Congress Rejected Russell: Let’s Celebrate, But There Are More Fights Ahead

Today, the Senate voted to adopt a final negotiated version of the National Defense Authorization Act. The House approved the same bill last week. Notably, the bill does not include the Russell Amendment, a sweeping provision that would have sanctioned taxpayer-funded employment discrimination. This is a clear win for fairness, equality and the freedom of religion and belief.

It is surprising that the Members of Congress negotiating the defense bill waited until the eleventh hour to strike this provision considering it was so extreme. The amendment was fully inconsistent with the longstanding principle that federal dollars must not be used to discriminate.

Americans United and our partners, including nearly 100 national religious, education, civil rights, labor, and women’s organizations, along with nearly 350,000 people from across the country, urged members of Congress to reject taxpayer-funded discrimination. And together, we made a difference.

We sounded the alarm that the Russell Amendment would have jeopardized critical workplace protections for anyone employed by a religiously affiliated organization that receives federal funds. Under Russell, employees and job seekers could have been disqualified from taxpayer-funded jobs because they were the “wrong” religion or they didn’t follow the same religious tenets as their employer. And workers who are of minority faiths, of no faith, women and LGBTQ would have faced the worst consequences. 

We did it! 

We should pause to appreciate today’s victory. It’s important, and it shows that Congress heard our voices. But we need to reengage in this fight because we know it is far from over.

In the coming months and years, we are likely to face similarly alarming policy proposals that seek to sanction discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. President-elect Trump and the new Republican Congress have already signaled their support for similar policies that use religion as an excuse to discriminate.

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value that guarantees us the right to believe—or not—as we see fit, but it cannot be used to justify harming or discriminating against others. We’re ready to fight for religious freedom—and know you are too.

Join us so we can defend religious freedom together—you can sign up to receive updates on our fight here