DO NO HARM ACT & DNHA Supporter Statements


Congressman Joe Kennedy III & Congressman Bobby Scott

Supporting Organizations:

AIDS United
American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU)
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State
Anti-Defamation League
Bend the Arc
Catholics for Choice
Center for American Progress
Center for Reproductive Rights
Disciples Justice Action Network
Equal Partners in Faith
Equality Federation
Family Equality Council
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD)
Guttmacher Institute
Hindu American Foundation
Human Rights Campaign
In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda
Interfaith Alliance
Lambda Legal
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights
National Abortion Federation
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National Partnership for Women and Families
National Women’s Law Center
Planned Parenthood
Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP)
Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SEICUS)
Trevor Project
Unitarian Universalist Association


Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO:  “We applaud Representatives Kennedy and Scott for introducing this legislation, which will help ensure that employers cannot deprive working people of their civil rights, their right to minimum wages, their right to organize, and other crucial rights and protections at work based on their employer’s religious views.”

AIDS United

“AIDS United is pleased to support the Do No Harm Act which reinforces Congress’ original intent for the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, said Ronald Johnson, vice president of policy & advocacy at AIDS United.  “Without the protections of the Do No Harm Act, people at high risk for or those living with HIV, often the most vulnerable among us, could be restricted from accessing lifesaving prevention, treatment, and care with the dignity that all people deserve because of discrimination that is sanctioned under the cover of religious freedom.  That cannot be allowed,” continued Johnson.

American Civil Liberties Union

“Religious freedom gives us the right to our beliefs, but not to harm others,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU.  “The Do No Harm Act would place much needed limitations on RFRA, so that it can be used as a shield for religious exercise but no longer as a sword. With the Do No Harm Act, RFRA could no longer be invoked to justify discrimination, denial of health care, or other harms. We at the ACLU are proud to stand in support of this legislation.”

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State

Americans United has always fought for the fundamental American value of religious freedom. In 1993, we joined conservatives and progressives to support the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because we believed it would protect real religious liberty, especially for those of minority faiths. We are troubled, however, that over the years, RFRA has been misconstrued and exploited to justify discrimination and to deny others their rights. That is why today we support the Do No Harm Act because it preserves RFRA’s power to protect religious liberty but also clarifies that RFRA may not be used to harm others.

Catholics for Choice

“As Catholics, we believe religious freedom is a two-sided coin—it means freedom of religion and from religion for the individual citizen. The Do No Harm Act rectifies a dangerous misuse of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by multi-million dollar intuitions who would like to force their owners’ beliefs on their employees.” – Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director, Catholics for Choice

Center for American Progress

The Center for American Progress (CAP) supports the “Do No Harm Act.”  Religious liberty is a core American value, enshrined in our Constitution and deserving of protection.  When passed in 1993, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (or RFRA) offered a necessary corrective to the 1990 Smith decision that had stripped away the constitutionally-protected right to free exercise of religion.  However, recent lawsuits and federal court decisions, such as the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision, have created an overly broad interpretation of the law and have allowed RFRA to be used in ways that actually restrict religious liberty by imposing beliefs on others and occasioning meaningful harm to third parties.  Congress should act to ensure that RFRA is not inappropriately used to violate the rights of others.

Center for Reproductive Rights

“The Do No Harm Act is a critical step in rectifying the unintended consequences of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has allowed religious liberty claims to strip ordinary Americans of essential government benefits and undermine their health and well-being.  Now more than ever, we need a real legislative solution to ensure that religious discrimination has no place in our health-care system.”     –Kelly Baden, Interim Senior Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy

Disciples Justice Action Network

As Christians, we are guided by Christ’s call to serve the poor, the vulnerable, and the voiceless amongst us.  Regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity, all are welcome at the Lord’s Table and it is the call of our faith to bring justice and compassion to every corner of society without discrimination.  We support the Do No Harm Act because it will affirm RFRA’s role as a law that protects religious minorities without undermining civil rights.

