Religious liberty updates: U.S. House passes NO BAN Act; Texas reverses course on clergy in execution chamber, more

by | Apr 27, 2021

Last week on a 218-208 vote, the U.S.  House of Representatives passed the NO BAN Act, a bill that would amend the Immigration and Naturalization Act to bar religious discrimination in immigration decisions. And that’s not all it does.

In a new post on Medium, BJC Associate General Counsel Jennifer Hawks explains how the NO BAN Act works and why it is worth supporting as a “robust protection of religious freedom for all.”

In addition, here is a quick roundup of bills progressing in state legislatures and other state actions that caught my eye. [Am I missing religious liberty/church-state legislation in your state? Send me a note!]

In Texas, the Department of Criminal Justice announced it will allow death row inmates to bring clergy/spiritual advisers of their choice into the execution chamber after all. The policy reverses a previous decision to bar all clergy from the room in response to the U.S. Supreme Court halting the execution of a Buddhist inmate over the state’s refusal to allow his spiritual adviser to accompany him, while allowing state authorized clergy of other faiths. BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler blasted the earlier decision as “the exact wrong direction.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 2648 on Monday. The bill amends the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) law to state: “Any order or rule issued by any governmental entity pursuant to an emergency that requires closure of any place of worship … shall be considered a substantial burden even if the order or rule is one of general applicability.”

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law a controversial version of RFRA. As I wrote in an earlier post, BJC has supported state RFRA legislation that mirrors the federal law of the same name, but it is wary of variations like Montana’s that stray from the federal language, tilting the statute’s careful balance.

In Connecticut, the state House passed a bill to end the state’s religious exemption to school vaccination requirements.

Meanwhile in Tennessee, an effort to expand religious and conscience exemptions from vaccination requirements failed to make it out of a House subcommittee last month.