Byrne Leads Fight Against Assault on Religious Freedom

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives last week in opposition to H.R. 5 – The Equality Act and raised concerns that this legislation infringes on the Freedom of Religion. His remarks as prepared are below.

Congressman Byrne said: “Madam Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to H.R. 5.  As many of my colleagues have stated, there are a number of very troubling issues with this legislation.  In my mind, perhaps none is more troubling than the bill’s explicit carve out from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, otherwise known as RFRA.

“Under the First Amendment, Americans are blessed with the Freedom of Religion. This is much more than the freedom of worship.  Not only do Americans have the right to worship as they see fit, their faith is not confined to what happens inside their place of worship. They have the right to practice their religion every day as they see fit.

“For many years, there was a strong bipartisan agreement that protecting this right was of the utmost importance.  In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, religious protections enjoyed bipartisan support.  Likewise, RFRA was heralded as a historic, bipartisan achievement.

“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which rolled back longstanding constitutional protections for religious liberty, the Congress came together and restored broad protections for religious freedom under RFRA.

“RFRA was introduced by then-Representative Chuck Schumer and Senator Ted Kennedy.  It passed unanimously in the House, 97-3 in the Senate, and was signed into law by President Clinton. 

“For nearly two decades, RFRA has been the hallmark of protecting the religious freedom of Americans against the weight of a powerful federal government.  Contrary to what some of its recent opponents claim, RFRA is not an automatic opt out of any law for people of faith. Instead, RFRA provides a common-sense balancing test between religious belief and government action.

“First, an individual challenging the government must show that they have a sincerely held belief that is being substantially burdened by the government (that is, there is a real matter of faith actually being affected by the government’s actions).  If the individual successfully shows that, they do not automatically win their claim. 

“The government may then show that it has a compelling interest (that is, a good reason) to interfere with the individual’s religious rights and that the interference is the least restrictive means to accomplish the government’s goal (that is, the government doesn’t have a better alternative).

“This test provides fairness for both sides.  Unfortunately, today, the House proposes to break this historic protection and say that RFRA will not apply to the Equality Act.  It is clear why they have done this.

“Without RFRA, it is less likely that faith-based charities and organizations will be able to uphold the faith of their organization when it runs counter to evolving norms on human sexuality.

“Without RFRA, it is less likely that Christian colleges and universities will be able to teach and uphold a biblical understanding of marriage and human sexuality.

“Without RFRA, it is less likely that parents in public schools will be able to opt their children out of mandated education that teaches human sexuality contrary to a family’s religious faith.

“Unfortunately, the modern Democratic Party has decided that mandating its beliefs on everyone is more important than upholding the rights of people of faith and those who possess contrary beliefs. 

“Madam Speaker, that is truly radical and deeply troubling.  It is unprecedented.  It is contrary to the values and foundational freedoms of this country.

“I urge my colleagues to reject this legislation.  Protecting the rights of some cannot come at the high cost of stripping away the rights of others, particularly when it comes to protecting religious liberty.”