Friday, February 28, 2014

Push for 'Religious Freedom' legislation trending across more than a dozen states

By Brody Levesque | WASHINGTON – Republican policy makers and lawmakers in at least a dozen states are now evaluating proposed Religious Freedom Restoration measures that proponents claim would have enhanced protections for individuals or businesses who, for religious reasons, don't want to serve same-sex couples or individuals.
The bills are under increasing scrutiny by opponents who charge these measures are a 'return to Jim Crow laws' and discriminatory since the principal aim is to offer codified religious protections under the banner of "religious liberties protection," but instead “are aimed squarely at disenfranchising the civil rights of same-sex couples and LGBTQ people,” said Peter Zuckerman, a spokesperson for Oregon United for Marriage.
A spokesperson for the National Organization for Marriage disagreed;
There’s one thing we've learned over the years from witnessing the redefinition of marriage in several states and in other places around the world, it is that there is an inevitable conflict between the genderless marriage regime and the conscience rights of those who believe in marriage as the union of one man and one woman. 
Wherever marriage is redefined, the story is the same: florists, photographers, bakers, caterers, social hall owners—anyone who runs a business that caters to the celebration of nuptials—these individuals are forced to choose between their deeply held beliefs about marriage and the prospect of being forced out of business by onerous lawsuits claiming ‘discrimination.’
A recent Gallup poll reported nearly nine out of ten people in the United States think LGBT people are already protected. They are not.
This was a major defeat for what has become a concerted Hail Mary campaign to carve out special rights for religious conservatives so that they don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else does,” said Evan Hurst, Truth Wins Out’s Associate Director referring to Wednesday's veto of the Arizona law by Republican Governor Jan Brewer. 
“In this new up-is-down world, anti-gay religious folks are ‘practicing their faith’ when they're baking cakes or renting out hotel rooms to travelers. On the ground, these bills hurt real, live LGBT people.”
The bills are in stark contrast to the limited protections that are currently available to the LGBTQ people. 21 of the 50 states currently protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, Five states have laws which protects employees in both the private and public sector from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Sixteen have laws which protect employees in both the private and public sector from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as well as gender identity and/or gender expression.
Ten additional states offer state laws or executive orders which protects public employees but NOT private sector employees on the basis of sexual orientation.
The remainder of the states offer no legal employment protections at all.
LGBTQ people can experience an outright refusal of services when attempting to access a host of public accommodations including restaurants, parks, hotels, libraries, buses, museums, and elsewhere simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity principally because there are currently a patchwork of laws offering limited protections to LGBTQ people under local or state Human Rights laws or charters.
No comprehensive federal law currently exists to shield LGBTQ Americans individuals from this type of discrimination.
A state by state look at the proffered legislation:
  • ARIZONA: SB 1062 The legislation stated the state shall not "burden a person's exercise of religion," effectively allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals. Vetoed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer.
Chief Sponsor: Senator Steven B. Yarbrough (R)
  • GEORGIA: The state's Preservation of Religious Freedom Act would affirm the "right to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious tenet or belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or requirement of the person's religious tenets or beliefs." Killed by the Georgia House with a vote pending in the Senate.
Chief Sponsor: Representative Sam Teasley, (R)
  • HAWAII: HB 1624 The Hawaii Religious Freedom Restoration Act read "that government should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification." Bill was sent to the House floor after the House Judiciary Committee declined to hold a hearing. A majority, however, voted to send the bill back to the House Judiciary Committee, which effectively kills it for the session.
Chief Sponsor: Representative Robert McDermott, (R)
  • IDAHO: HB 427 would also expand protections to individuals on "religious freedom" grounds, allowing them protection if they discriminate against gays and lesbians. A companion measure, HB 426, would have specified that professionals who invoked these religious beliefs would not lose their occupational licenses.
Chief Sponsor: Representative Lynn Luker, (R)
  • KANSAS: HB 2453 The measure read: that "no individual, religious entity or government official had to provide any service if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender." Passed the state House but stalled in the state Senate when Republican leaders determined it went too far and was discriminatory.
Chief Sponsor: Representative  Charles Macheers (R)
  • MAINE: LD 1428 The measure read: "[...] the government could not infringe upon a person's religious freedom except in cases of "compelling state interest." Both the state House and Senate voted it down last week.
Chief Sponsor: Senator David Burns (R)
  • MISSISSIPPI: SB 2681, The measure read: " The state could not burden a person's right to the exercise of religion." A House panel is proposing changes that might neutralize concerns about whether a religious freedom bill could lead to discrimination against gay people or other groups.
Chief Sponsor: Senator Phillip A. Gandy (R)
  • MISSOURI: SB 916,  Does not expressly cite sexual orientation, but could provide legal cover for individuals citing religious freedom to deny services to LGBT people.
Chief Sponsor: Senator Wayne Wallingford (R)
  • NORTH CAROLINA: HB 751, Would prohibit the state or any of its agencies and local governments from “substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion.” North Carolina’s version didn't make the legislature’s self-imposed “crossover deadline.” It isn't technically eligible for consideration this year, but could be amended into any bill on the legislature’s calendar when they return to Raleigh in May.
Chief Sponsor: Representative Jacqueline Michelle Schaffer (R)
  • OKLAHOMA: SB 1846 The measure was introduced in the state Senate in January, but it currently does not have any action scheduled in the state legislature.
Chief Sponsor: Senator Greg Treat  (R)
  • OHIO: HB 376 This proposed law mirrored Arizona's "religious freedom" legislation. Measure withdrawn.
Chief Sponsor: Representative Bill Patmon (D)
  • OREGON: This past November, the anti-gay group Friends of Religious Freedom unveiled a ballot measure "intended to exempt a person from supporting same-sex ceremonies in violation of deeply held religious beliefs." Opponents and supporters of the measure are now negotiating over the 15-word title that will appear on the ballot and is required before it can qualify to appear before voters. 
  • SOUTH DAKOTA: SB 128 The measure reads [to] "protect the citizens and businesses of South Dakota regarding speech pertaining to views on sexual orientation and to provide for the defense of such citizens and businesses." Last week, a state Senate committee effectively killed the bill by deferring it to the 41st day of the 40-day legislative session.
Chief Sponsor: Senator Phil Jensen (R)

  • TENNESSEE: SB 2566 Dubbed the "Turn the Gays Away" bill by LGBTQ activists, the measure employed similar language to the Arizona law. After significant backlash from activists and the business community, the sponsors of legislation in the state Senate dropped the bill last week ending its chances for this session.
Chief Sponsor: Senator Mike Bell (R)