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Lankford Stands Up for Religious Liberty in Marriage Bill

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on YouTube.

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on Rumble.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke in support of his religious liberty amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act. Lankford opposes the bill because it will lead to the violation of Americans’ religious liberty and their constitutional freedom to live their faith. His amendment would clean up the vague language in the bill to ensure equality for everyone and protection for their beliefs. The amendment clarifies the misinformation that the Respect for Marriage Act protects religious liberty for every American. Instead, Lankford’s amendment clarifies the confusing, poorly drafted bill that would harm people and entities of faith if it becomes law.

Lankford previously shared his opposition to the bill on the Senate floor earlier in November.

Lankford remains the strongest voice for religious liberty, both domestically and internationally, in the Senate. Existing laws that protect Americans’ First Amendment rights, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, continue to see numerous challenges from Congress, and people of faith continued to be targeted from all directions. But the Supreme Court continues to side with the First Amendment to keep the federal government from forcing people to violate their religious and moral beliefs.

Lankford applauded the Supreme Court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and he submitted an amicus brief in the case of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, calling for the Supreme Court to review a circuit court decision that prohibits a Colorado business owner from exercising her free speech and religious liberty rights. Lankford supported the Supreme Court’s unanimous holding in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that Philadelphia was wrong to require Catholic Social Services to shed their faith in order to serve children and families and reaffirmed that no one should be discriminated against or compelled by the government to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. Lankford signed on to a brief asking the Supreme Court to take the case.

Lankford introduced the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would protect faith-based child welfare providers, like Catholic Social Services, from being discriminated against for acting in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs. Lankford also introduced his Conscience Protection Act to protect the conscience rights of healthcare providers, including health insurance plans, from government discrimination if they decline to participate in abortions.


In 2015 after the Obergefell decision came down from the Supreme Court, declaring same-sex as the law of the land, President Obama made a statement to the country. He came and spoke to the country when there was a lot of heat and a lot of emotion going around the country around that particular decision. He was supportive of the Obergefell decision but he made this statement. At that time President Obama said ‘I know that Americans of goodwill continue to hold a wide range of views on this issue. Opposition in some cases has been based on sincere and deeply-held religious beliefs. All of us who welcome today’s news should be mindful of that fact, recognize different viewpoints, revere our deep commitment to religious freedom.’

It’s a wise statement from President Obama during that time period to be able to say there are going to be a lot of views, and we as Americans need to have a wide set of conversations about same-sex marriage and about how we revere marriage in general. There are different religious views, different perspectives.

Now we’re approaching a bill that will be voted on in just about two hours. This bill has a section in it dealing with marriage, and it says it has certain religious protections in it. As I read the bill initially to be able to check the religious protections that are in it, I was surprised at some things that were in it, and I was surprised of some of the things that were left out.

So our team went to work writing an amendment to address the specific issues in this bill. We narrowly tailored…our amendment, and we addressed it., and we addressed it. Why? Because we were the only ones that thought there was a problem? Actually, no. We weren’t the only ones that saw this bill as a problem, dealing with religious liberty. In fact religious liberty groups all over the country and religious institutions started contacting our office and putting out their own statements in opposition to this bill saying the bill as currently written even with the, quote-unquote, ‘religious protections’ in it, do not actually protect the religious liberty of all Americans.

Just a short list of this,  groups that are in strong opposition to this bill: the Alliance Defending Freedom, The American Association of Christian Schools, CatholicVote, the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, the Centennial Institute, the Christian Employers Alliance, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Faith and Freedom Coalition, the Family Research Council, the Family Policy Alliance, Focus on the Family, Heritage Foundation, Liberty Counsel, Lifeline Children’s Services, the National Religious Broadcasters, Religious Freedom Institute, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Samaritan’s Purse.

The list goes on and on and on of organizations and entities that read through this bill and said there are major concerns with the religious liberty portions of this bill.

Now, I’m well aware that there are also groups that had put out a statement and said they’re comfortable with it, that it would protect them, but other organizations are putting out statements and saying, ‘Yeah, that’s nice for you, but it actually wouldn’t protect us and our members.’

There are three major concerns that are in the bill itself on the issue of religious liberty. And if these three things are not changed in this bill, it will put the issue of religious liberty at great risk for millions of Americans who as President Obama said, ‘Hold sincerely-held beliefs that are different.’

The first is this, There’s a section in the very beginning of the bill where it says, ‘Any entity that’s acting under the color of state law…’ And that it puts all the restrictions there on them. That’s a broadening actually of what Obergefell actually did. This says, ‘Any entity actually or individual acting under the color of state law…’ What does that mean? Most people don’t live under that kind of counsel. This would be an entity that a state actually hires to fulfill something for them on behalf of the state.

