Right Opinion

Congress Looks to Red-light District's Intolerance

Tony Perkins · Apr. 22, 2015

The U.S. Constitution is a six-block walk from the D.C. City Council — but it’s light years away from the District’s policy making. For years, members of the D.C. government have pretended that the First Amendment in their neighborhood doesn’t apply to their lawmaking, especially when it comes to social issues. The latest example is the city’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA), which it raced through in January against the warnings of its own legal team. Under the bill, it would be a crime for groups to not only refuse to pay for abortion coverage — but to refuse to hire a pro-abortion activist. Of course, everyone is familiar with the first part of the measure, thanks to the ObamaCare mandate. But ordering groups like FRC to set aside its beliefs and hire members of the opposition? That’s as unconstitutional as it gets!

Imagine if Congress passed a law demanding that Muslim organizations hire Jews? Or that an atheist group put Christians on the payroll? It’s the same concept here — but the D.C. Council has somehow bypassed the controversy in the name of “tolerance.” Or so it thought. Thanks to the Republican House, Congress is planning to remind D.C. that it has legislative power over the Council. As part of its oversight powers, the House and Senate have 30 legislative days to review the District’s laws and strike them down, if necessary. Both Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) have resolutions designed to do exactly that. For Congress, it would be a rare muscle-flexing over the District. According to records, it’s been 23 years since a disapproval measure has actually been taken up by both chambers.

Right now, conservatives’ biggest enemy is time. With the review period set to end on May 2, the clock is ticking on a potential counter-punch. Then, of course, there’s the matter of the White House’s approval. Even if the House and Senate overrule D.C., it still needs the President’s signature. Not to worry, says the Republican Study Committee. There are plenty of ways to make RHNDA toothless without the White House’s help. “Should the President fail to sign a resolution of disapproval … the committee should ensure that any Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations measure contains language that would prohibit funds to implement or carry out any rule or regulation associated with the [bills].” One strategy would be to load up the resolutions with policy riders that handcuff how the District’s “reproductive health” monies can be spent. Republicans in the House will consider all of their options when they mark up the resolution tonight.

In her press conference [Monday], D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said that the debate “needlessly pits reproductive freedom against freedom from discrimination.” We agree. Religious groups should be free from the same “discrimination” this bill unleashes on men and women of faith. Her measure is a slap in the face of the First Amendment, religious freedom, and employers’ rights.

Disagreement isn’t discrimination, as David Wuerl and John Garvey point out. H.J. Res. 43 agrees with D.C.‘s own Attorney General — and hundreds of years of constitutional law — that forcing people to surrender their deeply-held beliefs is “legally insufficient.” We applaud the conservatives in the House and Senate for going to bat for Americans’ freedom to live and work according to their faith.

GOP Paves Way to Stop Trafficking

When Republicans said they were going to hold the line on human trafficking, they meant it. You can’t blame Americans for being skeptical, considering the GOP’s track record — but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proved his skeptics wrong and deserves credit for it. After a month-long standstill over routine language, the Senate may have finally ended the logjam on Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) anti-trafficking measure and put the chamber back on track to consider Eric Holder’s replacement: Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch. “As soon as we finish the trafficking bill, as I’ve indicated for some time now, we’ll move to the President’s nominee for attorney general — hopefully in the next day or so,” McConnell said [Tuesday] when a deal looked imminent.

Cornyn’s bill, which is a political no-brainer for both parties, came to a screeching halt in late March, when Democrats feigned surprise that the legislation included a ban on taxpayer-funded abortion — standard operating procedure for any spending measure. Not only has this been the status quo for 40 years, it has never been questioned! That is until the Obama administration arrived in town with its pro-abortion policies. A bill rescuing human trafficking victims — of all places — is hardly the time to create other victims of abortion.

In this latest scenario, the Senate would change where the trafficking money is sent and how it’s used so that the Hyde language banning abortion funding wouldn’t be necessary. One fund would fall outside of normal appropriations, but would be prohibited from being used for any sort of health care services at all — this would be used only for “enhancing state and local efforts to combat trafficking in persons.” The other fund would be pulled from the Community Health Clinics fund under ObamaCare, which was reauthorized under Hyde. If that holds, then Senate conservatives would have pulled off a hard-earned victory — and saved countless lives in the process!

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.

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