House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah presses Obama Administration officials from the State Department and Homeland Security on what safeguards are in place to ensure that would-be extremists are not exploiting a variety of legal paths to travel to the U.S., Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. At issue is how closely the U.S. government examines the background of people asking to come to the country, including reviews of their social media postings. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Jason Chaffetz and House Republicans Seem Content to Sit on the Sideline As The Left Attacks Religious Liberty

“Only one member of Republican Leadership in the House of Representatives, which has the largest Republican Majority since the Great Depression, has been willing to sign their name to a limited bill to protect the First Amendment. ”

The First Amendment is under attack. Don’t be fooled, it’s not just a philosophical fight, but one full of real victims.

What’s the Republican controlled Congress doing about it? So far, nothing. But the time to act, and pass the First Amendment Defense Act, is now.

Why? Because all across America we are losing soldiers on the battlefield of religious liberty – and they need cover.

Let’s meet some of the fallen.

Aaron and Melissa Klein have had their dream of owning a small bakery crushed by Oregon’s Department of Labor. They were shut them down after they refused to violate their conscience and religious beliefs by declining, graciously, to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony. They were also slammed with a $135,000 fine and a gag order forcing them to “cease and desist” from speaking publically about their religious beliefs. Aaron Klein is having a hard time finding work. Melissa has been the subject of personal attacks and multiple internet smear campaigns. GoFundMe shut down their crowd-funding efforts. Their lives have been shattered. One could be excused for assuming the Kleins lived in the Soviet Union.

Kelvin Cochran, an African American, fought his way up out of poverty, guided by three dreams: not being poor, having a family, and becoming a firefighter. He achieved all of this, and more, becoming the Atlanta Fire Chief – hailing his faith as the fuel from which he drew strength to overcome the odds. Then, almost without warning, he was terminated for expressing orthodox Christian beliefs about marriage on his own personal time and in his personal capacity. In his decades of firefighting he had never once been accused of discrimination. His personal story is far more inspirational, and his firing far more chilling, than I can describe here. Suffice to say, he was yet another victim in the fight against religious freedom.

Baronelle Stutzman, a 70 year old florist in Washington State, faces thousands in fines and potentially millions in legal fees after being sued by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson because she declined to lend her services to a same-sex wedding ceremony – because of her religious beliefs. The Washington State Attorney General is picking on a grandmother who runs a flower shop – because of her religious beliefs. And he is ruining her life.

Dr. Eric Walsh, a public health official in Georgia, was also recently sentenced and summarily “executed” by the anti-religion aggressors. Walsh is a devout Seventh Day Adventist who has exercised his (gasp) freedom of speech and religion to preach in his spare time. When officials in the Georgia Department of Health learned about this, they “investigated” by listening to his sermons, sermons preached in personal capacity, and then they terminated him. Judge, jury, and executioner. Or better, guerilla warfare waged by bureaucrats against the First Amendment.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who care for the needy, have had to fight the Obama Administration all the way to the Supreme Court because Obamacare required nonprofit employers to provide health insurance coverage that includes potentially life-ending drugs. To be clear: Catholic nuns politely asked to not be forced to violate their religious beliefs, and what did the Obama Administration do? They threatened them (again, these are nuns) with up to $70 million in government fines per year unless they provide services contrary to Catholic teachings. 

Religious colleges like Oklahoma Wesleyan University are being pressured by the Department of Education and “shamed” publically by the Human Rights Campaign because they don’t want to provide abortion inducing drugs on their insurance plans and don’t want to compromise their views of morality, sex, and marriage – as informed by their religious beliefs! Brigham Young University is under investigation by one of their accreditors because they have campus conduct policies which are consistent with their Mormon beliefs. In the higher education space, nothing less than the future of private religious education is at stake.

Catholic Charities adoption services in Boston and D.C. have been shut down. Gordon College has had to fight for its accreditation. A Christian pharmacy is in danger of losing business for not selling morning-after pills.

And state by state the battle rages. We have heroes like Governor Bryant in Mississippi. Cowards like Governor Deal in Georgia. And mixture of both in North Carolina with Governor McCrory.

The list goes on and on. From personal lives to public debates in state legislatures, there is nothing less than an all-out war being waged by the aggressive liberal left against the First Amendment and religious freedom, and they are being assisted by all levels of government.

While this fight didn’t start with the Obergefell decision last June, an activist Supreme Court ruling which redefined marriage (and ignored the votes of 50 million Americans who had previously affirmed traditional marriage at the polls), that decision was a clarion call for all those who hate the religious liberty that helped found this great nation. The enemy has turned out in force and is wreaking havoc.