So let me give you a for instance on this. A private prison may be one of those examples but it could also be adoption agencies, foster care agencies. It could be an entity that actually does housing for immigrant and migrant families. It could be a homeless shelter that’s contracted by the state to be able to provide services. It could be any number of entities. Many of these entities are actually done by religious organizations that the state actually contracts with them to be able to do those services.

In this new statute if this passes in two hours, there would be a new restriction on those religious entities that formerly held contracts that would then very well would be pushed out for providing those services.

May I remind you our nation functions under not just government operations but cooperations with families and with faith-based entities and nonprofit entities around the country.

Our safety net I talk about often. The first safety net are the families of the second safety net are nonprofit entities and the third safety net is government. And many governments partner with nonprofits, including faith-based entities, to be able to carry out social services.

For those entities they would now have a target on them because they’re functioning under the color of state law and they would have new restrictions. So their choice would be either not to provide those services or to abandon their faith. Now, what are the challenges to them in particular in this?

Well, the first challenge is they would face litigation from the attorney general’s office. The second challenge would be they now face a new what’s called a private right of action. That’s the second area of my amendment—that my amendment specifically deals with.

First it corrects this looping into faith-based entities saying you’re now a state actor and under new restrictions. The second would be this private right of action.

The private right of action would now be anyone who is functioning, quote, unquote, under color of state law would now be a target from an individual that senses that they have been harmed by the entity. Now, it’s not defined what harm means in this new statute. It just says if someone feels they’ve been harmed by it, they would now have the opportunity to be able to sue someone else because of that. It’s not hard for me to be able to say something that’s fairly obvious. That is, if Congress creates a new right to sue people, there will be a lot more lawsuits. And there will be new tests and evaluations on that.

For anyone who believes that this new right to be able to sue people won’t be used and won’t be used quickly by lawyers and outside groups all around the country, you’re kidding yourself.

What will happen in the days ahead there will be who knows, countless numbers of lawsuits testing every new definition of what under the color of state law, what a partnership with government might look like. Whether that is a vendor that’s at an official state event or whether that is an entity that’s providing something like a private prison or adoption services, they’ll all face lawsuits and challenges in the days ahead by entrepreneurial attorneys testing out the limits of this new law.

We don’t know what those limits will be determined by the courts. We have no idea because it’s not defined what it means when it says they’ve been harmed and what that definition might mean to different courts around the country. But we do know this is going to be a major issue.

My first question is: why is this even included in this bill at all? There’s already a protection that the state has the opportunity to be able to make sure they are they’re enforcing the law within their state.

In new private right of action, though, goes above and beyond that and gives the opportunity for entrepreneurial lawyers to be able to practice their craft at the detriment of entities all over our country. What it really does is silences any individual who may disagree and discourages any faith-based entity from cooperating with government, to be able to say, if you want to partner with the state in any area, you probably aren’t welcome they are because you don’t share the same beliefs.

The third big issue we try to correct in this that’s a major problem this bill is in the bill, if you actually read through the text, 7a. The 7a section is designed to be able to protect the rights of individuals or entities not to be able to lose their nonprofit status or grants or contracts or whatever it may be, but it has very specific language that’s built into this. The specific language is, ‘If that benefit or right does not arise from a marriage.’

Now, it’s very carefully written, and when I pass it around to different attorneys and say, ‘What does this mean?’ It’s been fascinating to hear the different interpretations of this statute. This particular statute is written so vague that it’s very difficult to understand what it does mean, but it is very clear what it doesn’t mean. When it says all these different rights that have been granted based on does not arise from a marriage, it doesn’t include your belief about marriage. It just says does not arise from a marriage.

Now, why do I say that? Our amendment actually includes the belief about marriage included into it to make it very, very clear that if you have a different belief about marriage, you won’t lose your nonprofit status. But that’s not included in this statute. What’s included in the statute is just does not arise from a marriage. That will be a problem in the courts, and, unfortunately, that will have to be litigated until that’s actually determined what it would mean. What we could do instead is pass my amendment. The amendment makes very clear. What I hear from even some of the bill’s sponsors, ‘No, this is what it’s intended to mean.’

I look at it and say that’s not what it actually says. Let’s have that section say what you actually intended for it to say to make it clear. Let’s take away the private right of action so that people around the country aren’t perpetually worried about a lawsuit coming at them constantly and let’s a way this under the color of law section so there’s not a fear faith-based nonprofits not partnering with their government for fear that the government would step in and say, ‘Oh, if you’re going to partner with us, then you have to surrender these beliefs. Some have said, ‘None of those are what we intended.’ Courts don’t rule on intentions. They rule on the text we put out.

That’s three major problems in this text that if they’re not corrected, and if they’re not corrected today, my fear is President Obama’s statement of just seven years ago that we would not recognize different viewpoints and revere our deep commitment to religious freedom would today be ignored.

I encourage the adoption of my amendment, and I encourage everyone in this body to ask a very simple question of themselves: is today about respecting the rights of all? Or is it about silencing some and respecting others?