By Matt Hadro
US Senate Republicans agreed to remove a religious liberty amendment from a defense bill earlier this week, after a fierce campaign was waged against it by secular groups.
“The leadership of the 115th Congress must double down against, not concede to, ridiculous, fact-free accusations meant to derail legitimate lawmaking,” Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated in response to the news that the Russell Amendment was pulled from the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
Back in 2014, President Obama signed an anti-discrimination executive order that prohibited any federal contractor from making employment decisions based on someone’s sexual orientation. There were no religious exemptions.
Thus, any religious group or charity contracting with the government might have to recognize same-sex marriages, for example.
In response, the Russell Amendment, named for the sponsor Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) established protections for religious groups against this order.
For instance, under the proposed amendment the government would not be able to cancel a contract with a Christian group just because they only hired persons who lived in accordance with their church’s teaching.
However, Senate Democrats threatened to hold up the $618.7 defense authorizations bill unless the amendment was removed. Secular advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union also pushed for its demise.
The ACLU led a social media campaign against the amendment, #RejectRussell. The group also delivered over 340,000 petitions to Congress asking that the amendment be removed from the bill.
Rep. Russell told WORLD magazine that he was still “confident we will see this brought to a complete resolution in the near term,” and that he had seen “positive signs” on the matter from the incoming administration of President-elect Trump.
The Russell protections didn’t just affect groups. Military chaplains who use contractors to obtain supplies for their religious mission would have benefitted from it, explained Mike Berry, senior counsel at the First Liberty Institute, in an op-ed for The Hill.
Chaplains using contractors who conflict with their religious beliefs could face backlash from their “endorsing body,” he wrote. “Any chaplain who runs afoul of the tenets and teachings of their endorser is likely to forfeit their endorsement, meaning they can no longer serve as a chaplain.”
The poor and the vulnerable will suffer without the contribution of certain contractors and their religious mission, the Becket Fund insisted.
“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.”