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Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2017

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. PALMER. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I would like, first of all, to thank the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Crenshaw) for his work on this bill.

My amendment would prohibit funds from being used to implement the District of Columbia's Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014, or RHNDA.

The Declaration of Independence declares that: ``We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.''

These founding principles remain true today. The reason life was included by our Founders as the first principle is because without life there is no liberty; it is a prerequisite for liberty. Without life, there is no pursuit of happiness. In fact, it is self-evident, without life, there isn't even a discussion about any rights.

Liberty encompasses social and political freedoms, and the tenets associated with liberty were those used in drafting the First Amendment to the Constitution. With life and liberty, you can pursue happiness. Take away either and the pursuit becomes difficult or impossible.

My amendment protects all three, but I will focus my comments on liberty as it relates to the free exercise of religion clause in the First Amendment.

The First Amendment states in part that: ``Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.'' Without my amendment, some employers in the District of Columbia would not only be prohibited from exercising their religion, but would be forced to embrace the beliefs of the 13 members of the D.C. Council.

The District of Columbia allows abortions until the moment of birth, but a number of employers in the District of Columbia believe in the sanctity of life and protecting it. In fact, many organizations in D.C.--such as March for Life, Americans United for Life, and the National Right to Life Committee--exist solely to protect life. The Constitution provides them the right to exercise those beliefs, just like it does those who oppose it.

That is why when the District of Columbia passed the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014, former Mayor Vincent Gray expressed concerns about the law. In December 2014, Gray wrote a letter to the D.C. Council about RHNDA, describing it as ``legally problematic'' and saying: ``. . . the bill raises serious concerns under the Constitution and under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Religious organizations, religiously affiliated organizations, religiously driven for-profit entities, and political organizations may have strong First Amendment and RFRA grounds for challenging the law's applicability to them.''

Employers who oppose abortions and paying for them as part of a compensation package have every right to exercise their freedom not to do so, and those who want to receive abortions or have them paid for have every right to seek employment from someone willing to do so. That is how freedom works. It does not work with one group imposing its version of freedom on the other, which is what this District law currently provides for.

In its 2012 opinion in the case of Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the right of religious organizations to hire employees that support the mission of the organization where their employees are responsible for carrying out its mission. The opinion says: ``The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statuses is undoubtedly important. But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission.''

Would you require PETA to hire someone that comes to an interview in a fur coat? Would you require Planned Parenthood to hire a nun or anyone adamantly opposed to abortion? Neither of these situations makes sense, nor does requiring a pro-life organization to hire someone who explicitly contradicts their moral conscience or religious beliefs. The Supreme Court agrees.

My amendment would restore religious freedom to employers inside the District of Columbia. Those who want to have abortions do not have to work for employers who oppose them. They have life and the liberty to pursue their own interests with another employer.

Mr. Chairman, I urge Members to vote ``yes'' on this amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. PALMER. Mr. Chairman, obviously, Article I, section 8, clause 17 of the Constitution states that Congress shall have power ``to exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District.''

Moving aside the jurisdictional issue, I take exception to my colleague's point that it is acceptable to infringe on the religious liberties of certain people, those who actually believe in protecting life. If those who don't believe in protecting life want to find employment, let them find employment at like-minded organizations.

The D.C. government should not be able to compel pro-life organizations to hire pro-abortion employees. That is exactly what the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was in place to protect, as Mayor Gray pointed out in his letter to the D.C. Council. I can't say that I always agree with the Mayor, but his serious concerns were, and remain to be, completely valid.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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