Coats Stands for Religious Liberty, Says ENDA Doesn’t Protect all First Amendment Rights
“I oppose discrimination of any kind, and that includes discrimination of individuals or institutions for their faith and values, which often gets lost and has been lost in this discussion.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which is currently pending before the Senate.
“The legislation before us raises very serious concerns regarding religious freedom,” said Coats in his remarks. “The so-called protections from religious liberty in this bill are vaguely defined and do not extend to all organizations that wish to adhere to their moral or religious beliefs in their hiring practices.
Coats added, “This bill also would allow employers to be held liable to workplace environment complaints opening the door to the silencing of employees who express their deeply held beliefs. This possibility runs counter to everything America stands for in the realm of free speech.”
“I oppose discrimination of any kind, and that includes discrimination of individuals or institutions for their faith and values, which often gets lost and has been lost in this discussion,” concluded Coats.
Below is the full text of Coats’ remarks:
“Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss the topic of religious freedom. This issue is an important component in the debate on the legislation that we are currently considering, but it's also an issue that defines, I believe, who we are as a nation as well as the rights granted to us in the Constitution. To paraphrase what Thomas Jefferson said in 1807, for Americans, he said, ‘Among the most inestimable of our blessings’ is the blessing ‘of liberty to worship our Creator in the way we think most agreeable to His will; a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.’
“From Jefferson's time to today, freedom of religion has been a core American principle, a principle our founding fathers put their lives on the line for and a principle that generations of Americans in uniform have defended so that we can all enjoy this cherished freedom. Unfortunately, this principle of religious freedom is under attack across our country today. Though in many cases these attacks may be subtle, make no mistake, we are seeing the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech constrained and restricted.
“We've seen it in the administration's rule regarding church-affiliated groups to facilitate insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs despite their deeply held religious beliefs.
“I think about my alma mater, Wheaton College in Illinois, which is the school from which Billy Graham graduated years ago.
“I appreciate the Senate Majority Leader and Minority Leader's reference to his life as he celebrates his 95th birthday. Billy Graham had an important impact on my life and millions of people – not just Americans, but people around the world. I appreciate that recognition that has been given here by our leaders.
“I also think about Indiana-based University of Notre Dame. Despite conscious objections and the clearly outlined standards of these colleges and universities – the College’s Community Covenant at Wheaton and the values of the University of Notre Dame – they have been told by the government that they are not considered religious institutions and must comply with the health and human services mandate.
“Let me describe a little bit the thread of faith that runs through every aspect of a school like Wheaton College and the values of faith expressed frequently in a number of ways by the University of Notre Dame. If you tune into the Notre Dame football programs on Saturday afternoons, as I do every week, or intend to do, you will see an ad by Father Jenkins, President of Notre Dame, that talks about the component and the element of faith that is essential to the beliefs of what the University of Notre Dame is trying to address through its education process.
“Whether it is professors or students, administrators or groundskeepers or others that thread of faith and values runs through the university and throughout my alma mater as well. There's such a thing as, it's been described by a former president of Wheaton College, as umbrella universities – those [universities] that have a faith component perhaps in a theological school or religious program. The thought is well, certainly, they can exercise their constitutional rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. But what about the doorkeeper or receptionist at the administration building or the coaches of the teams or the professors? Sure the professor of theology and the professor of religion, but what about the professor of science, professor of economics, or professor of business, how does that apply? Or what about the groundskeepers or those that serve the meals in the cafeterias to the students? Well, there are those types of institutions, and there is an argument that it is not systemic, it is not the thread that runs through every aspect of the program. And this applies to homeless shelters and faith-based institutions across America. Some are secular related. Some are a mix of secular-religious. And some are systemically faith-based where a thread of faith runs through every aspect of their program or this institution.
“So what we're talking about here is a situation where institutions of education, like Wheaton College and the University of Notre Dame, or faith-based institutions reaching out through homeless shelters, food kitchens, any number of programs provided by faith-based institutions or individuals engaged in this that believe that the thread of faith is important to their success and that's why they're there.
“These faith-based institutions have been told by the government that they're not considered religious institutions and must comply with the Health and Human Services Mandate. Last year administration officials said they worked out a compromise on this rule, but the fact is that the mandate still exists. These institutions should not have to facilitate insurance coverage for products that are counter to their moral beliefs. In my opinion, to require faith-based institutions to betray the fundamental tenets of their beliefs and accept this violation of their First Amendment rights guaranteed by the Constitution is simply wrong.
“I think about the health care professionals who have been required to participate – required by the government – to participate in medical procedures that violate their rights of conscience and their deeply held religious beliefs about the meaning of life and when life begins.
“I think about the recent efforts in many states to force churches and religious professionals into performing rituals or ceremonies that run counter to their faith.
“So what is at stake here is of extreme significance. Established in our nation's founding days and sustained for over 200 years, this principle is at the very core of our system of government, as Jefferson was trying to say.
“We can't pick and choose when to adhere to the Constitution and when to cast it aside for cheap political prerogatives. We must consistently stand for these timeless constitutional granted privileges and rights.
“The legislation before us raises very serious concerns regarding religious freedom. The so-called protections from religious liberty in this bill are vaguely defined and do not extend to all organizations that wish to adhere to their moral or religious beliefs in their hiring practices.
“For example, the religious beliefs of faith-based childcare providers and small business owners would be disregarded under this legislation. Faith-based daycare providers could be forced to hire individuals with views contrary to the faith incorporated values of these daycare providers. Do we want to support policies that discriminate against an employer's religious beliefs and require employers to hire individuals who contradict their very most deeply held religious beliefs?
“This bill also would allow employers to be held liable to workplace environment complaints opening the door to the silencing of employees who express their deeply held beliefs. This possibility runs counter to everything America stands for in the realm of free speech.
“Now I know there have been some efforts, including amendments offered by my colleagues, Senator Toomey from Pennsylvania and Senator Portman from Ohio, to clarify the existing religious protections in this bill. Some members believe that these amendments go too far. I frankly believe they don't go far enough. However, they are at least a first step, and I will support these two measures not to make a bad bill better, but to highlight the importance of the freedom of religion principle involved in this legislation.
“Let me quote from Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice. He wrote this:
A steadfast commitment to one’s religious scruples was once lauded as a virtue, but in the current public discourse, religious objectors are often chastised as seeking special treatment that would impose their values on others. The apparent unpopularity of the expression of religious values through actions or words brings to mind Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ observation that ‘we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death’ and the Supreme Court’s more recent reminder that ‘the First Amendment protects expression, be it of the popular variety or not.’
“The Supreme Court's recent reminder and I quote again, "the First Amendment protects expression, be it of the popular variety or not,” Holmes said. It is an important thing for us to remember from a very respected Supreme Court Judge.
“I oppose discrimination of any kind, and that includes discrimination of individuals or institutions for their faith and values, which often gets lost and has been lost in this discussion. So there's two types of discrimination here we're dealing with and one of those goes to the very fundamental right granted to every American through our Constitution, a cherished value of freedom of expression and religion. And I believe this bill diminishes that freedom.
“So I feel it's vital for this body to stand up for our country's long-standing right to the freedom of religion and speech. For these reasons, I am not able to support this current legislation, and I hope my colleagues would stand with me in protecting religious freedom and oppose this legislation.”