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Virginia Lawmakers Take Sides on Recent Religious Freedom Ruling

Benjamin Chan / Creative Commons

A recent Supreme Court decision upended how courts view religious freedom, making it possible for corporations to deny certain health services to female employees based on a religious exemption. Now, two Virginia Congressman are now heavily involved in the debate.

Congressman Bobby Scott of Newport News is working with Massachusetts Democrat Joe Kennedy to overturn what they see as the problems created by the recent Supreme Court decision in Burwell versus Hobby Lobby.

Scott says that decision opened the floodgates for a new form of discrimination, one he says is masquerading as religious freedom by misinterpreting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA. 

“The Trump administration is misapplying RFRA when it allows federal funds to be used to discriminate against families when placing foster children," Scott explains. "And recently permitted a federally funded organization in South Carolina to restrict placement of foster children only to evangelical Christian families.”

Republicans say that organization is just upholding its statement of faith, and anyone who’s not an evangelical Christian can go to another federally-funded service.

“RFRA upholds this right on which our great country was founded," says Republican Congressman Ben Cline of Lexington. "And the federal government has a duty to ensure that this right is not violated and that federal overreach does not infringe on the state’s ability to uphold this.”

Scott and four other Virginia Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors to the Do No Harm Act, a move intended to respond to the Hobby Lobby decision by preventing people from seeking religious exemptions to laws guaranteeing civil rights.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.
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