Lawmakers Consider Slew Of Reckless Bills That Undermine Church-State Separation

Thanks to the power of the Religious Right, a number of bad bills have circulated in the states this year that would allow discrimination against LGBT persons in the name of “religious freedom.” 

Here are updates on the status of some of those measures.

Missouri: In late April, the Missouri House’s Emerging Issues Committee was unable to pass S.J.R. 39, a resolution that would have written religion-based discrimination into the Missouri Constitution. Previously, eight state senators waged an epic filibuster against the resolution, but the state Senate voted to approve the measure anyway.

Earlier that month, the committee heard public testimony during a session that spanned over four hours and went late into the night. The committee postponed a vote on the resolution, reportedly due to a lack of support. In the end, the committee vote was 6-6. With a tie vote, the bill failed to advance. Although some had discussed using a procedural maneuver to bring the measure to the House, House Speaker Todd Richardson has indicated that is unlikely. The measure appears effectively dead for the session.

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Haslam (R) in April signed into law a measure (H.B. 1840/S.B. 1556) that permits therapists and counselors to use their  personal religious and moral beliefs to justify denying health care services to patients and clients. As a  result, Tennesseans who need mental-health services could be dis­criminated against. The bill is now law despite widespread opposition from mental-health pro­viders. Tennessee is the only state to pass such a law.

Mississippi: Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed a bill into law in early April that critics say opens the door to religiously inspired discrimination. The measure, H.B. 1523, makes it illegal for the state government to punish people for refusing to provide services to LGBT residents and unmarried couples, among others.

Worrisome proposals are pending in other states. Alabama legislators are trying to pass legislation to permit groups that provide adoption services to refuse placements with LGBT couples, single parents and others. In Ohio, a bill is pending that would allow religious groups that run for-profit enterprises to deny services to LGBT people.

To get updates on state and federal legislation like this, visit AU’s Protect Thy Neighbor website.