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Religious Tolerance logo


Michigan RFRA bills: Religious freedom to hate and denigrate

Part 1: 2015-MAR-APR
Governor Snyder (R) promises to veto any broad
RFRA bill. He later signs 3 narrower bills into law.

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U.S. map with Michigan highlighted 2015-APR-02: Michigan Governor Snyder promised to veto any broad Religious Freedom Restoration Act if it is passed by the Michigan Legislature:

Governor Rick Snyder (R) told the Detroit Free Press that:

"Given all the events that are happening in Indiana, I thought it would be good to clarify my position. I would veto RFRA legislation in Michigan if it is a standalone piece of legislation. ... There are strong feelings on these issues. We're working hard to see if there is a better way to address religious freedom and equality." 1

This is an unusual statement by Governor Snyder, because he had never before committed himself to veto a bill before hearings had even been held in the Legislature.

At the time, there was nationwide outrage at a bill in Indiana that had been promoted as legislation to preserve religious freedom in the state. However, its main function was to facilitate discrimination by Public Accommodations based on people's religious beliefs -- largely directed against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual (LGBT) community. The state suffered major economic losses due to reduced tourism, withdrawal of investment, and cancellation of conventions.

"Public Accommodations" are typically businesses who supply goods and services to the general public. Included are a broad range of businesses including restaurants, movie theatres, bakeries, recreation facilities, photographers, doctor's offices, etc. Some are owned by religious conservatives who want to discriminate against potential customers on religious grounds. The owners often feel conflicted among opposing influences:

  • thumb down imageThey often feel that same-gender sexual behavior and same-sex marriage is condemned repeatedly in the faith group's holy book -- the Torah, Bible, or Qur'an. Thus, they do not want to supply goods and services to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.

  • thumb up imageThey sometimes feel obligated to follow the Golden Rule: to do onto others as they would wish others to do onto them. Jesus' commanded this behavior among his followers in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

  • thumb up imageSome cities and states have Human Rights laws which forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • thumb up imageBeing in business, the don't want to restrict revenue by turning potential customers away.
  • thumb down imageSome retail outlets have discriminated against the LGBT community and have later experienced a major increase in business from people who oppose the LGBT community and want to support businesses that also want to discriminate against that minority.

Snyder proposed that a second bill be introduced into the legislature that would expand the state's existing Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act so that the act would prohibit discrimination in housing and hiring based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Tom Shields, political consultant with the Marketing Resource Group reacted to the Governor's statement:

"He's never had a social-issue focus during his administration. So that's the side he's coming from here. It's a preventative move to stop putting Michigan in the cross hairs and avoid the activity you're seeing in Indiana." 1

Larry Alexander, president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitor's Bureau, commented:

"Our hope is that the state doesn't follow the same route as Indiana, as the negative impact is being demonstrated as we speak." 1

The Michigan Catholic Conference is a a strong supporter of this type of state RFRA legislation. Spokesperson David Maluchnik, said

"We strongly believe RFRA is not about discrimination, but all about protecting religious minorities and preventing government overreach." 1

The "religious minorities" referred to by the Catholic Conference are individuals and faith groups that want to actively discriminate against others on the basis of their beliefs. The Conference may not think that the proposed RFRA bills are not about discrimination. However, discrimination lies at the core of this type of legislation. The main purpose of an Indiana-like RFRA law is to permit individuals and companies to use their religious faith to discriminate against any person or couple or group with impunity.

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Comparison of the original federal RFRA act and recent state RFRA acts:

David Maluchnik's "protection" comment on behalf of the Michigan Catholic Conference is accurate as far as the federal RFRA law is concerned. However, recent state RFRA laws are very different. Confusion exists over the term "RFRA" because the one term has been used to refer to two very different forms of legislation:

  • The original RFRA bill was a response by the federal government to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1990. The High Court had ruled in the case Employment Division v. Smith that states could pass legislation to ban the use of hallucinogenic drugs that are used during religious rituals by some Native Americans. They use peyote in some of their sacraments. Many faith groups feared that this decision could result in state and federal governments intruding on their own practices and perhaps even the beliefs that they teach.

    The intent of the RFRA federal bill was to protect religious rights and freedoms of individuals and religious groups from government interference. It had wide support from a broad range of religious groups and civil rights groups at the time. The bill also received strong bipartisan support in Congress. It its original form, it applied to both the federal and state governments. However, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the case "City of Boerne v. Flores," determined that the federal RFRA bill can only apply to the federal government. That decision generated a need for individual RFRA bills in each state.

  • Recent state RFRA bills have been filed by individual states that are called by the same name as the original federal bill: "RFRA." However, their intent is sometimes very different from the federal legislation. Many of the state RFRA laws protect individuals and Public Accommodations who want to discriminate against -- and denigrate -- minorities with impunity. Across the U.S., there have been dozens of cases where wedding cake bakeries, wedding photographic companies, renters of wedding venues etc. are owned by religious conservative who oppose same-sex marriages because of their personal religious beliefs. The owners have refused to provide goods and services to potential customers who are planning to marry a person of the same sex. This has resulted in about a dozen couples filing complaints with local or state Human Rights tribunals. These complaints have generally resulted in fines imposed under state or local human rights laws or ordinances. The notorious Indiana bill is an example of this type of RFRA bill. It gave store owners a defense against Human Rights laws and ordinances. It triggered a firestorm of opposition across the U.S. because it was widely perceived as a bill to encourage discrimination against the LGBT community. This is the type of legislation that Governor Snyder said that he wants to avoid implementing in his state and has promised to veto.

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Senator Mike Shirkey, (R) is sponsor of a Michigan RFRA bill. He plans to challenge Governor Snyder's (R) threatened veto. Shirkey said:

"That's the governor's prerogative, but I intend to give him that chance [to veto my bill]. I'm not surprised, but I'm not deterred." 1

However, Shelli Weisberg, legislative liaison for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that the Governor's threat may bring about a compromise on the Elliott-Larsen bill. She said"

"This is very refreshing and I think it will help him (Snyder). This will give him a chance to appeal to moderate Republicans and Democrats on this really smart policy. I hope this is the beginning of more bi-partisan common sense policies." 1

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This topic continues in Part 2

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Kathleen Gray, "Snyder: I would veto a religious freedom bill," Detroit Free Press, 2015-APR-02, at: http://www.freep.com/

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How you may have arrived here:

Home > Religious freedom > Religious freedom to hate > here

Home > Important essays > Religious freedom > Religious freedom to hate > here

Home > Religious information > Religious freedom > Religious freedom to hate > here

Home > Human rights > Religious freedom > Religious freedom to hate > here

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Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2015-JUL-17
Latest update : 2015-JUL-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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