Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) spoke at a
press conference on Capitol Hill about
introducing legislation to protect the religious
liberty of Americans on June 3, 2015.
(CNSNews.com) -- Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) was joined by religious freedom advocates at a press conference on Wednesday to announce legislation he is introducing in Congress to protect religious individuals and institutions from government infringement on religious expression, particularly in the wake of what could be the Supreme Court ruling that homosexuals have a constitutional right to marry.
"The threat that worries me the most is the infringement on religious liberty by our own government," Samuel Oliver, president of Baptist Union University, said at the press conference. "Our views about human sexuality and religious liberty are deeply rooted in biblical revelation and thousands of years of Judeo-Christian tradition."
Senator Lee explained at the press conference that he introduced the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act last year and would reintroduce a similar bill this session ahead of the high court’s ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, expected by the end of the month.
“We have to have to have a guarantee by the government to the American people, to churches, to religious and non-religious people alike saying that the government won’t penalize any religious institution or any religious individual based on a religious belief that that individual or institution believes; that marriage is an institution between a man and a woman,” Lee said.
“We need to draw lines around the power of government – lines that are there to protect the people from the overpowering influence of government – an overpowering influence that can, from time to time, trample on religious freedom,” he said.
Lee cited the exchange between Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. during oral arguments on the same-sex marriage case in April.
Scalia asked Verrilli whether he was concerned if the high court ruled in favor of homosexual marriage that the government could penalize institutions such as religiously affiliated educational institutions by revoking their tax-exempt status or other federal benefits.
“The response from Verelli was troubling to say the very least,” Lee said. “He responded by saying, ‘I don’t deny that – I don’t deny that Justice Alito,’” Lee said. “’It’s going to be an issue.’”
The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, first introduced in December 2013, states, in part:
-- Prohibits the federal government from taking an adverse action against a person on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.
-- Defines "adverse action" as any federal government action to discriminate against a person who is acting in accordance with such religious belief, including a federal government action to:
-- Deny or revoke certain tax exemptions or disallow a deduction of any charitable contribution made to or by such person;
-- Alter the federal tax treatment of, or cause any tax, penalty, or payment to be assessed against, such person or such person's employees with respect to any employee benefit provided or not provided by such person;
-- Deem an employee benefit plan covering employees of such person to have lost its status as a qualified plan under the Internal Revenue Code, or to be in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, because the plan fails to provide a benefit, right, or feature on account of such person's religious belief;
-- Deny or exclude such person from receiving any federal grant, contract, cooperative agreement, loan, license, certification, accreditation, employment, or similar position or status; or
-- Deny or withhold any benefit under a federal benefit program.
The bill also provides legal recourse for those who believe the protections provided by it have been violated.
Lee told reporters that the legislation he will introduce in the coming days will have a different name and some changes to the bill are being considered.
Samuel Oliver, president of Baptist Union University, spoke about
the threat to religious liberty in the United States on June 3, 2015 on
Capitol Hill. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)
Also speaking at the press conference was Jerry Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters and former president of Criswell College; Keith Wiebe, president of the American Association of Christian Schools; and Travis Weber, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council.
"Over the past year, the Obama Administration has made clear it will use any possible method -- whether contracting, grants, school funding, and now tax exempt status -- to establish and enforce its view of morality on the private religious sphere by redefining marriage,” said Travis Weber at the press conference.
“If the court redefines marriage by mandating it as a constitutional right, the impact will be significant,” he said. “Religious organizations must be left free to determine their own beliefs, which cannot be coopted by the State. The Government Non-Discrimination Act would prevent the federal government from discriminating against people because of their belief in natural marriage. We urge Congress to act to pass this vital legislation."