WASHINGTON—Two recently enacted laws in the District of Columbia are "unprecedented assaults upon our organizations" and "violate the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of association protected by the First Amendment and other federal law," said representatives of a number of national and local organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in a February 5 letter to Congress.
The letter urged Congress to protect religious freedom and freedom of conscience by disapproving the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 and the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014 during the congressional review period for these laws.
The letter was signed by Anthony Picarello, USCCB General Counsel and Associate General Secretary, as well as legal and other representatives for organizations including the Archdiocese of Washington, the Archdiocese for the Military Services, the Catholic University of America, Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, and others.
The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 prevents religious institutions, faith-based employers, and pro-life advocacy organizations in the city from making employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions about the sanctity of human life.
For example, the law requires "organizations to hire or retain individuals whose speech or public conduct contradicts the organizations' missions," the letter stated. "The law plainly violates the First Amendment, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), and possibly other federal laws and clearly contradicts the Supreme Court's recent, unanimous ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Church and School v. EEOC."
Another law enacted by the Council of the District of Columbia, the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014, requires religiously affiliated educational institutions to endorse, sponsor, and provide school resources to persons or groups that oppose the institutions' religious teachings regarding human sexuality.
"In doing so, the law violates the First Amendment and RFRA on similar grounds," the letter stated. "While we will continue to serve the city and the nation, we cannot surrender the constitutional freedoms that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution rightly reserved to all of us."