The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 12 held a hearing on the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill two U.S archbishops said would provide "a measure of protection for religious freedom at the federal level."
The legislation was introduced on June 17 by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. The same day Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced the measure as S. 1598 in the Senate.
The day of the hearing Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore issued a joint statement urging support for the measure. They are, respectively, chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage and the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
They said the bill is "a modest but important step in ensuring conscience protection to faith-based organizations and people of all faiths and of no faith who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, protecting them from discrimination by the federal government."
Archbishops Cordileone and Lori noted an "increasing intolerance toward religious belief and belief in the conjugal meaning of marriage," which they said makes the bill's protections "essential for continuing faith-based charitable work, which supports the common good of our society."
"Faith-based agencies and schools should not lose their licenses or accreditation simply because they hold reasonable views on marriage that differ from the federal government's view," the prelates said.
The bill, known as H.R. 2802, defines "discriminatory action" as any federal government action to discriminate against a person with such beliefs or convictions.
Those actions include altering the federal tax treatment of, causing any tax, penalty or payment to be assessed against, or denying, delaying or revoking certain tax exemptions of any such person; withholding, reducing, excluding, terminating or otherwise denying any benefit under a federal benefit program; or disallowing a deduction of any charitable contribution "made to or by such person."
"The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, universally held for centuries, has nothing to do with disrespect for others, nor does it depend on religious belief," Archbishops Cordileone and Lori wrote. "Rather, it is based on truths about the human person that are understandable by reason.
Opponents of the First Amendment Defense Act have said it would enable widespread discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and compared it to a religious freedom law in Mississippi that a judge halted.
In their statement, the archbishops said the Catholic Church "will continue to promote and protect the truth of marriage as foundational to the common good."