I spoke with Rep. Hoyer for CNSNews.
(CNSNews.com) – House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) stated that “freedom of religion is a constitutional guarantee,” but said he would not vote to overturn a D.C. law forcing Christian organizations to employ people who advocate abortion.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently co-signed a letter to members of Congress asking them to disapprove a D.C. law, titled the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act of 2014, they say is a violation of employers' First Amendment rights.
When asked by CNSNews.com at his Tuesday press briefing about the USCCB's request that the law be disapproved, Hoyer said he would have to look into it.
Then, later in the day, a Hoyer aide told CNSNews.com in an email that the Maryland Democrat would vote to uphold the District law: “Mr. Hoyer supports D.C. autonomy and home rule, and consistent with that support, he defers to the City Council and Mayor in enacting legislation.”
CNSNews.com had provided Hoyer's office with a copy of the letter sent to Congress by the USCCB and 14 other organizations with offices in the District of Columbia. That letter stated:
“The law requires our organizations to hire or retain individuals whose speech or public conduct contradicts the organizations’ missions, and could be read to require our organizations to subsidize elective abortions through their employee health plans.
"The law plainly violates the First Amendment, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), and possibly other federal laws and clearly contradicts the Supreme Court’s recent, unanimous ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Church and School v. EEOC.”
The D.C. law “prevents religious institutions, other faith-based employers, and pro-life advocacy organizations from making employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs, or their moral and ethical views about the sanctity of human life,” the letter said.
Since all D.C. laws are subject to congressional review, the letter urged Congress to “disapprove” the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act as well as the Human Rights Amendment of 2014, which it said “requires religiously affiliated educational institutions to endorse, sponsor, and provide school resources to persons or groups that oppose the institutions’ religious teachings regarding human sexuality.”
CNSNews: "The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is asking Congress to disapprove the D.C. Reproductive Health and Non-Discrimination Act because it would force religious organizations to hire people who advocate for abortion. Can the government force religious organizations to hire people who advocate for abortion?"
Hoyer: "Well, look, I don’t know specifically what you’re referring to. We’ve been through this with the ACA [Affordable Care Act]. I believe that clearly the ability of people to speak freely is a constitutional guarantee, but I also think freedom of religion is a constitutional guarantee and they need to be balanced, and that’s always a tough thing to do. I’ll leave it at that."
CNSNews: "Should Congress disapprove the law?"
Hoyer: "The law you’re referring to is the ACA?"
CNSNews: "D.C.’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act."
Hoyer: "I need to look at D.C., I don’t really know enough about it to comment directly."
Legislation becomes law in the District of Columbia after passage by the city council, except in the event Congress passes a joint resolution of disapproval, which must then be signed by the president. It has happened just three times in the last 40 years.
Congress is also presently considering whether to overturn a recent referendum legalizing marijuana in D.C.