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Labrador-Sponsored Religious Freedom Bill Could Resurface This Year

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- U.S. Representative Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) was the House sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act. -
  • U.S. Representative Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) was the House sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act.
Though it fizzled in the U.S. Congress last year, a House resolution with Idaho ties designed to protect freedom of religion—and criticized for its implications for LGBT rights—could be resurrected.

The election of President-elect Donald Trump has emboldened some supporters of the First Amendment Defense Act to give it another shot at becoming law.

If enacted, FADA would bar the federal government from "taking discriminatory actions" against any person who "believes or acts in accordance" with their religious or moral convictions that marriage is strictly between one man and one woman.

FADA was sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), along with a slew of other Republican co-sponsors. An identical bill appeared in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), told Buzzfeed in December the bill could resurface in the 2017-'18 Congress.

Labrador spokesman Dan Popkey said the congressman will be working with Lee to reintroduce the bill "early this year," while a spokesman for Lee told Buzzfeed the election "will give us the momentum we need" to put FADA on Trump's desk after he is sworn Jan. 20 as the 45th president of the United States.

Trump praised FADA on the campaign trail, saying he would sign the act if passed by Congress, and that it would "protect the deeply held religious faiths of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths."

Among the provisions of the bill, the federal government would be prohibited from altering tax treatment of people or organizations, denying federal grants or benefits, or denying licensure or accreditation based on anti-gay marriage beliefs.

According to the introductory statements in the bill, "Leading legal scholars concur that conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty are real and should be legislatively addressed," going on to state that laws "protecting religious freedom from Government intrusion" will "encourage private citizens and institutions to demonstrate tolerance for those beliefs and convictions and therefore contribute to a more respectful, diverse, and peaceful society."

In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry nationwide in June 2015.

FADA never made it out of committee in either congressional chamber, but similar laws have been proposed by state lawmakers in Georgia, where it was vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal in March 2016, and in Mississippi, where it was blocked by District Court Judge Carlton Reeves.

The proposed law and its state counterparts were criticized by LGBT rights groups as shields for housing and employment discrimination against people in same-sex marriages. Religiously affiliated organizations with federal contracts or grants, they said, would be free to turn away married same-sex couples in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Jennifer Pizer, director of Law and Policy at Lambda Legal, said the consequences of FADA would "take away people's ability to object to discrimination."

"The consequences potentially are dire and unconstitutional," she said. "It's an appalling proposition."

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