SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, reacted this week to reports that President Obama is planning to veto the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 if its final version includes a religious freedom amendment.
Hatch released the following statement:
“I’m deeply troubled by reports that President Obama is threatening to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) because he opposes a provision protecting the religious liberty of federal contractors.
These protections have been the law of the land for decades and ensure that religiously affiliated organizations are not forced to surrender their religious identity when they enter into agreements with the federal government.
Just because a Catholic charity, for example, decides to do work for the federal government should not mean the charity must begin hiring individuals who do not share the charity’s religious mission.
It is deeply disturbing that President Obama would threaten a veto over what had, until now, been settled law on religious liberty.”
Hatch is the senior member and former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and author of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
According to a report in the Miami Herald, Democratic opponents want a House-Senate conference committee to strip a religious liberties amendment from the final version of the bill, saying the amendment would allow federal defense contractors to discriminate against gays and lesbians by not doing business with them.
Hatch said the provision at issue, called the “Russell Amendment” after Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., affirms that existing religious liberty exemptions in federal law – namely, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act – apply to federal contractors and grant recipients.
The provision is intended to clarify ambiguity that arose when President Obama added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics that federal contractors may not take into account when making employment decisions.
Specifically, the provision would make clear that religiously affiliated organizations that enter into agreements with the federal government may continue to give preference in hiring and employment decisions to individuals who follow the organization’s religious beliefs.
The provision is limited in scope. Hatch states:
Contrary to claims of opponents, it does not authorize discrimination in the delivery of services or allow any contractor who so wishes to make hiring decisions on the basis of religious beliefs.
Rather, it affects only employment practices such as recruitment or hiring and is limited to religiously affiliated corporations, associations, educational institutions, and societies, in conformance with current federal law.