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Congress Looks to Red-light District’s Intolerance

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The U.S. Constitution is a six-block walk from the D.C. City Council — but it’s light years away from the District’s policy making. For years, members of the D.C. government have pretended that the First Amendment in their neighborhood doesn’t apply to their lawmaking, especially when it comes to social issues. The latest example is the city’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA), which it raced through in January against the warnings of its own legal team. Under the bill, it would be a crime for groups to not only refuse to pay for abortion coverage –but to refuse to hire a pro-abortion activist. Of course, everyone is familiar with the first part of the measure, thanks to the ObamaCare mandate. But ordering groups like FRC to set aside its beliefs and hire members of the opposition? That’s as unconstitutional as it gets!

Imagine if Congress passed a law demanding that Muslim organizations hire Jews? Or that an atheist group put Christians on the payroll? It’s the same concept here — but the D.C. Council has somehow bypassed the controversy in the name of “tolerance.” Or so it thought. Thanks to the Republican House, Congress is planning to remind D.C. that it has legislative power over the Council. As part of its oversight powers, the House and Senate have 30 legislative days to review the District’s laws and strike them down, if necessary. Both Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) have resolutions designed to do exactly that. For Congress, it would be a rare muscle-flexing over the District. According to records, it’s been 23 years since a disapproval measure has actually been taken up by both chambers.

Right now, conservatives’ biggest enemy is time. With the review period set to end on May 2, the clock is ticking on a potential counter-punch. Then, of course, there’s the matter of the White House’s approval. Even if the House and Senate overrule D.C., it still needs the President’s signature. Not to worry, says the Republican Study Committee. There are plenty of ways to make RHNDA toothless without the White House’s help. “Should the President fail to sign a resolution of disapproval… the committee should ensure that any Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations measure contains language that would prohibit funds to implement or carry out any rule or regulation associated with the [bills].” One strategy would be to load up the resolutions with policy riders that handcuff how the District’s “reproductive health” monies can be spent. Republicans in the House will consider all of their options when they mark up the resolution tonight.

In her press conference yesterday, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said that the debate “needlessly pits reproductive freedom against freedom from discrimination.” We agree. Religious groups should be free from the same “discrimination” this bill unleashes on men and women of faith. Her measure is a slap in the face of the First Amendment, religious freedom, and employers’ rights.

Disagreement isn’t discrimination, as David Wuerl and John Garvey point out. H.J. Res. 43 agrees with D.C.’s own Attorney General — and hundreds of years of constitutional law — that forcing people to surrender their deeply-held beliefs is “legally insufficient.” We applaud the conservatives in the House and Senate for going to bat for Americans’ freedom to live and work according to their faith.



 

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