For many readers, that’s the first they will have heard of the First Amendment Defense Act, a relatively new bill sponsored in the House and Senate respectively by Rep. Raul Labrador (R‐Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R‐Utah). FADA has quickly emerged as a key legislative goal of social conservative groups who have rolled up endorsements on its behalf from such GOP lawmakers as Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and, notably, the Republican National Committee last month.
The bill purports to address “conflicts between same‐sex marriage and religious liberty” and declares the importance of “preventing government interference” with “the free exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions about marriage.”
Before going further, let me note that many across the political spectrum agree that this area raises some genuine First Amendment concerns that might merit legislators’ attention. For example, in its 1983 Bob Jones decision the Supreme Court declared it proper to strip a racially discriminatory institution of an otherwise applicable tax exemption. Were the logic of that case someday to be pushed into other areas of discrimination, it might endanger tax exemptions of, e.g., institutions associated with churches that refuse to ordain women. (A few law professors and journalists seem to like this idea; I’m myself horrified by it.) Mayors and other local government figures have lately threatened to wield official powers to keep businesses such as Chick‐fil‐A out of town because of their perceived politics, an affront to those businesses’ rights that would probably lose a First Amendment challenge should it get to court.
But is FADA drafted carefully to address problems like these without creating new problems of its own? Its key clause reads as follows: