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Religious Tolerance logo

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

Part 1: 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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Background:

During 2014, a group of "religious freedom to discriminate" bills were introduced into various state Legislatures including:

  • Colorado (HB 1771),

  • Oklahoma (SB 723),

  • South Dakota (HB 1220),

  • Utah (HB 332),

  • West Virginia (HB 322 & HB 2508), and

  • Wyoming (HB 83).

("HB" refers to House Bills; "SB" refers to Senate Bills.) All failed to proceed.

We refer to them as Religious Freedom to Discriminate (RFTD) laws with apologies to the rock band Roses For The Dead. We feel that this is a better description, because the intent of the law is to allow individuals and companies to exercise their religious freedom to discriminate against sexual minorities such as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals.

However, during the first quarter of 2015, about 70 additional bills were introduced in state Legislatures, including:

  • Arkansas (HB 1228),

  • Georgia (HV 29), HB 218, & SB 129),

  • Hawaii (HB 1160),

  • Indiana (SB 101),

  • Michigan (SB 4),

  • Nevada (AB 277), and

  • Texas (HJR 125, HJR 55, & SJR 10).

"AB" refers to Assembly Bills, HJR to House Joint Resolutions, and SJR to Senate Joint Resolutions. 1

Many of these are called "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts" (RFRAs). They are being debated at the state level even in states that have already attained marriage equality and where marriage licenses are now freely available to same-sex couples.

There are too many bills to discuss all of them individually here. However, a Google search for the name of the state and the title of the bill should supply complete information. If you don't know the name of the bill, you might do a search using the name of the state followed by RFRA.

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Why have so many bills been filed in so many states at this time?

This flood of bills was apparently triggered by the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in mid-January to accept appeals of four same-sex marriage lawsuits from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. These four cases have been consolidated and will be heard by the high court on APR-28. Their final ruling is expected in late June or early July. It might possibly make marriage immediately available to same-sex couples across the entire U.S. Some commentators are even predicting a 6:3 vote of the Justices rather than 5:4 which is the usual vote on a matter relating to religion and/or morality.

With such possibility looming on the horizon, many religiously-based groups that oppose marriage equality for the LGBT community are backing off their efforts to ban same-sex marriages and investing their money and effort into allowing individuals, owners of "public accommodations," and state governments to actively discriminate against same-sex couples. (A "public accommodation" is typically a retail outlet that is set up to provide goods or services to the general public.)

These RFTD bills take many forms: Some would:

  • Prohibit adoption agencies in the state from placing children in families led by same-sex married couples.

  • Prohibit a spouse in a same-sex marriage from adopting the other spouse's child. This would cause the state to recognize the non-biological parent only as a "friend" of the child, even though the extended family, and others, regard both spouses as parents. This could have fatal consequences during some medical emergencies.

  • Penalize government employees who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even in states where same-sex marriage is legal. These penalties may take the form of fines, firings, or attacks against their pensions.

  • Allow store owners -- particularly those in the marriage industry, like wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, wedding organizers, wedding venue providers, etc.-- to refuse to supply goods and services to same-sex couples. Many conservative Christian store owners, and others, are feeling that they are caught in a three-way conflict:

    1. Because of their faith group's anti-LGBT interpretation of about a half dozen "clobber" passages from the Bible, they sincerely believe that same-gender sexual activity is a profound sin and is hated by God. Many believe that sexually active gays and lesbians will spend eternity in the torture chambers of Hell without any hope of relief. Some store owners who believe this don't want to contribute to this situation by being involved with same-sex engaged couples who are planning their marriage.

    2. Human rights legislation in many states contain bans on discrimination against potential customers based on sexual orientation. There are significant fines and even jail sentences for store owners who discriminate.

    3. The Ethic of Reciprocity is commonly called the Golden Rule in Christianity. It is based on two instructions by Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) to his followers. He is recorded as saying that Christians are to treat other people as they would wish others to treat them. See two passages in the Bible in which Jesus is reported as saying:
      • Matthew 7:12: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." King James Version.

      • Luke 6:31: "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." King James Version.

    Similar rules exist in all of the other major religions. They would seem to indicate that store owners should try to meet the needs of everyone who approaches them seeking goods and services.

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This places store owners in a three-way bind. By negating the effects of human rights legislation, and allow public accommodations to discriminate, states can at least reduce the three-way conflict among its public accommodations to a two-way conflict. And since many store owners do not recognize the validity of the Golden Rule in situations involving the LGBT community, discrimination against such customers would then become conflict free.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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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/

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Site navigation: Home > "Hot" religious topics and conflicts > Abortion access > here

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Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2015-MAR-22
Last updated 2015-APR-05
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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