Center for American Progress

RELEASE: CAP Issues Recommendations to Restore Religious Liberty and Prevent Third-Party Harm
Press Release

RELEASE: CAP Issues Recommendations to Restore Religious Liberty and Prevent Third-Party Harm

Washington, D.C. — A new report released today by the Center for American Progress details how, more than one year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, state legislators, organizations, and for-profit corporations are using religious liberty to infringe upon the rights of women, religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, people. The report also puts forth legal and policy recommendations to protect religious liberty while also preventing harm to third parties by ensuring that the rights and well-being of others are not compromised because of another person’s religious beliefs.

Throughout U.S. history, both courts and legislatures have worked to balance the twin components of religious freedom: the right to worship and practice one’s faith and the right not to be coerced into following beliefs that are not one’s own. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby allowed the religious beliefs of an employer to trump the rights of thousands of employees—resulting in the harmful denial of legally mandated health care coverage and infringing upon employees’ rights to religious liberty. The decision has also lessened the standard of scrutiny for those who would use religion as a weapon to justify discrimination.

“In a pluralistic society such as ours, respecting religious liberty and protecting the general welfare of every citizen requires a balance,” said Carmel Martin, Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress. “The dangerous precedent established by Hobby Lobby has disrupted that balance, protecting a favored few who seek to impose their religion on others. Ironically, the decision condoned the infringement of the religious freedom of Hobby Lobby employees in the name of respecting the religious identity of a for-profit company.”

As CAP’s report outlines, in the 15 months since the Hobby Lobby ruling, advocates, litigators, and judges have invoked the case to justify an ever-growing number of religious liberty claims in areas such as child labor, employment, civil rights, and discrimination. Hobby Lobby has also created a new precedent for interpreting the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, which has inspired the creation of so-called super-RFRAs in the states that misinterpret and broaden the scope of the original law. Such legislation purports to advance religious liberty but often provides excessively broad religious exemptions that allow individuals and businesses to undercut nondiscrimination policies intended to protect LGBT people, religious minorities, women, and others.

“The kinds of sweeping religious exemptions condoned by Hobby Lobby and many state RFRAs do not strengthen religious liberty,” said Carolyn J. Davis, Policy Analyst for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. “In contrast, they inflict harm on others, discriminate, and are bad for religion itself.”

To restore religious liberty in America in a way that is consistent with the nation’s history and fundamental values, the Center for American Progress recommends:

  • Amending the federal RFRA to prevent third-party harm
  • Passing comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans at the local, state, and federal level
  • Passing state laws to increase access to preventive health care services

“From Indiana’s controversial super-RFRA to Kim Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, we’ve seen an overly expansive and harmful view of religious liberty used in an attempt to thwart LGBT equality,” said Laura E. Durso, Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. “But the damage caused by these religious liberty claims is not limited to the LGBT community. Whether in the context of infringing on a woman’s access to health care or abdicating a witness’s obligation to testify in court in a child labor case, the precedent established by Hobby Lobby enables dangerous third-party harm.”

Read the report: Restoring the Balance: A Progressive Vision of Religious Liberty Preserves the Rights and Freedoms of All Americans by Carolyn J. Davis, Laura E. Durso, and Carmel Martin

Related resources:

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Chelsea Kiene at [email protected] or 202.478.5328.