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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious freedom to discriminate, oppress & denigrate in the U.S.

Part 2: 2014 & 2015: State "RFTD" bills allowing
individuals and companies the
"Religious Freedom To Discriminate"

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In this web site, "LGBT" refers to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender/
Transsexual community. "SSM" refers to marriages by same-sex couples. But
you probably already knew that.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Various responses to the state RFTD bills:

  • Texas state Representative Cecil Bell Jr. (R) filed a RFTD bill in the Texas House. It is called by a very positive title: Marriage and Religious Rights Ensured Act". It would grant "conscientious objector" status to anyone who, on the basis of their religious beliefs, wants to deny services to same-sex couples. It would stop county clerks from issuing marriage licenses and transfer that responsibility to the Secretary of State. Finally, it would fine any state official who issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple. He said:

    "Texas legislators are acting to make certain — if the outcome of [the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling] is not palpable to Texas — to not be impacted by the outcome."

    Bell referred to a case involving a florist in Richland, WA, who ran afoul of that state's human rights legislation. The florist was fined for refusing to provide flowers for a wedding by a same-sex couple. Bell said:

    "We don't want that in Texas. It's important that we allow all businesses in Texas to ... have the ability to not be put in that position." 1

  • Sarah Warbelow is the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign -- a leading national pro-equality group. She said:

    "Why have those battles when these bills are so clearly flawed and full of animus? ... [The state bills] sound like religious freedom, but it's really about discrimination against people under the cloak of religion." 1

  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R), who is expected to be a presidential candidate in 2016, favors these RFTD bills. He said:

    "Religious freedom is a serious issue, and it's increasingly so. ... I think people that act on their conscience shouldn't be discriminated against, for sure." 1

  • Georgia state Senator Joshua McKoon says that his proposed legislation has been criticized by "desperate" liberal groups who cite a:

    "...laundry list of absurd hypothetical situations that have never occurred in the real world. ... [Such laws have] never been interpreted to protect against discrimination." 1

Webmaster's comment:

We are at a loss to understand Senator McKoon's statement, as the clear intent of these bills appears to allow individuals to discriminate against the LGBT community.

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Origin of the state bills:

Many of these bills are being patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1980 which attempted to protect religious groups and their followers from government persecution and discrimination. These new state-wide bills invert the intent of the federal law and apply it at the state level. They allowing faith groups and individuals -- on the basis of their religious beliefs -- to discriminate against and oppress other indifis.

Rose Saxe, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that the federal law:

"... was never intended to be used as a shield for discrimination against other people." 1

She fears that some of these state bills might adversely affect child welfare cases, and even vaccination laws.

Many if not most of these bill will not become law because of opposition from civil rights groups, the LGBT community, and business organizations. Of those that do, a lengthy series of lawsuit will probably be filed to have the laws declared unconstitutional. In the meantime, teens and young adults are leaving conservative faith groups in droves. A main reason is because of their faith group's attitude towards human sexuality.

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How are these bills progressing? A snapshot of some states in mid-2015-MAR:

According to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, many of the RFTD bills are not proceeding:

  • Colorado: A RFRA bill, HB 1171, did not pass its committee hearing. Patrick Neville (R) commented:

    "It’s incredibly unfortunate that we’ve had discrimination in this country all the way back to the Jim Crow laws. The worst kind of discrimination, though, is when the government is the discriminator."

    On MAR-10, bill HB 1125 passed the House.

  • Oklahoma: The House dropped HB 1371. It will not proceed. However, on MAR-10, HB 1125 passed the House. It would transfer the task of issuing marriage licenses from the counties to individual clergy. This may have widespread negative impacts on same-sex marriages in the state.

  • South Dakota: The RFRA bill, HB 1220, was opposed by many civil rights organizations and did not proceed.

  • Texas: Early in 2015-MAR, the Texas Association of Business expressed opposition to HJR 55. The bills 'sponsor, Rep. Jason Villalba responded that he will:

    "... reconsider [the bill] entirely. I cannot and I will not support legislation, however well-intentioned, that would result in harming the job creators who are so very valuable to the Texas economy."

  • West Virginia: RFRA bills in this state (HB 2508, SB 487, and HB 2830), will not proceed because of opposition by civil rights groups. 2

However, in Utah: the Legislature passed SB 296 the "Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments. On MAR-11. The bill would give a few protections for the LGBT community but with many religious exemptions. In spite of the latter, it has received support from state civil rights groups.

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A snapshot in late 2015-MAR:

The Human Rights Campaign, the leading federal pro-LGBT equality group, described the status of RFTD (Religious Freedom To Discriminate) bills in the U.S.:

As of 2015-MAR-24, they counted more than 85 RFTD bills introduced in 28 state legislstures during 2015:

  • 34 anti-LGBT bills in 9 states have been defeated or failed to meet key legislative deadlines. Two passed -- one in Arkansas and one in Indiana. The Indiana bill was signed into law on MAR-26, generated a firestorm of outrage and anger from sports figures, sports organizations, companies, etc. -- even opposition from Nascar and Walmart. It was modified by a second bill on APR-02 which limite the amount of discrimination within Indianapolis and other cities with human rights laws. However, it gives no protection to 80% of the Indiana population.

  • Legislation is being considered in Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Texas, etc. that would allow businesses and individuals to use their religous beliefs to discriminate against various roups in employment, housing and public accomodations. The latter are typically retail stores that are in business to serve the general public by selling them goods or services.

  • Legislation to allow adoption agencies to discriminate against potential parents and guardians on the basis of the agency's religious belief are being considered in Alabama, Florida, and Michigan.

  • "Bathroom surveilance" bills have been introduced in Florida, Massachusetts, Texas, etc. These would forbid a male-to-female transgender woman using a public washroom that is designated for women.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Nichole Hensley, "Religious freedom at heart of same-sex marriage political battle," New York Daily News, 2015-MAR-21, at: http://www.nydailynews.com/
  2. Vanessa Wolbrink, "Americans United for Separation of Church and State," 2015-MAR-12, at: https://www.au.org/
  3. HRC Staff, "Anti-LGBT Bills Introduced in 28 States," Human Rights Campaign, 2015-MAR-24, at: http://www.hrc.org/

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Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2015-MAR-22
Last updated 2015-MAR-22
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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