Washington D.C., May 1, 2015 / 13:44 pm
The House voted late Thursday night to formally disapprove of two laws which religious and pro-life organizations in the nation's capital say violate their religious liberty.
The passage of the joint resolution of disapproval, H. J. Res. 43, is the first step towards undoing two laws passed by the Washington, D.C. city council in December and signed into law in January by the city's mayor, Muriel Bowser (D). Many religious and pro-life employers in D.C. united to oppose the laws as an unconstitutional violation of their First Amendment rights and petitioned Congress to act to stop them.
However, a resolution of disapproval needs to pass the Senate as well, and be signed by the president – and the White House announced April 30 its intention to veto the measure.
The Archdiocese of Washington led opposition to the laws, and praised the House vote. "The archdiocese is very grateful to the members of the U.S. House who voted for H.J. Res. 43 and for the coalition partners who have rallied to uphold religious freedom in our nation's capital," the archdiocese said in a statement.
The two laws are the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act and the Human Rights Amendment of 2014. The former would outlaw any hiring or firing of employees for their "reproductive health decision making" even if they are publicly defying the mission of their employer, such as a pro-life organization or a Catholic school.
For example, pro-life groups and Catholic schools would be forced to retain employees who obtained an abortion with public knowledge of the matter.
The Human Rights Amendment of 2014 overturned a 25 year-old amendment that provided a conscience exemption for religiously-affiliated schools so they would not have to recognize groups or individuals acting in public opposition to their mission. Catholic schools would not have to allow use of their facilities for pro-gay events, for example, or officially recognize openly-gay student groups.
Under D.C. Home Rule, once a bill becomes law in the city Congress has 30 legislative days to pass a joint resolution of disapproval against it. The 30-day window was expected to end April 30 for the House, although for the Senate it could end on May 4 since the body did not receive the laws until March 10.
The House vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans voting for the resolution and nearly all Democrats voting against it.
Three Democrats broke ranks and supported the resolution: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). Meanwhile, 13 Republicans voted against the resolution, five of them from New York districts.
Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) praised the House for upholding religious freedom in a statement after the resolution was passed.
"At its core, the Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act is perhaps the most discriminatory 'nondiscrimination' law we have seen to date," she said.
"While this particular law only applies to the District of Columbia, it sets a dangerous precedent for future legislation that could further weaken our long-held tradition of respecting Americans' conscience rights."