In one day, it passed out of committee and is up for a House vote. Despite what the bill’s proponents claim, the RFRA would enshrine discrimination on religious grounds into state law.
UPDATED following House vote. There’s still time to take action. See below.
It’s happening even faster than we’d feared. Following a hearing, the Michigan House of Representatives House Judiciary Committee voted to send House Speaker Jase Bolger’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act for a vote before the Michigan House of Representatives. This bill was passed by a vote of 59-50 along straight party lines, the same day as the hearing.
Well, if you could call it a hearing. I watched the proceedings online and it was clear that the Republican members of the committee were completely uninterested in hearing any opposing testimony. Or if they were listening, they just didn’t care.
I’ve written before about House Bill 5958, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which would legalize the use of religious objections to discriminate. Speaker Bolger and his cronies are trying to claim that H.B. 5958 is not a license to discriminate, but the facts are clear. The RFRA would make it legal to refuse service, deny employment or housing, or violate others’ rights just because someone objects on religious grounds.
If the RFRA doesn’t permit religious discrimination, then why did Democratic Rep. Jeff Irwin feel the need to propose an amendment that would explicitly state that the RFRA would not permit actions such as hanging a sign that says “No Christians will be served”? If the bill language was clearly written to prevent discrimination, that amendment would not be necessary. Of course, the amendment was struck down along party lines, with only Democrats supporting language that would forbid discrimination.
I’m not the only one who thinks the RFRA is a dangerous, slippery slope that would enshrine discrimination into Michigan’s state law in the name of “religious freedom” — something that’s already protected by state and federal law.
From Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott, on House Judiciary Committee Chair Kevin Cotter’s first act after being elected House Speaker:
Representative Kevin Cotter has shown his true colors today and foreshadowed the type of behavior we can expect from his tenure as Speaker of the Michigan House. Michigan residents have been clear that they want equality for everyone in our state and instead Republicans are moving to enshrine discrimination into state law.
From Equality Michigan Executive Director Emily Dievendorf:
House Bill 5959, the so-called ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act,’ is unnecessary, and Michigan citizens don’t want to see it become a reality. Religious leaders and victim advocates agree, if this bill becomes law, it will provide licenses to discriminate to people who decide that anti-discrimination laws, child abuse laws, and domestic violence laws do not apply to them. No Michigander should be denied access to services by government officials, turned away from a business, or evicted from their home, just because of who they are.
In my own written testimony to the committee, I argued that the RFRA is a double-edged sword that could serve to harm the very people who are supporting the bill in the first place.
H.B. 5958 would not protect anyone’s beliefs. Instead, it would open the floodgates to allow people of any religion to discriminate against anyone of another religion. Those who irrationally think they are being persecuted now would be at risk of bona fide persecution because it would become legal to discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs.
I submitted testimony for many reasons. As a woman, I’m worried the RFRA could interfere with my access to medical services or career prospects. As a healthcare advocate, I’m worried about the potential that religion could be used to deny anyone medical care. As an ally, I am concerned about the rights of the LGBT community and people of all faiths who could be harmed by this law. As an American, I’m gravely troubled by how often elected officials are trying to erode the separation of church and state.
The ACLU of Michigan — which has always defended freedom of religion as one of the most fundamental rights as Americans — has published important information on the dangers of passing the RFRA, and why it’s not necessary. You can also use the ACLU’s tool to let your representatives know that you do not want the RFRA to become Michigan law. It only takes a minute and there’s still time to be heard before there’s a vote in the Senate or the bill goes to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.
Religious liberty is not under threat. But the rights of every Michigander are if we are forced to live under the RFRA.
[Image credit: Joseph Novak via Flickr.]