Heretic on the Hill: Tell the Senate to Do No Harm

By Scott MacConomy, SCA’s Director of Policy and Government Affairs.

With the Democratic majority in Congress in the middle of trying to pass annual spending bills by the September 30th deadline (they probably won’t), increasing the debt limit so we can keep borrowing money in October (they probably will have to), and passing trillion dollar infrastructure and domestic policy bills (they’d like to), it’s not easy getting attention for secular issues. But we are!

Senator Cory Booker introduced the Senate version of the Do No Harm Act on September 15 and the Secular Coalition for America (SCA) is leading the effort to ask Senators to add their names as cosponsors of the bill.

You can help us by visiting SCA’s Action Center and sending your Senators an email asking them to cosponsor S.2752. We wrote the email so you don’t have to! Even if you already contacted your House Member with an Action Alert, we need your help contacting Senators. The Do No Harm Act clarifies the intent and the language of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) so that it cannot be used to uphold court decisions that are the opposite of what the authors of RFRA intended.

Click here to tell your Senator to support the Do No Harm Act

SCA signed a letter this week to the Department of Education asking that they increase the oversight of a pandemic relief program created for private schools known as Emergency Assistance for Nonpublic Schools, or EANS. The program was targeted to private schools serving high numbers of low income students and there are safeguards to control spending. However, we believe additional oversight is needed to ensure that money going to private schools that happen to be religious schools is not being misspent on ineligible, religion-related activities. We suggested additional categories of data that the Department of Education needs to be collecting from the private schools.

Additionally, the Senate is making progress on confirming judges nominated by the White House, though not without some focus on religious freedom issues. At a hearing this week I watched as Senator Ted Cruz questioned Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson about a 30 (thirty!!) year old case in which she represented a Catholic client who wanted to have abortion-rights pamphlets printed but was denied service by a printing company’s devoutly Catholic owners who suggested the woman’s Catholic faith and abortion-rights stance were at odds. Cruz said he was “concerned about [Robinson’s] record as both an advocate and as a justice,” saying it “demonstrates a marked hostility towards religious liberty.”

Robinson answered that she was protecting the religious freedom of her client. “If the facts showed that [the printing press] declined to print the placard because of their opposition to abortion — rather than their belief that her strain of Catholic faith was wrong — then she wouldn’t have a claim,” Robinson said. The case was settled out of court, thirty years ago, showing the lengths some Senators will go to in their efforts to champion their version of religious liberty.

SCA supports judges who are committed to the separation of church and state, to the Establishment Clause, who respect precedent, and who will not impose their religious beliefs on others from the bench.

Be sure to sign up to our email list to receive a copy of Heretic on the Hill in your inbox, Scott’s bi-monthly update on our advocacy work on behalf of nontheist Americans and the separation of religion and government.

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