April 2016 Church & State - April 2016

Bogus ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills Continue To Advance In Several States

  AU admin

A number of bills designed to undermine marriage equality and stymie LGBT rights are on the move in the states:

In Georgia, lawmakers are trying to advance an extreme version of a “Pastor Protection Act.” Such bills usually state that the government may not require clergy or houses of worship to perform marriages or host marriage ceremonies that would conflict with their faith. This sort of protection is unnecessary, but HB 757 goes even further because it would allow for discrimination. It states that “no religious organization shall be required to rent, lease, or otherwise grant permission for property to be used by another person for purposes which are objectionable to such religious organization.”

HB 757 has already been approved by the Georgia Senate, which also expanded the legislation to allow businesses to refuse to provide goods and services for weddings that they object to for religious reasons. The Georgia House of Representatives also passed HB 757, but that was before it was altered so it must now consider it again.

After several business leaders blasted the bill, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said he will not support any bill that legalizes the use of religion-based discrimination. “We do not have a belief in my way of looking at religion that says we have to discriminate against anybody,” he said. “If you were to apply those standards to the teaching of Jesus, I don’t think they fit.”

In Virginia, a bill is under consideration that would allow all persons authorized to perform a marriage ceremony to refuse to solemnize any marriage if it violates a sincerely held religious belief. Americans United objects to the measure because it would apply to government employees, like judges and justices of the peace.

The bill, SB 41, would also allow organizations that are operated in connection to a religious organization to refuse to provide any marriage-related service even if they are operating a place of public accommodation. It has already passed the Virginia Senate and a committee in the Virginia House of Representatives as of early March.

There is, however, some good news. In March, the West Virginia Senate killed a bill that would have created a potential religious exemption to every state and local law in the state. HB 4012, which was an extreme version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was doomed when the Senate amended the bill with language that prohibited it from being used to trump existing and future civil rights laws. It was voted down by a tally of 27-7.

In South Dakota, a measure that would have allowed any individual, business, non-profit entity and taxpayer-funded organization to ignore any law that conflicts with their religious beliefs that marriage should be recognized only as “the union of one man and one woman” and that “sexual relations are properly reserved to marriage” died in February. HB 1107 was so extreme that it would have allowed businesses to refuse service to people for all sorts of reasons, including their marital status and sexual orientation.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard also vetoed a bill aimed at members of the transgender community. The bill would have limited which bathrooms transgender individuals can use. An attempt by the legislature to override the veto failed.

For regular updates on these bills and others, visit Americans United’s Legislation Tracker here.

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