Known as H.R. 1, the “For the People Act of 2021,” which passed the U.S. House this week in a vote of 220-210, was introduced as an election overhaul desperately needed to fix the deterioration of American democracy — but a closer look at some of the bill’s provisions reveals a disturbing impact on First Amendment rights — including those of pro-life groups — and religious liberty.
Spearheaded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) along with Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the bill seeks to establish an alternative campaign funding system for selected federal offices and addresses issues of voter access, election integrity, and political spending. According to a report from ABC News, the bill “would automatically register people to vote and restore the voting rights of felons. It would also mandate more than two weeks of early voting, encourage voting-by-mail and expand absentee ballot drop boxes across the country — along with other provisions meant to address concerns raised by election officials during the 2020 election cycle.”
According to conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, H.R. 1 “federalizes and micromanages the election process administered by the states, imposing unnecessary, unwise, and unconstitutional mandates on the states and reversing the decentralization of the American election process—which is necessary for protecting our liberty and freedom.”
The bill would strip power from state legislatures to draw congressional districts and instead assign it to “nonpartisan redistricting commissions.” Those who wish to serve on these commissions would be subject to intense scrutiny of their financial support of professional, social, political, religious, or community organizations or causes.
A person’s religious liberty would essentially be a litmus test for determining eligibility to serve on a redistricting commission — something that is actually unconstitutional. It would render obsolete Article 6, Clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution which states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The requirement of disclosing religious affiliations could discourage participation in this commission – or more concerning, disqualify an individual altogether.
Pro-life groups have also voiced concerns about the ramifications of this bill.
According to the National Catholic Register, a letter sent to Congress by the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) states that H.R. 1 would put “onerous and unworkable regulatory standards on the ability of pro-life voters and the pro-life community to discuss policy issues with elected officials and the public” and “would subject citizens who contribute to nonprofit organizations to harassment and intimidation by making their personal information available in a government-controlled database, and through an expansion of the definition of ‘electioneering communications’ it would subject virtually all issue-related ads to burdensome disclaimer requirements.”
The bill provides lawmakers with the authority to potentially impose criminal sanctions to diminish the amount of private speech regarding these lawmakers’ own actions, as National Right to Life’s Carol Tobias noted.
The rights of all Americans to worship according to their beliefs and to support their charitable institutions of choice without fear of recriminations must be protected. The bill now advances to the Senate.
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