Hindu American Foundation

“The Hindu American Foundation supports the Do No Harm Act because protecting the sanctity of the ‘Establishment Clause’ should be the utmost priority of the Federal Government when seeking to prevent religious discrimination. The Do No Harm Act will prove to be an effective roadblock for businesses, various institutions, and even government agencies that seek to circumvent a founding principle of the United States of America. It’s now incumbent upon both sides of the aisle to ensure its passage.” —-Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF Executive Director and Legal Counsel

Human Rights Campaign

“Religious freedom is a core American value. However, religious freedom claims should never be used as a guise for unfair and unjust treatment that undercut other people’s fundamental rights,” said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “We commend Representatives Kennedy and Scott for introducing this critically important legislation that will preserve the core protections of the federal RFRA, while ensuring that it cannot be used to violate essential non-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda


In Our Own Voice supports the introduction of the Do No Harm Act because it seeks to preserve and uphold our human right to live according to our values, religious or otherwise, without imposing harm or prejudice on anyone of differing faith, race, sexual preference or gender identification.  Discrimination against any group or community classification in the name of religion is wrong and goes against everything that this country stands for.  We thank Representatives Kennedy and Scott for their leadership on this issue and look forward to working with them to move this bill forward.   

Interfaith Alliance

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, released this statement:

“The religious freedom promised by the Constitution, the religious freedom envisioned by our Founders, is one where every person’s faith is protected and no one’s faith is used to subjugate or harm others. For years the Religious Right has tried to force legislation through Congress and state legislatures designed to turn religious freedom into a weapon used against religious minorities, people of color, women, children and the LGBT community. The Do No Harm act is a critical first step toward counteracting that misguided campaign.

“I am grateful to Rep. Kennedy and Rep. Scott for their continued leadership on this issue and look forward to working with them and members of Congress of both parties as we continue to find the proper balance in safeguarding the religious freedom of all.”

Lambda Legal

Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel and Director, Law & Policy Project, Lambda Legal:

“Since long before the LGBT civil rights movement even started, our communities have been targeted by religion-based efforts to condemn, control, and restrict the lives and equal opportunities of gay and transgender people, same-sex couples, and people living with HIV. In recent years, too many of those who oppose the equality and inclusion of LGBT people have insisted upon religious exemptions from laws providing nondiscrimination and other protections everyone should have at work, at school, in medical offices and in social services.  Congress never intended the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to become, perversely, a tool for rejecting others.  The Do No Harm Act is an urgently needed course correction.”

Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights

“Religious freedom is one of the founding principles of this nation, and the Do No Harm Act would ensure that this principle isn’t twisted into a license to discriminate. As states across the country attempt to codify discrimination into law, it’s especially important that the federal government once again declare that there can be no religious exemption from basic human dignity.”– Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights


“From Indiana to North Carolina; from Georgia to Mississippi, a number of right wing extremist legislators have tried to obfuscate the intent of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was enacted in 1993 to address a series of legal cases which together chiseled away the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to safeguard traditional Native Americans and other religious minorities in our country,”  said Mr. Hilary O. Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy.  “Indeed, the implementation of these new laws protects only the bigoted biases of those who wish to discriminate against people in the name of their so-called “religious beliefs” who simply want to do business fairly and justly, or use public facilities.  The NAACP stands solidly with Congressman Kennedy and Congressman Scott and others in calling for immediate action on this important legislation.” 

National Abortion Federation

“It is unacceptable for anyone to use their own personal religious beliefs to skirt federal laws and discriminate against others. On our toll-free Hotline, we often hear from patients who have been denied emergency contraception, referrals, ultrasounds, and more. The Do No Harm Act is a step towards ensuring that women have access to the resources they need to plan their families.”  –Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF)

National Center for Lesbian Rights

The National Center for Lesbian Rights strongly endorses the Do No Harm Act of 2016.  While religious liberty is a fundamental American value, it should not be used as an excuse to undermine the fundamental rights of others.  As we continue to battle efforts in the states to attack LGBT people under the guise of religious freedom, we welcome the introduction of this important federal bill to clarify that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a license to discriminate.

