Senate Republicans Strip Religious Freedom Protection from Defense Spending Bill

A worshiper holds a small Bible at an outdoor Sunday service 04 September 2005 at the East Howard Baptist church which was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Senate Republicans have agreed to a deal that strips an amendment protecting religious freedom for faith-based organizations from a defense spending bill, making the measure more favorable to signature by outgoing President Barack Obama.

Obama threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if the bill included the Russell Amendment, which applies religious freedom exemptions to federal grants and contracts. The NDAA is an annual piece of legislation that addresses Department of Defense budget and expenditures.

The Russell Amendment restated current United States law via the First Amendment. The measure would have protected, for example, faith groups that run adoption facilities and hold beliefs in traditional marriage from being refused federal grants and contracts because of those beliefs.

“Americans are fed up with Washington bureaucrats,” said Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “The leadership of the 115th Congress must double down against, not concede to, ridiculous, fact-free accusations meant to derail legitimate lawmaking.”

The Becket Fund continues:

The Russell Amendment was designed to protect the hiring practices of faith-based organizations that provide critical services to soldiers in war zones, refugees, victims of human and sex trafficking, and veterans, among others. These religious charities are often the best—sometimes the only—groups willing to provide these services.

The Russell Amendment protects religious providers who partner with the government from being forced to hire those who do not share their religious beliefs, a right that other religious employers have enjoyed without controversy for more than half a century. Religious organizations that partner with the government are entitled to the same protection. They are awarded government contracts and grants because they are the best and most cost-efficient at meeting the needs of vulnerable populations, and they do not discriminate in providing services.

The Becket Fund notes that most of the Democrats who referred to the Russell Amendment as “discriminatory” voted for nearly identical language in 2013.

“Yet the Senate’s Republican leadership caved to Democrats’ attacks and to pressure from the White House, simply so they could get a quick spending deal signed,” Becket adds.

Supporters of gay rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union protested the amendment.

Heritage Foundation analysts Roger Severino and Melanie Israel, however, reported on Obama’s threat to veto the NDAA with the Russell Amendment included:

Obama would interpret existing religious protections narrowly in order to make religious groups bend to the LGBT agenda. As seen in the administration’s education and health care mandates on gender identity, in practice, this means requiring employee bathrooms and showers meant for women be opened to biological men who self-identify as female regardless of people’s religious beliefs on the matter. The administration’s proven lack of respect for religious freedom when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity policies is more than enough reason to keep the Russell Amendment.

“Now, because Congress ducked this important issue, more service providers will be unable to continue offering their critical services, services that are sometimes only offered by religious groups,” Arriaga said. “It is the refugees, homeless, trafficking victims, veterans, and other vulnerable populations who will suffer the most from Congress’s choice to prioritize political expediency over principled governance.”


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