Unfortunately, the one party (Republicans) that at least pretends to care about protecting the First Amendment, at the highest level (Congress), have sat on their hands for 10 months…doing nothing.

Well, not all Republicans. Leading up to the decision, a few faithful freedom fighters, led by Senator Lee and Representative Labrador, worked to craft a federal response to Obergefell, a first step in defending religious freedom, and protecting a pluralistic society. They understood that the nation would be watching, and that Congress had a responsibility to reassert itself as co-equal branch of government, over and against the Supreme Court ruling – a responsibility to armor up and enter into the fight to protect the First Amendment.

Introduced right after the ruling, the First Amendment Defense Act (H.R. 2802) is an anti-discrimination, pro-religious freedom, commonsense bill. According to Ryan Anderson, “It would ensure that no federal agency discriminates against individuals or institutions for following their convictions about marriage as a man-woman union by revoking their nonprofit tax-exempt status, or denying them government grants, contracts, accreditation, or licenses. FADA protects freedom and pluralism in the wake of social change—embodying the best of American values.”

In the House of Representatives, FADA now has 166 cosponsors. It is supported by every major outside group that seriously cares about protecting religious liberty, including The Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action for America, The Family Research Council, FRC Action, Alliance Defending Freedom, National Organization for Marriage, The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, American Association of Christian Schools, American Conservative Union, American Civil Rights Union, Liberty Counsel, Liberty Institute, Citizen Link, Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Hispanic Leadership Fund, Concerned Women for America, The Resurgent, and many more.

But in order to come to the floor for a vote, it first has to pass out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz from Utah. Given that 23 of the 25 Republican Members on the Committee are already cosponsors, this should be an easy task. So why hasn’t it happened? Why hasn’t this bill been a number one priority for not just Chairmen Chaffetz, but the whole House Leadership team as well? Why have 10 months passed without any action to protect religious freedom?

The only way to square that circle is to chock it up to fear. They are afraid. They shouldn’t be, but they are. How else do you explain that only one member of the House Republican elected leadership cosponsors the bill? Out of Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader McCarthy, Majority Whip Scalise, Conference Chair McMorris Rodgers, and NRCC Chair Walden, only Scalise is a cosponsor.

Let that sink in. Only one member of Republican Leadership in the House of Representatives, which has the largest Republican Majority since the Great Depression, has been willing to sign their name to a limited bill to protect the First Amendment.

The bill is a priority for the Republican Study Committee, chaired by Rep. Flores, a group of over 150 House Republicans. It is also a priority for the House Values Action Team, chaired by Rep. Joe Pitts, from Pennsylvania. And it is a top priority for the House Freedom Caucus as well, which makes sense, given that Rep. Labrador is a founding member of that group.

Speaker Ryan says he wants to show what Republicans are positively for, not just what they are against. Then why does he stand idly by when the three main factions of his Conference say they want to be for protecting the First Amendment?

Oh yeah…the “Tuesday Group”. The “Tuesday Group” is a block of the most liberal House Republicans. They squirm at any effort to advance a conservative priority and live to cut deals with Democrats.

Leadership has demonstrated time and time again that they are willing to put the rest of the Conference in a bind to please liberal Republicans.

For once, and for the First Amendment, can they not ignore the crocodile tears from ilk like Rep. Charlie Dent and Rep. Susan Brooks?

To be fair, word on the Hill is that Majority Leader McCarthy is a much bigger roadblock to the bill than Speaker Ryan. But shouldn’t there be a moment when the Speaker pulls rank, mans up, and leads the charge – even over the objections of his purely political number two and the 20 most liberal Republicans?

If Republicans aren’t for defending the First Amendment then they should go home. Honest law abiding Americans are being bullied, battered, and abused by the left into silence and sitting on the sideline of a country they love. The Kleins need a hero. Kelvin Cochran needs a hero. Dr. Walsh needs a hero.

Religious nonprofits and small businesses – speak up. Unless you want to leave your convictions in your living room when you go to work, you need this bill.

Chairman Chaffetz – markup up FADA and send it to the full House. Majority Leader McCarthy – schedule it for a Floor vote. Majority Whip Scalise – do your job and win the vote. Speaker Ryan – stop dancing around the issue and lead. You want to set a bold agenda for a confident America? Look no further than the First Amendment Defense Act.

It’s been almost a year since the Supreme Court redefined marriage, and Congress still sits silently. If they do nothing else before the recess, they should pass the First Amendment Defense Act. No more excuses. No more stories. Act now. The country is watching.

About the author

Erick Erickson

View all posts