National Center for Transgender Equality

“Research shows that transgender youth who are supported thrive. Those promising they can make being transgender go away are deceiving parents and peddling harm.” — NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Ann Marie Benitez, senior director of government relations for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) said, “The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is excited to support the Do No Harm Act with our civil rights, faith and LGBTQ partners. This legislation would transform so many communities who are being treated like they do not deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else. The use of religious exemptions under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to harm communities by denying individuals their rights, benefits, and protections under federal laws is unacceptable. That is why we must prohibit employers from using RFRA to deny employees coverage for the healthcare they need and other unjust practices. NLIRH believes that each person should have the ability to make the best personal decisions about their health without interference from their employer. As states continue to pass legislation that stigmatizes and discriminates against members of LGBTQ communities, many who already have little access to resources and face constant threats of violence, it is refreshing to see Congressional members working to ensure that religious beliefs cannot be used to undermine the health and well-being of others, especially Latino/as.”

National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund

 The National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund is pleased to support the Do No Harm Act, a much-needed piece of legislation that protects everyone, including LGBTQ people, from discrimination. The Do No Harm Act strikes an important balance between safeguarding civil rights and preserving religious liberty in federal contexts. This bill ensures that when a party seeks an exemption under the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, they cannot use their religious beliefs to get around anti-discrimination laws or otherwise cause harm to others. 

We commend Congressmen Kennedy and Congressman Scott for their leadership in introducing this important bill at a time when discrimination is too often guised as religious liberty. 

National Partnership for Women and Families

“Increasingly, religion is being used to justify discrimination against women and families, in health care and in the workplace. We commend Representatives Joe Kennedy and Bobby Scott for introducing the Do No Harm Act and leading efforts to make clear that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s protections of the exercise of religion cannot be used to deny women access to reproductive health care or other services, or undermine civil rights protections,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

National Women’s Law Center

The National Women’s Law Center did not support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because of concerns about how it could be misused and result in harm to women. Unfortunately, that fear has become a reality. The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision permitted bosses to deny women critical birth control coverage, and efforts to use RFRA as a justification to discriminate have gained new life since that decision.  There have been attempts to use RFRA to challenge laws that protect women, LGBTQ individuals, and students from discrimination; protect employees by allowing them to unionize; promote public health by requiring vaccinations; and require pharmacies to fill lawful prescriptions. That is why the National Women’s Law Center supports the Do No Harm Act. The Do No Harm Act ensures that RFRA cannot be used to undermine basic civil rights and liberties,  and stands for the principle that religion should never be used to discriminate or to harm others.

Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)

PFLAG National thanks Congressmen Kennedy and Scott for their leadership on the Do No Harm Act. We support all people in their freedom to worship and to believe as they do or will. However, we do not support the freedom to discriminate, trampling the rights–and the dignity–of others. The freedom to worship and the right to live free from discrimination are not mutually exclusive–both are among the core American values that shape our great nation. We are proud to stand by Reps. Kennedy and Scott to advocate for passage of this important federal legislation, which is so crucial to the health and wellbeing of our LGBTQ loved ones and their families.

