SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee again introduced a bill Wednesday that he says would safeguard people and institutions that promote traditional marriage from government retaliation.
The Utah Republican, along with Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said the First Amendment Defense Act would clarify and strengthen religious freedom protections in federal law.
Specifically, it would prevent federal agencies from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license or certification to a person, association or business based on their belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.
For example, the bill would prohibit the IRS from stripping a church of its tax exemption for refusing to officiate same-sex weddings.
"The freedom to live and to act in accordance with the dictates of one’s conscience and religious convictions is integral to human flourishing, serving as the foundation upon which America has produced the most diverse, tolerant and stable society the world has ever known," Lee said in a statement.
Several Christian college leaders joined Lee at a news conference earlier this month when he announced his plan to file the bill. He introduced similar legislation in 2013, but it did not advance.
Lee said most Americans today support religious liberty, yet state and local governments intimidate and penalize people, businesses and associations who believe in traditional marriage.
The bill has 57 House co-sponsors and 18 Senate co-sponsors, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and GOP presidential hopefuls Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas; Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; and Marco Rubio, of Florida.
Labrador said no one should have to doubt the religious freedom protections in the First Amendment. He said the legislation ensures the federal government does not penalize people for following their religious beliefs or moral convictions on traditional marriage.
"Our bill shields against federal intrusion without taking anything away from anyone," he said. "In a shifting landscape, it’s time that Congress proactively defend this sacred right."
Equality Utah issued a statement after Lee announced the legislation earlier this month saying no church should be required to perform marriage ceremonies for people who are not part of their congregation.
But the nonprofit organization's executive director, Troy Williams, said Lee’s bill goes too far.
"Much like Indiana’s recent unpopular efforts, Sen. Lee’s legislation would allow faith to be used as a defense against any claim of discrimination," he said.
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