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Dems Reintroduce 'Freedom of Religion Act' in Response to Travel Ban

Sister Mary Ann Spanjers helps Asiel, 3, wash his hands as his mother, Carla Magali, washes her own at the Catholic Charities immigrant assistance center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, on Dec. 18. 2014. (AP Photo/The Monitor, Nathan Lambrecht)

WASHINGTON — House Democrats have resurrected a piece of legislation from the last Congress that they say is necessary to ensure that religion is not a factor in the admittance of visitors, immigrants or refugees to the United States.

The Freedom of Religion Act was introduced by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) with 114 co-sponsors — including one Republican, former Rep. Richard Hanna (N.Y.) — during the heat of campaign season in May 2016. It amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to add: “Notwithstanding any other provision of the immigration laws, an alien may not be denied admission to the United States because of the alien’s religion or lack of religious beliefs.”

The bill went nowhere in the 114th Congress. Now Beyer has introduced it again with Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Andre Carson (D-Ind.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Fifty-five more House members have signed on as original co-sponsors of the legislation.

Beyer unveiled the rebooted bill last week with the American Civil Liberties Union and Gold Star father Khizr Khan, who offered to loan then-candidate Donald Trump his copy of the Constitution at last year’s Democratic National Convention.

“The only way to deal with this clown show that is taking place in the White House, which violates the basic decency of America, is through challenges from Congress,” Khan said last week. “The malice of Donald Trump is evident: he told Rudy Giuliani to devise an illegal, unethical, un-American scheme that will fulfill his un-American, unpatriotic campaign promise. This way of governing is alienating Muslims in the United States and around the world.”

Beyer said he “spent hours” at Dulles Airport in the weekend following the executive order blocking entry from seven Muslim-majority nations and freezing the refugee program “helping grieving families reconnect with their loved ones detained or deported by President Trump’s Muslim ban.”

“Religious freedom is a defining value of the United States, guaranteed by the Founding Fathers in the First Amendment to the Constitution,” Beyer said, adding his legislation “won’t erase the pain from President Trump’s ban, but it will ensure that this sort of immoral action never happens again and show the world that America still honors its founding principles.”

The White House has argued that the order, which is suspended while it’s being challenged in court, is not a Muslim ban. Trump ally Gov. Chris Christie told CBS on Sunday that the president “has moved an incredible distance from a Muslim ban to where he is now.”

“The president has listened to experts and advisers over the course of time, when he first made that statement, to this executive order, which is tailored and direct to try to deal with seven countries that are having a difficult time dealing with their own ability to control travel of their own people and policing of their own people,” Christie said.

“…The fact is that the reason his opponents are able to attack him — and I believe unfairly — on the substance is because it was implemented in such a haphazard way in that first weekend.”