Senator Mike Lee: Protecting the First Amendment
Yesterday I testified in a hearing with the House Oversight Committee in
defense of the First Amendment Defense Act. The First Amendment Defense Act
prohibits the government from discriminating against covered individuals or
institutions that define marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
The most important feature of the First Amendment Defense Act is its
exceptionally narrow scope. If enacted, the bill would do one thing and one
thing only: it would prevent the federal government from discriminating
against particular disfavored religious beliefs.
There are other forms of discrimination in the world – for instance, the
discrimination that may occur between two private parties. But these are
entirely different issues, unrelated to the First Amendment Defense Act.
This bill deals exclusively with a most pernicious form of discrimination
in which the federal government singles out certain religious beliefs for
disfavored treatment. The bill is so narrowly focused because it is a
targeted response to particular legal developments that have taken place in
the past year.
In the wake of last year’s decision by the Supreme Court in the same-sex
marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges, many millions of Americans were left
wondering: What does this mean for me?
Many wondered what the Court’s decision would mean for the countless
institutions within our civil society – churches and synagogues, charities
and adoption agencies, counseling services and religiously affiliated
schools – that are made up of American citizens who believe marriage is the
union of one man and one woman. For instance, now that the Supreme Court
had discovered a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, would a school
that holds the belief that marriage is the union between one man and one
woman be in danger of losing its tax-exempt status?
More than one year after the Obergefell decision, these questions remain
On the one hand, the Court’s majority opinion in the Obergefell case
reiterated the meaning of religious liberty that has always been understood
in America when it stated, “The First Amendment ensures that religious
organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach
the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and
But on the other hand, there was the ominous exchange between Supreme Court
Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli during oral
arguments in the case that seemed to suggest that the Obama administration
would be comfortable with the notion that the IRS could revoke the
tax-exempt status of religious institutions – including schools – that
maintain the traditional definition of marriage.
The First Amendment Defense Act is a very narrow and targeted legislative
response to these still unanswered questions.
As I have worked through the process of drafting this legislation, many
misconceptions and questions have arisen. I address these misconceptions
*Washington, D.C. Office*
361A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C., 20510
Fax: 202.228.1168 *Salt Lake City*
Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building
125 South State
Salt Lake City, UT 84138
Fax: 801.524.5730 *St. George*
Office of Senator Michael S. Lee
285 West Tabernacle
St. George, UT 84770
Phone: 435.628.5514 *Ogden*
James V. Hansen Federal Building
324 25th Street
Ogden, Utah 84401
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