Religious exemptions from vaccine mandates in all states are under threat from legislation in Congress that would severely curtail Americans’ ability to exercise our First Amendment rights. House Resolution H. R. 5272, introduced by Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA-4), seeks to limit The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, purportedly to prevent discrimination against one person by another person for religious reasons. But the bill is so broadly drawn that any exercise of religious belief that conflicts with any federal policy, whether based on law, regulation or executive order, could be considered discrimination and therefore illegal. Kennedy’s bill in effect repeals the idea that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
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In what can only be a perverse pun, Kennedy named the bill the “Do No Harm Act” turning on its head the proscription to physicians associated with the Hippocratic oath to “First, do no harm” to patients under their care.
Among other provisions, H. R. 5272 prohibits using religious reasons as a basis to deny “access to, information about, provision of or coverage for, any healthcare item.” There is no reason why this language could not be used to argue that a religious exemption is an illegal use of religious beliefs as a basis to deny a child a “healthcare item.”
Kennedy’s bill would allow anyone who feels threatened, or even offended, by anyone else’s child (or an adult) foregoing a vaccine for a religious reason to claim the exemption is a form of discrimination. The bill states religious freedom “should not be interpreted to authorize an exemption from generally applicable law that imposes meaningful harm, including dignitary harm, on a third party. ” “Dignitary harm,” we believe this term os so vague that your First Amendment rights could take a backseat to some busybody getting in a snit.
Forty-seven still states have religious exemptions. Rep. Kennedy’s bill may provide the grounds to challenge state exemption laws in federal courts as a form of religious discrimination.
Kennedy’s bill has gathered 30 co-sponsors so far. No similar legislation has been introduced in the US Senate yet. You can read the bill here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5272
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