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Conservatives scramble to pass Religious Freedom bills nationwide

While Arizona’s failed attempt to put forth legislation which would permit legalizing discrimination based on “religious freedom” may have garnished national and international attention, it is important to recognize that it hasn’t been the only state in America who have or are currently considering similar measures.

Arizona puts a stop to religious freedom bill
Campaign to stop SB 1062

Over a dozen states from coast to coast have written up “religious freedom” bills. In some cases sponsors of such efforts have been clear that the motive is to specifically counteract the rise in support for LGBTQ equality while others are a little less direct.

Regardless of the motives, the vagueness of all of these “religious freedom” bills has proven to the public that legislators are walking on dangerous territory. Even for those who support legalizing discrimination specifically targeting the LGBTQ community, fear has arisen that the “religious freedom” bills will then put stronger laws in place for all religions, not just the religion of those writing the original legislation.

Here are some of the other states where legislators have proposed ‘religious freedom” bills, most in which have lost their political and public support since the recent failure in Arizona.

On February 27th Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Brewer stated that she believed that the bill had "the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve" and that "It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and nobody could ever want"
Had the bill been successful, businesses would be able to turn away same-sex couples without repercussions. Another example could be medical suppliers such as pharmacists could refuse a customer access to contraceptives, HIV and hormone therapy medications.

House Bill 1066 introduced by Republican Rep. Kevin Priola of Henderson sponsored the bill under the guise that it would guarantee that “Coloradans' free exercise of religion would not be infringed on”.
House Bill 1066 takes a different approach as it would have allowed a person accused of discrimination to assert their religious convictions in any civil action and then recover attorney's fees

The bill was killed in committee

Even in a marriage equality state such as Hawaii, legislators have attempted to pass laws “protecting” religious freedoms. HB 1624 has been killed for the session after the majority of the state House voted to send the bill back to committee

In both the House and the Senate “religious freedom” bills have been introduced. HB 1023 and Senate Bill 377, both would allow a private business the right to ignore state laws that "directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails or denies" a person's religious beliefs.” It would also grant 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." The Senate has put its bill on hold and little movement on the issue is expected to happen this session.

In Idaho, two “religious freedom” bills were being considered. The purpose of HB 427 was to protect businesses from legal recourse for denying services for religious reasons. HB 426 would prohibit the state from rescinding licenses of businesses that denied services for religious reasons. HB 426 failed to ever get out of committee hearings while the House unanimously agreed to send the HB 427 back to committee. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, expressed that "It's not coming back this session."

Since the Idaho Legislature session ends in March, HB 427 has little hope to be heard and is effectively dead.

One of the most potentially devastating “religious freedom” bills that could open the door to extreme legal discrimination comes out of Kansas. HB 2453 stated that 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."

HB 2543 passed the state House but Republican leaders in the Senate deemed that the bill was too extreme and need to be looked at further. A hearing is set for early March to look into whether or not is a need for more” religious freedom” protection laws.

In February both the House and the Senate voted down LD 1428, and act that said that the “government could not infringe upon a person's religious freedom except in cases of "compelling state interest." Opponents made it clear that they believe that the bill would not only allow discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, but could also infringe upon the Affordable Care Act's mandate that insurance companies cover contraceptives.

SB 2681, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was worded to emphasize that the state could not “burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion”

After concerns were raised regarding whether the bill would protect all religions by Sen. Hob Bryan, Senate Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman John Polk, R-Hattiesburg explained during the debates that the state or local government would have to have a compelling reason to try to block specific religious practices.
After the passage of the bill in the Senate, Bryan said, “This bill applies to all religions, including Islam, Buddhism and New Age religions. We need to think carefully about the implications of it.”

The day after the Arizona bill was vetoed, Mississippi’s state House Judiciary B committee said it was considering “rewording the bill” in order to address concerns that it would face similar public backlash from outside of the state similar to what had happened in Arizona.

Introduced by Republican state Rep. Wayne Wallingford, SB 916 was written to be added to the states already existing religious protection laws. Claiming his fears that religious individuals are under attack Wallingford said "There's discrimination kind of on both sides. I certainly don't want any discrimination in the workforce. But I'm also concerned about discrimination going the other direction." The bill has failed to garnish significant support and has yet to be assigned to a committee for review.

In January, representatives in Ohio introduced HB 376. As the news came out from Arizona in late February, the two lead sponsors of Ohio’s “religious freedom” bill announced that they were withdrawing the legislation.
Ohio’s local American Civil Liberties Union publically criticized the bill proclaiming that “HB 376 opens a Pandora’s box of claims that a state or local law imposes on someone’s religious beliefs. Because HB 376, by its terms, forbids the government to place even an insubstantial burden on religion, even a trivial burden may be contested. For example, a person could file a lawsuit against a municipality for ticketing their car during a church service, claiming imposition on their right to worship."

In January, State senators in Oklahoma sponsored a Religious Freedom Act in 2014 but after the heated debate over Arizona’s “religious freedom” bill, the authors of the bill in the House withdrew the bill in order to make rewrites. The bill will not be debated further this legislative session.

Oregon is taking a different approach in its attempt to push for its “religious freedom” laws. Religious organizations, including the Oregon Family Council and Friends of Religious Freedom have begun the push to have "Protect Religious Freedoms Initiative" placed on the states ballot this November. Opponents and supporters of the measure are currently negotiating over the wording that will appear on the ballot before the initiative can be put before voters.

South Dakota
SB 128, a bill which intended 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." Proposed by Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, the bill would have banned lawsuits against people or businesses for "expressing their religious beliefs on the subject of sexual orientation" as long as they did not incite violence, and ordered the attorney general to defend anyone sued for such statements. On February 14, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the bill and effectively killed the bill during the currents session.

SB 2566, a bill that would pre-empt lawsuits filed against businesses and vendors that deny service to same-sex couples based on “religious freedom” was introduced by Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey in February but saw a quick death. State Sen. Mike Bell, the bill’s sponsor explained that “We want to make sure we protect the conscience and religious freedom of businesses,” but soon announced that he would withdraw the bill until next year.

The Religious Liberties Amendment, a bill sponsored by state Senator Stuart Reid, was pulled from the current legislative session.

Like many of the other “religious freedom” bills, The Religious Liberties Amendment claims that it would protect individual religious conscience rights and would allow business the right to deny services based on religious beliefs.
Reid, who is scheduled to leave the Legislature at the end of the year, still feels confident that bill has hopes of resurfacing as he claimed that Utah will have to deal with the issue, because protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cannot exist alongside religious liberty.

Supporters are currently making efforts to have the amendment placed on the November ballot that would grant churches legal protection from performing marriages that they find goes against their religious beliefs.
The seriousness of these bills is important because some of these bills such as the one proposed in Kansas, do not stop at a the rights of a private business but may go as far as permitting government workers to use their position to deny services or benefits based on their “religious freedom.”

The Constitution of the United States clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” but if religious freedoms bills do make their way into becoming legal within the various states proposing them, it is unclear where the discrimination will stop and it is likely that any American could find themselves at risk of being discriminated against.

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