Planned Parenthood

“The Do Not Harm Act is long overdue protection against wrongheaded efforts to discriminate. The Religious FreedomRestoration Act (RFRA), a federal law initially passed to protect the exercise of religious beliefs, is too often used to undermine and abuse individuals’ rights, including denying women access to birth control. Planned Parenthood is proud to support the Do Not Harm Act and we thank Representatives Scott and Kennedy for their leadership. No one should be discriminated against, including denied access to basic health care, in the name of religious freedom. This bill is a much needed fix to the Religious Freedom Act to ensure that the law can’t be used to deny education, health care, including reproductive health care, and LGBTQ rights to any individual.” — Dana Singiser, Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP)

The Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) is proud to stand with our partners in the health, LGBT, civil rights, and faith communities to put an end to the notion that religion may be used to discriminate. RHTP works to advance the ability of every woman to achieve full reproductive freedom with access to the safest, most effective, and appropriate and acceptable methods for ensuring her own health and controlling her fertility. RHTP endorses the “Do No Harm Act” because religious beliefs may inform one’s own reproductive health care decisions but should never be allowed to prevent others from accessing comprehensive reproductive health care.

Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)

SAGE applauds Congressman Kennedy and Congressman Scott on the introduction of this most important bill.  At a time when we see the most basic rights of LGBT older adults under assault in the name of religion, we must do more to honor, support, and protect the LGBT elders who paved the way. And because this population suffers from pronounced social isolation, higher rates of poverty than their non-LGBT peers, and a lack of access to culturally competent services and supports, this bill takes a critical step in ensuring that religion is not used as a barrier to prevent LGBT older adults from getting the services and supports they need to thrive.” — Michael Adams, CEO, SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders)

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) thanks Congressman Kennedy and Congressman Scott for their leadership in introducing the Do No Harm Act,” said Chitra Panjabi, President and CEO. “We all have the right to live free from discrimination no matter our sexuality and sexual health needs. This important legislation will ensure that existing rights will not be infringed upon due to others’ religious beliefs.”

Natasha Lindstrom, ‘In God We Trust’ bill advances in Pennsylvania Legislature,

A battle is brewing over proposed legislation urging all Pennsylvania’s public schools to display the national motto, “In God We Trust.”

On Tuesday, a bill dubbed the National Motto Display Act cleared the state House on a 179-20 bipartisan vote.

Proponents hail emblazoning the motto in school buildings statewide as a potential “unifying force” with moral and historical value, the phrase’s roots dating to 2-cent coins printed at the height of the Civil War.

“Our country is very divided today, and celebrating the motto can help unite us,” said state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth, a longtime advocate for promoting public displays of the motto and its historical ties to Pennsylvania. “Whether you believe in God or not, it’s here to inspire us.”

Opponents, including secular advocacy groups and some school solicitors, blast the attempt as an inappropriate — and potentially unconstitutional — overreach blending church and state.

“It equates God-belief and religious piety with patriotism, and that’s wrong to do in public schools where students are of all religions and of no religion, and they are young and impressionable,” argued Elizabeth Cavell, staff attorney with the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group sued Saccone and others over a 2012 resolution declaring that year to be “The Year of the Bible.”

“Once again, the Pennsylvania Legislature is just wasting taxpayer time and dime on these religious overtures,” Cavell said.

Saccone, who is up for re-election in November, tried unsuccessfully to pass a nearly identical In God We Trust bill in 2013 and co-sponsored this year’s version.

“This time, I think we’re going to get it through the Senate,” Saccone said by phone Tuesday. “I don’t think the governor even would dare veto this. It’s too American.”

Saccone’s Democratic opponent, attorney Peter T. Kobylinski, did not return a call for comment, nor did Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

Senate leadership has not reviewed the bill nor determined which Senate committee may take it up, said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre.

House Bill 1640 , introduced by Jefferson County Republican state Rep. Cris Dush, would encourage — but not require — that the national motto be posted in all public school buildings, along with the Bill of Rights.

“It’s not a mandatory requirement; in fact, they can already put it up in their schools,” said Saccone, noting several districts do. “It’s just that they’re afraid to because they’ve been misled by society. They’ve been beaten down by this idea that they can’t do this, and they’re wary.”

Among school solicitors skeptical of the concept is Ira Weiss, whose Downtown firm represents 14 Western Pennsylvania districts, including Pittsburgh Public Schools.

“My advice for a district would be to avoid a potentially expensive litigation and to not get involved with this,” said Weiss of Weiss Burkardt Kramer.

Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz, however, said he’s “not aware of any case law that throws out the national motto as a violation of the Establishment Clause,” which precludes lawmakers from sanctioning a religion.

For years, the Bakersfield, Calif.-based In God We Trust America Inc. has been pushing the motto’s display in more than 650 municipalities nationwide, and courts generally have upheld its use.

“Schools, of course, are different and more sensitive,” Ledewitz said, “but I don’t think that a challenge would be successful if the motto was simply displayed more or less independently” or beside historical context, as opposed to alongside religious icons or the likes of the Ten Commandments.

The push for the national motto occurs as more Americans are shying from organized religion.

Still, the overwhelming majority believes in God, even those who don’t attend or belong to a particular religion, the latest Pew Research Center polling shows.

“Nobody is telling them that they have to worship God by putting those words in our buildings,” said the Rev. Todd Wentworth, music pastor at First Baptist Church in Butler.

More than 80 percent of millennials say they believe in God, compared to 92 percent of those in the Silent and Baby Boom generations.

“Religion is divisive,” Cavell said. “It’s something that makes insiders of the majority-students — the god-believers who understand themselves to be included in the ‘we’ of ‘In God We Trust’ — and that’s not all students by any stretch.”

Peter Holley, Britain issues warning for LGBT travelers visiting North Carolina and Mississippi, The Washington Post

The British Foreign Office has released an advisory warning travelers to be aware of controversial new laws in North Carolina and Mississippi before visiting the United States.

The travel advisory update — directed to members of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — was posted on the Foreign Office’s website Tuesday.

“The U.S. is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards LGBT people differ hugely across the country,” the advisory says. “LGBT travelers may be affected by legislation passed recently in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi. Before traveling please read our general travel advice for the LGBT community.”

In North Carolina, HB 2 — the controversial law passed last month — limits LGBT protections and forces transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding only with the gender on their birth certificate. Mississippi’s law, passed earlier this month, allows businesses to refuse services to gay couples based on religious objections.

The new legislation has led to boycotts and backlash in the business community. Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Pearl Jam, among others, have canceled appearances in North Carolina as a show of opposition to the new law, and PayPal said it is abandoning plans to expand into Charlotte in response to the legislation.

Some cities and states — including San Francisco, the District of Columbia and the state of New York — have also banned non-essential government travel to North Carolina.

A transgender woman gathers likeminded North Carolinians in Charlotte to protest the state’s controversial new law that restricts transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponds with their chosen gender. (Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post)

The British government advisory doesn’t include a political message, but it does refer prospective travelers looking for more information about LGBT issues in the United States to the website of the Human Rights Campaign, a group that has voiced strong opposition to North Carolina’s new legislation.

Among the advice for LGBT Brits traveling abroad: “Exercise discretion” in rural areas and avoid “excessive physical shows of affection” in public.

“Some hotels,” the government also warns, “especially in rural areas, won’t accept bookings from same sex couples – check before you go.”

Corporate sustainability is increasingly focused on long-term investments where people live and work.

The Foreign Office includes a link to a world map produced by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association that highlights countries with legislation targeting LGBT people.


Full article with links here:

Caitlin Cruz, Charles Barkley: NBA Should Pull All-Star Game From NC After Anti-LGBT Bill (VIDEO), Talking Points Memo

“I think the NBA should move the All-Star game from there next year. As a black person, I’m against any form of discrimination—against whites, Hispanics, gays, lesbians, however you want to phrase it. It’s my job, with the position of power that I’m in and being able to be on television, I’m supposed to stand up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves,” Barkley said in an interview surfaced by Deadspin. “So, I think the NBA should move the All-Star game from Charlotte.”

Barkley said Atlanta has expressed interest in hosting the game.

This isn’t the first time Barkley said sporting events should move from states which pass discriminatory legislation. In March 2015, the two-time Olympic gold medalist said the National Collegiate Athletic Association should pull the March Madness Final Four tournament from Indiana after Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a “religious freedom” bill into law.

