Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 7, 2015

Democrats’ Hobby Lobby Response Would Curtail Religious Freedom Law (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If Sen. Patty Murray and fellow Democrats get their way, employers wouldn’t be able to use a 1990s-era law to avoid Obamacare health coverage mandates for contraception.

That’s the crux of the proposal expected to be introduced by the Washington Democrat that would upend the recent split Supreme Court opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

It’s a bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is eager to bring to the floor for an almost certainly ill-fated test vote.

“The one thing we are going to do during this work period, sooner rather than later, is to ensure that women’s lives are not determine by virtue of five white men,” Reid told reporters. “This Hobby Lobby decision is outrageous and we are going to do something about it. People are going to have to walk down here and vote. And if they vote with the five men on the Supreme Court I think they are going to be treated unfavorably come November.”

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., is expected to introduce the House companion to Murray’s bill.

The bicameral Democratic plan to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case would effectively narrow the current legal interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In doing so, the measure would prevent employers like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties from claiming religious exemptions to Obamacare mandates pursuant to other federal laws, like the 1993 religious freedom law. That includes the refusal to cover certain contraceptive services that company owners say violate their faith.

The legislation would maintain far more narrow religious exemptions for churches and not-for-profit faith-based groups than the one determined to exist by the Supreme Court in the 5-4 decision on June 30 that applied the religious freedom law to closely held corporations.

In the Court opinion, Justice Samuel Alito noted that the justices never needed to make a First Amendment determination because of the existence of the 1993 law.

Many Democrats and their outside supporters are eager for a renewed fight on the contraception issue approaching the 2014 midterm elections, including EMILY’s List

“Senator Murray and all of the EMILY’s List Democratic women are showing exactly why we need more women’s voices at the table. From pushing to end the gender pay gap to protecting women’s access to health care, Democratic women are leading the way for women and families today and every day,” EMILY’s List spokeswoman Marcy Stech said in a statement.

Melissa Attias and Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

Comments (94)

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  1. mabramso

    July 8, 2014
    11:24 p.m.

    I wonder if the GOP will filibuster this one.

    • jovan1984

      July 9, 2014
      10:07 a.m.

      You know they will. They have filibustered nearly 500 OTHER things in President Obama’s six years, more than any of Obama’s surviving predecessors combined!

      • Ravi32

        July 9, 2014
        12:55 p.m.

        And? the president has tried to ram though an amazing number of bills. Good they are being blocked. That he doesn’t understand why he was made a lame duck 4 years ago is his problem

        • jovan1984

          July 9, 2014
          1:21 p.m.

          That the GOP does not understand why their approval rating is in the teens is THEIR problem, so they can stop blaming MSNBC. MSNBC is the station holding the GOP accountable for their unprecedented gridlock and obstruction, none of which is justifiable or defensible.

          • mabramso

            July 9, 2014
            2:08 p.m.

            The polls you cite are totally meaningless. Democrats who are polled disapprove because they hate Republicans. Republicans who are polled disapprove because they want results and are frustrated that they cannot achieve them because of a Democrat Senate and President — and many are frustrated by GOP leadership. The GOP still controls the House and no doubt will after the November elections because all that really matters is what THEIR constituents think of the job that they are doing.

            And gridlock and obstruction is certainly justifiable and defensible — that is EXACTLY why GOP House members were elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2012. But unlike Clinton in the 1990s, the Dems continue to push through partisan bills that can’t even gain the support of the two liberal GOP Senators from Maine.

      • ShadrachSmith

        July 10, 2014
        3:44 p.m.

        The Republicans would love to see a Senate vote on restricting 1st Amendment religious freedom before November.

        Red State Democrat incumbents up for re-election may not be so keen on having that vote. If Reid is stupid enough to bring it to the floor, it could well be the straw that broke his senate majority.

        Do you still hope he brings it to a vote :-)

  2. Darrell

    July 9, 2014
    12:13 p.m.

    If a topic has anything to do with winning or keeping a Democratic majority in the Senate regardless whether it is good or bad legislation…..Ol’e Harry is 100% for getting it to the floor of the Senate. He could care less about the Supreme Courts decisions, what the people want, what is good for the USA……Ol’e Harry needs to be retired from gov’t…..wonder if Nevadians are smart enough to see this man’s follies???????? They haven’t yet….but?????

    • jovan1984

      July 9, 2014
      1:20 p.m.

      The Supreme Court has been legislating from the bench for seven YEARS now. Way past high time for someone to send the message that this will no longer be tolerated! This is the rare instance of Reid putting America first!

  3. Marrkedman

    July 9, 2014
    1:49 p.m.

    It is getting near time for civil war or revolution.

  4. ShadrachSmith

    July 10, 2014
    3:23 p.m.

    The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was introduced by Schumer, passed by a congress controlled by the Democrat party in both houses, and signed by President Clinton. It was passed because some Native American lost some sort of government benefits because he used pyote religiously. This could not stand, to restore the benefits Schumer, in his alternate identity as Fidei defensor, drafted and introduced a bill with the above stated findings and purposes. The Native American got his benefits and back pay.


    (a) Findings
    The Congress finds that—
    (1) the framers of the Constitution, recognizing free exercise of religion as an unalienable right, secured its protection in the First Amendment to the Constitution;
    (2) laws “neutral” toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise;
    (3) governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification;
    (4) in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) the Supreme Court virtually eliminated the requirement that the government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws neutral toward religion; and
    (5) the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.

    (b) Purposes
    The purposes of this chapter are—
    (1) to restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened; and
    (2) to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.


    But Schumer’s now apparent intent was to defend the right to use while on the dole, not to defend religious expression.

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    As part of his personal jihad against our sacred Constitution, Obama has dictated that law enforcement training not take Islam-ist jihad seriously.

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