Lankford Continues to Stand for Americans’ Right to Freely Live Their Faith
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s Q&A.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today provided testimony during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on The Equality Act. Lankford testified against the legislation because it removes protections of one group in an attempt to protect another, which goes against America’s basic constitutional principle. Lankford has been a confident and consistent voice to protect people and entities of faith. He recently wrote an opinion piece on the idea that you can have your faith and live it, too. He’s also been vocal in his opposition to President Biden’s nominee to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Xavier Becerra during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Finance Committee. In December 2020, Lankford led his colleagues to introduce a resolution defending the First Amendment of the Constitution—the right to the free exercise of religion.
Last year, Lankford objected to an attempt to pass the Equality Act in the Senate by Unanimous Consent. He has also cosponsored several bills to address equality for religious organizations and women and girls, including the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act and the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act.
Mr. Chairman, let me be very clear. No person should be discriminated against in America. No one. That’s who we are. It’s a basic constitutional principle. We are all equal under the law. All of us. We don’t oppose equality, but we do oppose legislation when you take the rights of one and dismiss the rights of others.
We should all be able to respect each other, disagree, and still honor each other in our disagreements. That’s who we are as Americans. Mr. Chairman, I really do thank you for holding this hearing and taking a serious look at the text here because there are some serious issues with the text that we believe should be addressed as you go through this markup process to be able to take a look at it.
In 1993, Congress took action to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Employment Division vs. Smith. The House Judiciary Committee report stated that “the Smith decision had created a climate in which the free exercise of religion is continuously in jeopardy. After Smith, claimants will be forced to convince courts that an inappropriate legislative motive created statues and regulations. The committee believes that the compelling governmental interest test must be restored.” The legislative response to that to that Smith decision was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 which many members in this committee voted for. The bill restored the compelling governmental interest test previously applicable to First Amendment free exercise cases by requiring a proof of compelling justification in order to burden religious exercise. The bill was ultimately passed in the House by voice vote and passed the Senate 97-3.
This bill, the Equality Act, for the first time since 1993, would exclude the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Congress would be taking affirmative action to not include RFRA protections. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act doesn’t pick winners and losers. It provides a balancing test. The government may burden someone else’s religious exercise only if the burden is in furtherance of a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.
Just in the last seven years, 58 percent of the RFRA cases haven’t even been dealing with Christian religion, what is the majority religion in the United States. Fifty-eight percent of the cases have been minority religions that have been protected in the United States. So why is this an issue for this? Over the course of the last year, we’ve seen houses of worship across the country including states represented by every single person in the Judiciary Committee that have served as locations for COVID testing and vaccine distribution. They provided food, clothing, and rental assistance to those in need as they always do. Under the Equality Act, all of those houses of worship would now be categorized as public accommodations as an establishment. Deeming houses of worships as public accommodations subjects them to needless litigation and the Equality Act would literally strip them of the very defense they were given in 1993.
The bill also defines sex to include pregnancy, child birth and related medical conditions. To be clear, the law, our federal law, already protects people from pregnancy discrimination as it should. But in areas where Congress has protected pregnant moms from discrimination also clarified those laws don’t require employers to pay for abortion, except in very limited circumstances. Without clarifying language, medical conditions related to pregnancy will include abortion and the Equality Act will mandate that churches pay for healthcare coverage for abortion without these RFRA protections.
Ironically, the ACLU in 1992 saw this exact issue and saw it as a reason to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. For those of us that believe a baby is not just a medical condition, for the people that believe children of any age, or size, or degree of development are worthy of life, we’re not bigots. We’re people who live by our genuine faith and see a child as a child. I believe that we can respect each other, we can have real dialogue over these issues that are complicated and difficult, and we can find a way to be able to pass something that honors every American but doesn’t discriminate against people of faith.