House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., says that the core American principle of religious freedom should not be "denigrated" even though many liberals today claim that the First Amendment right has become "code words" for the right to discriminate against the LGBT community.
In an interview with CNS News, Hoyer was questioned about a recent report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which states that "religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights."
In the 307-page report, the chairman of the commission, Martin R. Castro, who was appointed to the commission by President Barack Obama in 2011, argued that "the phrases 'religious liberty' and 'religious freedom' will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance."
Although the 77-year-old Hoyer believes that the concept of religious freedom has been "misused" by social conservatives, that does not mean that he believes the entire meaning of religious liberty should be disparaged.
"Although [the words have] been misused by people using that phrase, that does not mean that the phrase itself, nor the ideal, nor the reality, nor the Constitutional protection should be, in any way denigrated because some people misuse it," Hoyer told CNS News, adding that religious liberty is a "a bedrock of American philosophy."
Staunch liberals and LGBT activists have been critical anytime a Christian wedding vendor or government official claims that their religious freedom rights are being violated when they are fined or punished for not participating in same-sex weddings.
As same-sex marriage was legalized nationally by the Supreme Court's ruling last June, legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate called the First Amendment Defense Act, which would prevent federal government agencies from being able to punish individuals or organizations that act in accordance with their biblical convictions on marriage.
The House version of the bill is co-sponsored by over 172 Congress members, while the Senate version is co-sponsored by 37 senators.
The bill in Congress would only impact federal agencies, therefore, state governments without a similar legislation enacted would permit state government agencies to take negative action against individuals and institutions who act in accordance with the the biblical definition of marriage.
Owners of a Christian bakery in Oregon are still involved in a legal battle with the state government after they were fined over $135,000 by the state to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries last year because of their refusal to produce a cake for a same-sex wedding.
In April, Aaron and Melissa Klein of Sweet Cakes by Melissa filed an appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals with the help of the First Liberty Institute.
Earlier this month, lawyers for the Kleins filed a reply brief to the Oregon Court of Appeals, arguing that the state government infringed on their religious freedom rights.
"This case is, first and foremost, about whether Oregon has commandeered individuals' liberty to compel them — upon pain of crippling financial penalties — to facilitate the multitude of events in which 'persons' protected by (discrimination law) might participate," the brief reads. "Such events might be weddings, as here, or religious rituals, sex-segregated club initiations, or abortions."