Late Wednesday night, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act—a huge-ass, 1,299-page appropriations bill that funds the entire military—277-147, with 142 Democrats and five Republicans opposed. Shockingly, the worst thing in this bill is not the absurd amount of money we are spending on the military. Rather, it is a little thing called the Russell Amendment, named for Republican Oklahoma Rep. Steve Russell! Who is, as you may have guessed, a huge freaking douchebag.
The Russell Amendment is meant primarily to override President Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The amendment will allow those contractors to discriminate against anyone so long as they say it is part of their religion to do so.
The amendment reads:
Any branch or agency of the Federal Government shall, with respect to any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society that is a recipient of or offeror for a Federal Government contract, subcontract, grant, purchase order, or cooperative agreement, provide protections and exemptions consistent with sections 702(a) and 703(e)(2) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e-1(a) and 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(e)(2)) and section 103(d) of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 USC 12113(d)).
What this amounts to, essentially, is taxpayer-funded discrimination and a major breach of the separation of church and state. You and I will pay taxes that will fund these “religious corporations” who will then be free to discriminate against LGBT people! Or anyone whose religion they don’t like! Like, “Hey, we’re gonna take your money and then give it to an organization or corporation that won’t hire you because you are a gay Buddhist.”
The measure wouldn’t just apply to military contractors. It would also apply to all federal contractors—including homeless shelters, adoption agencies, hospitals, etc. The way it stands now, you can be a religious organization, corporation, or institution and still get federal contracts, but you can’t get those contracts if you intend to discriminate against anyone, in hiring or in service. Because then, due to the federal funds involved, it becomes the government itself discriminating against people and requiring those people to pay for the privilege.
The purpose of the measure? Well, Russell says it’s to protect “freedom of speech” for these religious contractors. But let’s be real here—they’re trying to stick this “religious freedom to discriminate” crap anywhere they can these days. Why? Because people like Russell get a massive boner over the idea of discriminating against people, and they enjoy the idea of having a “valid” reason to do so.
As you might imagine, President Obama has already said that he plans to veto the NDAA as it stands—for a variety of reasons, including this stupid amendment, “unwarranted restrictions regarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay,” and some Cliven Bundy–inspired riders “undermining the Endangered Species Act as well as public land management statutes.”
It sure would be nice if we could get something done in this country without having to go through this bullshit every time, but as long as there are douchebags like Rep. Steve Russell in office, that’s probably not going to happen.