, sent to 9 different federal agencies, the lawmakers wrote, “The proposed rules represent a dangerous step back for religious freedom, reversing policies that were carefully crafted in close coordination with a diverse set of stakeholders engaged in faith-based and community-based organization work.  Additionally, the proposed rules would expand exemptions from Title IX protections through which schools may claim a religious right to discriminate, adversely impacting countless students.  If adopted, students could suffer grave consequences, including but not limited to expulsion, for becoming pregnant, seeking reproductive care, or for just being LGBTQ.”

They continued, “While RFRA was originally enacted to protect the civil rights of all Americans, your proposed rules, if adopted, would continue your administration’s policy of distorting the congressional intent behind the law in order to permit religious exemptions from laws at the expense of the dignity of another. We call on you to rescind your harmful proposed rules immediately and to cease your blatant misapplication of the RFRA law.”

To watch Kennedy’s testimony, please click here.


For Immediate Release:
February 27, 2020

Dan Black (202) 225-5931