Protecting Religious Freedom in D.C.

Status: The D.C. City Council is working to undermine religious liberties in its jurisdiction.  Two bills—both passed by the D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser—will saddle religious organizations and employers with a choice between upholding their beliefs as they perform their organizational missions or complying with a coercive government regulation that forces them to violate their beliefs and missions.

  • The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act: The bill would force pro-life employers in the District to cover elective, surgical abortions in their health plans. The Act could also force religious and pro-life employers opposed to abortion to hire openly pro-choice employees.  For private organizations to be required to hire someone with a viewpoint diametrically opposed to their core principles is a serious infringement on the right of free association.
  • The Human Rights Amendment Act: Also passed before Christmas, this bill eliminates a 1989 provision passed by Congress that protects religious educational organizations from being coerced into “promoting, encouraging, or condoning any homosexual act, lifestyle orientation, or belief.”  Under the Human Rights Amendment Act, a religious school could be forced to host a gay pride day, “coming out” day, or support a student group dedicated to furthering LGBT activities.  These infringements undermine a major reason why parents choose private schools over public schools: the fact that these institutions are often more harmonious with parents’ deeply held religious values.  The Amendment could also require these organizations to hire employees whose personal values conflict with longstanding religious doctrine.

Congress and the D.C. Government: Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District. Under that law, which remains in effect today, the D.C. City Council acts as a legislature for the district unless it is explicitly overruled by Congress.

Congressional Overrule: When D.C. passes a law, the City Council transmits the law to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate.  Once the transfer is complete, a review period of roughly thirty days begins. If, within the review period, both houses of Congress pass a joint resolution disapproving the law, and the President signs the joint resolution, the D.C. law is overturned.  If he does not, the law goes into effect.

Call to Action: Religious freedom is a core American value.  Activists are encouraged to urge their representatives to use their authority over Washington, D.C.’s government to stop these intrusive and flawed laws from going into effect.


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