By Sarah Geist
Editor’s Note: Sarah Geist, a 2021 high school graduate from San Diego who will attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts this fall, supports the Do No Harm Act because it promotes the values of her Christian faith. Sarah’s essay placed second in AU’s 2021 Student Essay Contest, winning a $1,000 prize. You can learn more about the contest and the other finalists here.
I am a Christian, and I support the Do No Harm Act. My fellow Christians, particularly those on the Religious Right, have tried to frame this bill as being anti-religion. This is simply untrue.
Unlike the opposition to the Do No Harm Act, its supporters are an extremely diverse coalition of religious and atheist groups, civil rights organizations and health organizations. Several of these groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, supported the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 because they saw that it would prevent harm to vulnerable people: members of minority religions that did not have the institutional power that Christianity had.
In 2014, in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, the Supreme Court decided that closely held for-profit corporations can be exempt from government regulations if said regulations conflict with their religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby had refused to provide birth control coverage to its employees, and was allowed to continue doing so despite the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. That is to say, being associated with a powerful majority religion, which in this case is Christianity, allowed Hobby Lobby to be above the law. It could use the cover of religious freedom to impede its employees’ right to health care. This decision, and the Trump administration’s advocacy for similar policies and decisions, played a significant role in the shift in support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Our democracy is based on the principle that no one is above the law, and no one has the right to interfere with another person’s freedom. These principles are closely linked with the separation of church and state: No religion, no matter how powerful, has the right to cause harm; no religion is above the law. The Christian Right does not acknowledge the need for a separation of church and state, even denying its existence. They instead only see religious freedom as a cover to force their beliefs – my beliefs – onto vulnerable and marginalized people. It is clear that this is un-American: As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Treaty of Tripoli, “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
Tragically, the abuse of religious freedom goes beyond defying the statements of our Founding Fathers. In my experience, it has also caused great harm to the Christian faith. As Christians misuse the sacred right to the freedom of religion, several acquaintances of mine, who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, come to associate my faith with hate, discrimination and injustice. They choose not to be associated with a religion that they see as an evil religion. No greater harm can be done to the Christian church than to be hated for the actions of its own members, and yet this is an acceptable price to opponents of the Do No Harm Act.
This does not come as a surprise: My fellow Christians have cited religious freedom as a defense of their discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. The most well-known cases of this are the Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the actions of the county clerk Kim Davis. In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the business had cited its belief in Christianity to defend not baking a wedding cake for a gay couple, whereas Davis refused to issue marriage licenses for gay couples based on her faith.
These examples illustrate the belief that Christians in particular are prohibited from any form of participation in same-sex marriage, a prohibition that even extends to baking a wedding cake or providing a marriage license for gay couples. These Christians, as the argument goes, are directly harmed by being forced to disobey the precepts of their religion to avoid offending the LGBTQ+ community.
This argument has two significant flaws. The first is that the harm that is done to the LGBTQ+ community by being refused service and by facing discrimination at the hands of religion is much greater than the harm to these Christians, a discrepancy that is exemplified most tragically by the high suicide rate among the LGBTQ+ community. Secondly, Christianity does not prohibit its followers from playing a role in same-sex marriage. We as Christians are in fact commanded to love our neighbors as well as our enemies, unconditionally and without judgement. This commandment is disobeyed by those who use their faith to excuse discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
The Do No Harm Act is also accused of interfering with the separation of church and state, despite being intended to defend this principle. It will supposedly enable government interference in religious practices that are defended by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which opponents of the bill argue will drive religion out of the public sphere. This is, again, an inaccurate and misleading characterization. The Do No Harm Act does not prohibit public expressions of religion or religious practices that do not harm other people. The action taken in the Do No Harm Act is limited to preventing freedom of religion from being misused to cause harm, and as such will not interfere with religious beliefs or their public expression.
I support the Do No Harm Act as an American and as a human being because it will minimize the harm to the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society; I support it as a Christian because it will promote the true values and principles of my faith – to love unconditionally and protect those around us from harm. To act on these American and Christian values, it is imperative to fight for the passage of the Do No Harm Act: Contact your representatives in Congress and make your support for the bill clear. Encourage your friends, colleagues and neighbors to do likewise. The time has come to fight for equal rights. As President Joe Biden, another Christian, would say: We must restore the soul of America.