“NO” on Leahy Amendment

Today, the Senate will vote on the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (S. 262) as an amendment to the long-stalled  Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (S. 178).  Introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) 7%, the amendment contains language that would undermine basic civil rights and our nation’s commitment to religious freedom.

Every organization should respect the intrinsic dignity of every individual who seeks help from them, but Leahy’s language is vague and overly broad.  Absent clear definitions of what conduct can and cannot be penalized, it will empower the federal government — specifically the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) — to discriminate against faith-based organizations that currently form the backbone of the nation’s social services.

At issue is the amendment’s prohibition on “discriminating” on the basis of “actual or perceived” gender identity or sexual orientation.  These kinds of broad non-discrimination policies violate our nation’s commitment to reasonable pluralism and reasonable diversity. The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D. explains:

As Michelle Obama put it, religious faith “isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon and good music and a good meal. It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well.”Likewise, citizens are free to form contracts and other associations according to their own values, subject only to those restraints that are necessary and compliant with the Constitution.

While the government must respect equality before the law, private actors should be free to make reasonable judgments and distinctions—including reasonable moral judgments and distinctions—in their economic activities. Citizens should be free to live their professional lives according to their moral and religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, concerns are not hypothetical. State and local sexual orientation and gender identity statutes are at the center of the cases involving photographers, bakers and florists, farmers, and adoption and foster care organizations.

The inclusion of sweeping and unnecessary sexual orientation and gender identity policies to federally funded social service programs will exacerbate the problems and undermine the goal of serving those in need.

Heritage Action opposes the Leahy Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.