Watch the full interview at

SARAH WOLSTONCROFT,Local marijuana dispensaries are using a loophole that gives them protection under religious freedom laws, Daily Titan

In a new legal strategy, marijuana dispensaries are transitioning into Oklevueha Native American Churches (ONAC) as places of healing and spiritual growth.

High Tide dispensary in Huntington Beach was the first clinic to make the step, transitioning into the Tree of Life Church in late February. Green Tree Remedy of Stanton followed suit by becoming Arbor Verde Church last month.

Dispensaries in Lomita and Costa Mesa are currently in the process of making the transition, said Patrick McNeal, an attorney assisting Matthew Pappas, the general counsel for ONAC.

For those skeptical about the new churches, McNeal assured they are places that will offer physical and spiritual healing and not just be a marijuana dispensary under a different title.

“It is a real church. It’s not just a dispensary with a banner,” McNeal said. “We have a dispensary that’s converted, but we also have ancillary locations that are providing services.”

Some of the services include spirit centers where church members can meet with trained therapists and counselors, and healing centers where “bio-power” professionals can administer alternative medicine options.

The centers are operated by a trained staff, McNeal said. However, the church is currently working off of a referral basis until the new churches can promote more interest in member attendance for the centers.

Eighty-four acres of land were also donated outside of Oroville, a city approximately 65 miles north of Sacramento, to serve as a retreat center where leaders from the church can administer peyote and other psychotropic herbs to members in a controlled setting. The retreat center is set to open this summer.

But the choice to allow cannabis and other herbs besides peyote isn’t sitting well with everyone. The National Council of Native American Churches negated the legitimacy of ONAC in a letter it released in February.

The letter chastised churches like ONAC for cultural appropriation and took the stand that non-Native Americans were using the federal protections of tribes to further their personal and economic gains. The council was also upset that cannabis was being used at all and said that the traditional sacrament is solely peyote.

“We know who we are, and we know where we come from,” the letter said. “We know the atrocities visited upon us. We reject the attempts to grasp onto our indigenous ways and deceive the public by claiming them as their own for their own personal enjoyment or for profit.”

The council doesn’t agree with the “eclectic” nature of ONAC, McNeal said.

“The church accepts people from all kinds of walks of life and belief systems,” he said. “You’re not going to see a sermon there because the people that come are going to be of diverse beliefs. What you will see is the promotion of the core values.”

ONAC’s core values, displayed in the waiting room of Arbor Verde Church, include love, truth, humility, wisdom, honesty, courage and respect. The official ONAC website also places an emphasis on connecting to nature.

Official membership from the ONAC website is $200 if unaffiliated with a federally recognized tribe, but membership costs under individual churches will differ and depend on the discretion of each church, McNeal said.

While gaining official membership provides the ability to carry sacraments like cannabis outside of the church, regulation will still depend on individual police officers who may not be trained to recognize the legitimacy of the church membership card as being equivalent to a 420-compliant card, McNeal said.

While the Los Angeles Times reported a February police raid of the transitioning Costa Mesa location, no raids have taken place at the established Huntington Beach and Stanton locations yet.

The ONAC legal team expects to see reactions from Orange County police forces, even with dispensaries that have successfully made the full transition to churches, McNeal said. However, McNeal is unwilling to give up his belief in the importance of the church.

“For some, it will be a stalling tactic until legalization, for some a protection, and others will stay committed,” McNeal said. “I can speak for the churches I’m involved with; they’re going to stick with it and stay active in promoting it.”

Full article with links

Linda Greenhouse, A Supreme Court Hijacking, The New York Times

There was lots of talk about hijacking the other day at the Supreme Court — not in a criminal case, but in the argument on how far the government must go to shield nonprofit religious organizations from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to include birth control in employer health care plans.

