Michelle McCusker was a preschool teacher at a Catholic school in Queens, New York. She was fired – not because of her teaching skills but because she became pregnant outside of marriage.

Jennifer Maudlin was a cook at a Christian-based childcare facility in Ohio. She, too, was fired when she became pregnant under an unwritten company policy against non-marital sex.


And elsewhere in Ohio, Christa Dias was fired from her job as a computer teacher at a Catholic school after becoming pregnant via artificial insemination.

If certain members of Congress have their way, this kind of discrimination could become even more widespread. That’s because members added a dangerous provision to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would legalize taxpayer-funded discrimination against women and LGBTQ individuals. 

Added in the dark of night, section 1094 of the NDAA would permit federal contractors and grantees to discriminate against their employees if their identity or behavior violates the employer’s religious beliefs. This could cause employers to claim a right to fire people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or reproductive health care decision. 

The “Russell Amendment,” so called for the Oklahoma congressman who introduced it, has very little to do with our nation’s military—or, indeed, with defending liberty. If passed, the amendment would apply to every grant, cooperative agreement, contract, subcontract, and purchase order awarded by every federal agency. This includes universities and hospitals.

Simply put, the amendment gives license to a multitude of employers to use taxpayer money to discriminate against those whose religious beliefs do not mesh with their own. This would upend existing non-discrimination principles.

If the Russell Amendment passes, some federal contractors and grantees will claim a right to refuse to hire people in same-sex relationships. They will claim a right to fire unmarried women who become pregnant. And they will claim a right to refuse to hire transgender individuals.

The Russell Amendment opens the door for religious beliefs to trump an individual’s right to non-discrimination. Congress must not allow our tax dollars to pay for federally sanctioned discrimination.

This week, our organizations joined nearly a dozen national groups in delivering over 342,000 petition signatures to Congress opposing the Russell Amendment. Forty-two senators, led by Sena. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), have called for the measure’s removal, and Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottDemocratic lawmaker tears into DeVos: You're 'out to destroy public education' Democrats lash out at DeVos over proposed changes to loan forgiveness plan House passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers MORE has led the fight against this dangerous amendment in the House. At a time when we are inundated with racist, sexist, and homophobic public discourse, we cannot tolerate codifying discrimination that sets us back decades. The Russell Amendment is a direct threat to basic civil liberties, to women’s rights, to privacy and to the very freedom of religious practice that it purports to restore.

Dana Singiser is Vice President of Government Relations at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Gretchen Borchelt is Vice President for Reproductive Rights and Health at the National Women’s Law Center.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.