First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) FAQs

Apr 21, 2016

What is FADA and what would it do?

The First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), S. 1598 and H.R. 2802, is a religious liberty protection bill introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Senate and Representative Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the House. FADA would prevent the federal government from discriminating against individuals, associations, or businesses, such as churches and religious colleges, by denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license, or certification because they believe marriage is a union of one man and one woman.

Why is FADA necessary? 

FADA was introduced in Congress on June 17, 2015, shortly before the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that all laws defining marriage as the union of a husband and wife were unconstitutional. This ruling redefined marriage across the country and opened the floodgates for the government to discriminate against citizens who continue to live out their religious and moral convictions about marriage as they always have.

In oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether a university or college might lose its nonprofit tax status if it doesn't abandon its views on marriage as the union of husband and wife. Verrilli's response was telling: "It's certainly going to be an issue. I—I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito. It is—it is going to be an issue."

FADA was introduced to prevent this very scenario from happening.

Doesn't the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and other State Religious Freedom Restoration Acts already protect religious liberty?

No. RFRAs provide generalized protections that require judges to engage in a balancing test when assessing religious liberty claims. The courts first determine if a government action substantially burdens religious exercise, and if so, it then assess whether the government has a compelling justification that is implemented in a way that does the least harm to religious liberty.

In contrast, FADA provides highly specific protections and limits judicial discretion, thereby taking much of the potential for mischief from activist judges out of the equation. FADA would take the debate out of the hands of the most non-democratic branch of government and put it back into the hands of the American people and their elected officials. FADA takes a surgical approach that does the balancing on the "front end" by protecting precisely the beliefs under assault in precisely the contexts where they are most threatened.

While RFRA's general protections are vital for countering threats to religious liberty we may not foresee, FADA's specific protections are vital for countering threats to religious liberty that are right in front of us, right now.

But isn't the marriage debate a politically toxic issue for Republicans? Just look at what happened in Indiana.

It is true that last year the state of Indiana watered down its newly enacted RFRA law after it was hit with a coordinated surprise attack from LGBT interest groups, the media, and some members of the business community. But recently lawmakers have regained their footing on the issue. Efforts to further undermine religious liberty rights through sexual orientation and gender identity "bathroom bills" were defeated in the Indiana state house earlier this year and by a popular vote of 61 percent by the people of Houston. Republican members of Congress should not be afraid of "another Indiana" because Indiana, Houston, Missouri, North Carolina, Kentucky and many others, are fighting to defend religious liberty. Momentum in support of religious liberty is gaining steam across the country. Republicans should champion this issue, not run away from it.

Why should the government be involved in religious matters at all?

Freedom of religion is our very first freedom laid out in the Bill of Rights because if we are not guaranteed the natural right to speak and act in accordance with one's own religious beliefs, all other rights are illusory. Thousands of religious organizations and millions of Americans are doing good work in our communities by running schools, colleges, charities, churches, and adoption agencies. The same faith and moral convictions that motivate organizations and individuals to seek the good for their children and their communities, has also led many to acknowledge marriage between a man and a woman as the indispensable backbone for civil society in America. Their religious liberty deserves protection, and the Constitution charges all branches of government with the duty to protect it, especially Congress.

Why did FADA's text change and will it be changed again?

The sponsors changed the bill text to ensure it could not be mischaracterized by opponents as Indiana's RFRA was. According to Senator Lee, the change "makes crystal clear that we are only seeking to prevent federal government discrimination against people and institutions that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman." Outside of the regular amendment process, the bill text is now finalized and will not be altered again.

Will FADA authorize employees of the federal government to refuse to process the tax returns, visa applications, or Social Security checks of same-sex couples?

No. The bill expressly excludes federal employees acting within the scope of their employment and thus does not permit government employees to refuse people any services or benefits. FADA would simply protect federal employees from losing their job for religious beliefs expressed outside of the scope of their employment.

Will FADA authorize for-profit contractors to deny services or benefits to same-sex couples and/or eliminate any anti-discrimination?

No. The bill does not permit for-profit contractors to refuse services to same-sex couples. FADA would simply protect federal contractors from losing their contracts because of religious beliefs expressed outside of the scope of their contracts. FADA also does not protect publicly-traded corporations.

Will FADA authorize hospitals to refuse care to same-sex couples?

No. The bill expressly excludes "hospitals, clinics, hospices, nursing homes, or other medical or residential custodial facilities with respect to visitation, recognition of a designated representative for health care decision-making, or refusal to provide medical treatment necessary."

FADA ensures a hospital will not lose its tax-exempt status or have its federal benefits revoked because, for example, a doctor does not wish to provide marital counseling services in a manner that violates his or her sincerely held religious beliefs.

Will FADA undermine federal civil rights protections, such as those available to employees and customers of for-profit businesses?

No. The bill does not alter or modify civil rights laws protecting people from discrimination in, for example, housing, credit, public accommodations, voting, and does not impact the American Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and other federal civil rights laws. Employees and customers will have recourse to applicable protections under federal or state law just as before.

Will FADA preempt any state non-discrimination laws?

No. The bill applies to the federal government only and does not preempt any state or municipal non-discrimination laws, including those relating to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Will FADA grant religious individuals and institutions special privileges before the law?

No. FADA does not give special privileges to religious individuals or institutions, rather it clarifies that the federal government cannot discriminate against individuals and institutions simply because they believe and act in accordance with their religious belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. FADA is aimed specifically toward the federal government and executive agencies that are currently operating under the premise that the First Amendment no longer protects the belief in marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Will FADA take away the right of members of the LGBT community to challenge religious individuals and institutions in court?

No. FADA does not prevent members of the LGBT community from taking anyone to court. The problem we are seeing now is that the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges has left the courts in confusion, empowering liberal activist judges to rule however they desire. FADA offers specific protection to those who still believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman in order to limit judicial discretion in current cases.

We should have faith in the courts to not hold religious defendants liable for discrimination if they are innocent. FADA would just increase government intervention in our lives.

Unfortunately, it would be naive to believe liberal activist courts will rule fairly. FADA simply puts guardrails in place for judges to ensure they rule in accordance with First Amendment rights. The Constitution charges Congress, first and foremost, to protect the rights of the people to speak and act in accordance with their religious beliefs, including marriage.

On the contrary, FADA ensures the federal government stays out of the lives of American citizens. FADA helps prevent the federal government from intervening in civil society to force people, and their businesses, to provide goods or services they feel are against their religious beliefs.