WASHINGTON | May 17, 2019
To watch Republican Leader Virginia Foxx’s remarks, click here.
I rise as the leader of the Republicans on the Education and Labor Committee, which should have had an opportunity to consider this legislation fully, considering its vast implications for educational institutions and employers. We did not have that opportunity. Instead, we had a single subcommittee hearing. As a fierce advocate for the Education and Labor Committee, I would never deem any subcommittee unimportant, but it was the subcommittee with the smallest membership. On top of that, somehow, the decision was made to bring this bill to the floor under a closed rule with no amendments. So I commend my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee for their work on behalf of all of us.
This bill may have “equality” in its title, but it does not serve all people. Its mandates for specific accommodations in shared facilities puts job creators, particularly those in small businesses, schools, and other community-serving facilities on the hook for Washington’s half-baked ideas. Its vague and circular definition of gender identity will lead only to uncertainty, litigation, and harm to individuals and organizations that will be forced to comply with a law the authors don’t even seem to understand. This is a classic example of passing something now and figuring out what it actually means later. We’ve been here before. If the devil is in the details, we’re in for a lot of devilish surprises.
This is no small price for some greater good, as the bill’s proponents have argued. Opening schools and workplaces to expanded liability based on, as the bill states, a “perception or belief, even if inaccurate” of suspected discrimination would have untold chilling effects on hiring, career advancement, and, one could easily see, discourse in the classroom.
Where the bill is alarmingly clear, however, is in its meticulous and intentional destruction of religious freedom protections. American employers and educators have grown accustomed to clumsy and misguided mandates coming down from Washington shrouded in good intentions. Other laws under the jurisdiction of the Education and Labor Committee are littered with them. But this time, something is different.
The provision in H.R. 5 that guts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 is clear in its intent. This bill is a brazen attempt to replace timeless, inherent religious liberties with the identity politics of the moment.
My colleagues on the other side of the aisle could have been given the benefit of the doubt on the rest of this bill. Careless and shortsighted legislation is what they’ve done best for many, many years. But this fevered grasping, this hysterical clawing at individual Americans who hold personal religious convictions represents a major departure from where the debate in this chamber has been before.
I sincerely hope it’s temporary, for the sake of this body and more importantly, for the sake of the people we represent. I hope this bill, which faces certain failure in the Senate, will be remembered as a failed experiment in oppressive legislating and not the first move in a new, sustained attack on religious freedom.
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