U.S. senators introduce “Do No Harm Act”

WASHINGTON — On what may be the eve of a landmark supreme court religious freedom decision, top democratic senators introduced a ‘Do No Harm Act” that seeks to revise the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. If passed, the amended RFRA language would, as the bill’s sponsors hope, prevent the RFRA from being used as a justification to discriminate. Senate bill 2918 was introduced May 22, led by U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).  In a press release, Harris said, “The freedom to worship is a founding principle of this nation as well as the right to live free of discrimination or fear that one’s civils[sic] rights will be undermined because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The Do No Harm Act will ensure we protect both these rights for all.”

The spirit behind the bill reflects, at the very least in words, a recognizable moral concept for many Wiccans and other Pagans: “An ye harm none, do what ye will.” The sponsors describe the act as a ” bill to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to protect civil rights and otherwise prevent meaningful harm to third parties, and for other purposes.”

HHS makes changes to strengthen “conscience protections”

WASHINGTON — The United States department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued two announcements last week concerning “conscience protections” for health-care workers and state programs. These announcements are the latest in the Trump administration’s attempts to bring religious freedom rhetoric to the forefront within a deeply-divided political climate. On Jan. 18, the HHS announced that it has formed a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR). According to the announcement, the division’s purpose is “to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.” OCR director Roger Severino said, “Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced.”

U.S. Attorney General issues new religious freedom guidelines

Washington — The U.S. Attorney General issued a new set of religious guidelines for all “administrative agencies and executive departments.” Published Oct.6, the memorandum, which was reportedly requested by President Donald Trump, seeks to provide guidance and instruction concerning “religious liberty protections in federal law.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a separate statement the same day, which reads in part:
Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people. It has protected both the freedom to worship and the freedom not to believe. Every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith.

Editorial: Religious Liberty or Religious Bigotry?

UNITED STATES — President Donald J. Trump’s latest executive order is titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” While some readers may be scratching their heads wondering why the current administration feels the need to promote the U.S. Constitution’s guaranteed First Amendment rights, others may feel that the little age-old document needed a good dusting off, and a signal boost. However, the executive is order is not aimed at simply lifting up what is already clearly written into national law, but rather it is aimed, theoretically, at defining it, directing it, and, as some believe, suffocating it. During the election process, Trump and running mate Mike Pence advocated for the dismantling of the now infamous Johnson Amendment. As we reported in the past, the Johnson Amendment was implemented in 1954 to prevent nonprofit organizations from influencing politics.

Religious accommodation or discrimination in health care services

PATERSON, N.J. – It was announced Jan. 5 that Lambda Legal had filed a federal lawsuit against New Jersey-based St. Joseph’s health care system, after “the hospital refused to allow Jionni Conforti’s surgeon to perform a routine hysterectomy because he is transgender.” St. Joseph’s maintains four top-ranked teaching facilities in northern New Jersey, but it also is “a Catholic faith-based institution” founded in 1867 by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth.