In the ongoing battle over differing interpretations of religious and civil liberties, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) recently introduced a bill that seeks to protect religious institutions and other organizations from legal penalties for their views on same-sex marriage. He faces opposition from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The situation raises questions about the scope of the First Amendment and its guarantees of freedom of religion and association.
In a press release, Labrador said of the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, "Our bill will protect freedom of conscience for those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue." He added his concern that religious groups face unfair scrutiny from government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). "Our bill will ensure tolerance for individuals and organizations that affirm traditional marriage, protecting them from adverse federal action."
HRC spokesman Fred Sainz thinks these concerns are unfounded. He said, "There is no evidence that federal programs have or would discriminate against people because of their religious beliefs about marriage," according to the Washington Post.
However, Labrador, who is joined by 60 co-sponsors including Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC), may have legitimate concerns. As Reason's Scott Shackford has reported, a photography business in New Mexico and a bakery in Oregon, among others, have faced legal troubles over refusing for religious reasons to service same-sex couples. In these cases, the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment was placed at stake.
A. Barton Hinkle has noted that these cases not only undermine the "live and let live" mentality touted by the LGBT community, they actually enforce discrimination and undermine the right to free association.
One HRC blogger speculates that "if passed, the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act would permit a federal worker processing tax returns, approving visa applications or reviewing Social Security applications to walk away from their responsibilities whenever a same-sex couple's paperwork appeared on his or her desk."
The claim may not be a strong one, though, as Labrador's proposed law focuses on limiting the power of government, not giving tacit approval to rogue homophobic bureaucrats. The bill specifies various actions that the federal government, particularly through the IRS, should be prohibited from doing to "individuals and institutions that exercise religious or moral conscience regarding marriage as the union of one man and one woman":
·Deny or revoke an exemption from taxation under Sec. 501 of the IRS Tax Code
·Disallow a deduction for Federal tax purposes of any charitable contribution made to or by a person
·Deny or withhold any federal benefit
·Deny or exclude a person from receiving any federal grant, contract, loan, license, certification, accreditation, employment, or other similar position or status
·Otherwise discriminate against any individual organization