Friday, December 09, 2016

Congress Gives Final Passage To Defense Authorization Act-- Some Sections Impact Religion

Yesterday the Senate gave final approval to S.2943 as amended by Conference Report 114-840, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. (Full text). The 975-page bill, which now goes to the President for his signature, contains the following provisions of interest to those who follow church-state and religious liberty developments:
  • Sec. 549 which calls for data collection on hazing notes that victims are often members of protected classes such as race and religion.
  • Sec. 585 authorizes award of the distinguished service cross posthumously to Chaplain Joseph Verbis LaFleur for acts of valor while a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II.
  • Sec. 591. Repeals the requirement for a chaplain at the United States Air Force Academy appointed by the President.
  • Sec. 1085. A sense of Congress resolution that there should be within the National Security Council a Special Adviser to the President on International Religious Freedom who should serve as liaison with the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, the United States Commission on  International Religious Freedom, Congress and religious nongovernmental organizations.
  • Sec. 1263 (Part of the ‘Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act). Authorizes the President to impose sanctions on any foreign person who is responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross human rights violations against individuals in a foreign country who, among other things, exercise, defend or promote freedoms of religion, expression, association, and assembly, and the rights to a fair trial and democratic elections.
  • Section 2829F provides for return of certain lands at Fort Wingate, New Mexico to the Zuni Tribe and Navajo Nation. Certain of the land is to be held in trust with shared cultural and religious access by the Zuni and Navajos.
The final bill did not include the controversial Russell Amendment which would have allowed religious organizations that enter government contracts to require that their employees adhere to the organization's religious tenets. This would have permitted religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage to refuse to hire those in same-sex relationships. (Background).