If the government has its way, it will “hijack our health plans and provide the coverage against our will,” Paul D. Clement, arguing for one group of religious nonprofits, warned the eight justices. His co-counsel, Noel Francisco, representing a second group of religious plaintiffs, added: “They’re seizing control of our plans, the plans that we are required to provide under threat of penalty.”

Sympathetic justices were quick to pile on. “The petitioner has used the phrase ‘hijacking,’ and it seems to me that that’s an accurate description of what the government wants to do,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. lectured Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.

The solicitor general had the facts on his side on how the opt-out that the Obama administration is offering would actually work: Religious nonprofits could completely divorce themselves from covering birth control after notifying the government of their religion-based objection. But the conservative justices never stopped their rhetorical assault long enough to listen. When Mr. Verrilli tried to explain why it’s necessary to include contraception coverage in employer health plans, rather than in a nonexistent, stand-alone birth-control policy that women would have to shop for separately, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy interrupted him with “that’s why it’s necessary to hijack the plans!”

Remember back four years ago to the first Affordable Care Act case, when “broccoli” dominated right-wing talk radio — as in “if the government can force you to buy health insurance, it can force you to eat broccoli” — and was adopted by the conservative justices? Hijacking, evidently, is this year’s broccoli.

There is in fact no hijacking going on — not of anyone’s insurance plan, anyway. As the government’s brief and Mr. Verrilli’s argument made perfectly clear, once the organization notifies the government of its religious objection to covering birth control, the coverage obligation passes to the organization’s insurance company without any cost to or further involvement by the employer. “Employers are not to bear any financial burden for the contraceptive coverage,” the solicitor general told the court.

But the religious nonprofits nonetheless insist that even the requirement to notify the government makes them complicit in making birth control available to their employees. What these organizations — colleges, charities and nursing homes that employ and serve people of all faiths — want is the complete exemption that the government has made available to actual churches.

“Is there any accommodation that would be acceptable?” Justice Elena Kagan asked Mr. Francisco. “Is there any kind of notification that would be acceptable” if the result was that female employees would get contraception coverage “seamlessly through an employer-based plan?”

The lawyer’s answer, taking up several pages of the argument transcript, was far from direct, but his bottom line was no. He offered one exception: “If there was an uber-insurance policy where Aetna was the company that the government picked to provide contraceptive coverage to all women in this country, and we happened to use Aetna, I think we’d probably be fine.” (To be clear, he was offering Aetna as an example of an independent player in the insurance market, not suggesting that it was the only acceptable one.)

I’ll give Mr. Francisco credit for one thing: He actually used the word “women” in open court. He and Mr. Clement otherwise appeared determined to avoid acknowledging that the case had anything to do with women other than nuns — namely, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Mr. Clement’s client, a religious order that runs a nationwide network of nursing homes and that advertises itself as an equal-opportunity employer. (Mr. Clement resorted to a creative euphemism for a female employee who might avail herself of insurance-provided birth control: “the end-user.” )

It took Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the only woman among the five Catholics on the court and the only one among them who doesn’t regularly attend Mass, to bring this case down to earth, slyly suggesting that the plaintiffs didn’t trust their female employees to refrain from using birth control. “Why don’t we assume that if the majority are part of the religion, that they are not going to buy contraceptives?” she asked Mr. Francisco. “That’s their religious tenet. And so, why are we worried about this case at all?” And she answered her own question: “We are worried because there are some women who don’t adhere to that particular religious tenet, and who have — we perceive the government has determined — a real need for contraceptives.”

At its core, this case, Zubik v. Burwell, is a case about religion’s role in civil society. The plaintiffs are betting on an expansive interpretation of a federal statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. And here’s where hijacking comes in. What’s being hijacked is not the religious objectors’ insurance plans, but the Religious Freedom Restoration Act itself.

This 1993 law, well-intentioned but ill-conceived, provides that a law or government policy that places a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion can be justified only if it serves a “compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

Both the “compelling interest” and “least restrictive means” tests are very high standards for the government to meet. But as long as the challenged policy doesn’t impose a substantial burden, the case never gets to those tests. So the threshold question in the Zubik case is whether the religious nonprofits are substantially burdened by the requirement that they inform the government of their objection to covering contraception. Their claim is that as a matter of religious doctrine, informing the government is the first link in a chain of events that makes them complicit in the sin of contraception.

“Do you question their belief that they’re complicit in the moral wrong?” Justice Kennedy asked Mr. Verrilli.

“No, we do not,” the solicitor general replied.

“Well, then it seems to me that that’s a substantial burden,” Justice Kennedy said.

Really? Any belief counts, as long as it’s sincere? Any belief, no matter the consequences to third parties who don’t share the belief? Given judges’ extreme diffidence about questioning the basis for any religious belief, that’s a not-implausible reading of a statute that only the much-missed Justice John Paul Stevens had the nerve to call unconstitutional. In aconcurring opinion 19 years ago, Justice Stevens said that because the Religious Freedom Restoration Act gave churches “a legal weapon that no atheist or agnostic can obtain,” the law amounted to an unconstitutional establishment of religion. “This governmental preference for religion, as opposed to irreligion,” he wrote then, “is forbidden by the First Amendment.”

That case, City of Boerne v. Flores, involved a zoning dispute: whether the law overrode a local zoning ordinance, entitling a church to build in a location that was otherwise closed to new construction. For all his skepticism, even Justice Stevens probably wouldn’t have imagined that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would be invoked to excuse a religious organization from the mere obligation to tell the government that, for religious reasons, it couldn’t comply with an otherwise applicable legal requirement. The law, signed by President Bill Clinton, passed both houses of Congress overwhelmingly in a rare show of feel-good bipartisan comity. I’d like to think its reception wouldn’t have been so positive had people imagined how potent a weapon it would become in the hands of a politically empowered religious right.

Even so, this case is far from over. Many people came away from the argument last week assuming that the result would be a 4-to-4 tie; with that outcome, the decisions of the four federal appeals courts under review, all of which ruled in the government’s favor, would be affirmed without binding other courts. Given the tenor of the argument, that was a fair prediction.

But it was evident this week that something else was going on behind the scenes at the court. The court on Tuesday issued an unusual order requesting further briefs by both sides on whether the government’s accommodation for the religious nonprofits might be reformulated. Under the hypothetical plan explained at length in the two-page order, the religious nonprofits would have no obligation to inform anyone of their decision to provide health insurance that omitted contraception coverage. Their insurance companies would be left to decipher the situation and to then meet their own obligation to provide the coverage directly.

The order bore no one’s name but, in my view, Justice Kennedy’s hand. It wouldn’t be surprising if he is struggling to devise a compromise that would avoid a tie vote of the sort that resolved a vitally important labor case this week. There were hints during the argument that Justice Kennedy was not fully on board with his conservative colleagues. Both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. seemed to assume, against all evidence, that a new form of contraception-only insurance could magically come into existence and could adequately meet the needs of the women who work for the objecting employers.

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Justice Kennedy toyed with that idea, too. “Why can’t they just get it through another plan?” he asked Mr. Verrilli. But perhaps he was persuaded by the government lawyer’s answer that such a plan, even if one could be devised, would be nothing more than a second-class arrangement that would leave women having to find not only separate insurance but also separate doctors for their contraceptive care.

“The whole point of this provision is that you get this care from your regular doctor as part of your regular health care without any barriers,” the solicitor general said.

In any event, Justice Kennedy made clear several times during the argument that his real concern was whether the opt-out-with-notice system the administration was offering was the “least restrictive means” of achieving the government’s purpose. Would opt-out-without-notice serve just as well? If women would still get their coverage, probably it would. Will the religious interests resist taking “yes” for an answer, as they have from the beginning of this litigation?


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