The religious freedom battles playing out across the U.S.
Posted April 14, 2016
In June 2015, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, sparking a wave of legislative reactions from state and local government leaders.
More than 100 religious freedom bills have been proposed in state legislatures since the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Their sponsors argue that religious organizations, faith-based charities, small-business owners who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds and other groups need to be guaranteed the freedom to follow their conscience without the threat of legal action.
Here's a summary of the religious freedom bills that have been considered by state legislatures so far this year:
The Child Care Provider Inclusion Act, filed in the Senate as SB204, was advanced by the Education and Youth Affairs Committee in early March. It would enable child-care service providers, including adoption and foster care agencies, to limit options available to LGBT youths and same-sex couples.
Introduced in the Senate and assigned to a committee in January, SB120 would allow anyone who is authorized to perform a wedding ceremony to refuse to participate in a marriage celebration without threat of punishment. Additionally, these officials would be exempted from providing accommodations, facilities or other goods related to the ceremony.
AB1212 has been bouncing around the California Legislature since early 2015 and failed to pass last April. However, it could be reintroduced this year. The Student Freedom of Association Act would allow college students to form clubs that limit voting membership or leadership to people who espouse a certain faith. Academic institutions that refused that accommodation would not be eligible for state funding for financial assistance.
Two religious freedom bills introduced this year were postponed indefinitely by the House Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs. HB1123 would have exempted clergy members, ministers and religiously affiliated organizations from participating in any ceremony, including a marriage, that conflicted with their beliefs. HB1180 was an attempt to create a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In 2015, the Florida House passed HB7111, which would have allowed adoption agencies to refuse service to same-sex couples, but it died in the Senate. HB401, which was introduced in October 2015 and discussed in the early months of this year, also failed to make it to the governor's desk. The bill would have allowed individuals, businesses with five or fewer owners, religious institutions and businesses operated by faith groups to refuse to produce, create or deliver a product or service to a customer if they have a religious or moral objection, according to the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida.
HB43 states that religious organizations, including churches and some schools, and faith leaders do not have to participate in any marriage ceremony that violates their religious beliefs. It was signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott on March 10 and will take effect July 1.
Although bills proposing a state RFRA for Georgia failed to make it through the House and Senate, HB757 made it to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk. On March 28, he announced that he would veto the bill that "would have given faith-based organizations in Georgia the option to deny services and jobs to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people," CNN reported. Companies such as Apple, Disney and the National Football Association denounced it as discriminatory.
Several RFRA-related bills have been debated, including HB1337, HB2532 and HB2764. The proposals exempted religious organizations from laws related to discrimination, barring the state from taking action against someone who objects to same-sex marriage or protecting faith leaders and religious small-business owners from having to provide services for same-sex weddings. The three bills were introduced in late January and referred to committee at the beginning of February.
In response to a national uproar after state lawmakers tried to pass an RFRA bill last year, Republican Rep. Jim Lucas introduced HB1041 during this legislative session. It would have ended the system of state marriage licenses, allowing any two people to be legally wed if they sign a contract in the presence of two others. Lucas' proposal stalled in a House committee in March.
Originally filed in July 2015, the Religious Freedom Defense Act, SB2164, was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee in February. The bill builds off Illinois' RFRA, passed in 1998, and would prevent state and local government leaders from taking legal action against anyone who believes marriage should only be between one man and one woman.
Five religious freedom bills have been introduced in the Iowa Legislature, but they've made no progress since being assigned to committees. HF2032 and HF2200/SF2171 propose an Iowa Religious Freedom Restoration Act, drawing on legal language used in the federal RFRA.
SF2044, SF2043 and HF2207/SF2211 would allow people to refuse, on religious grounds, to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies without putting themselves at risk for legal action or loss of tax benefits.
SB175 allows religiously affiliated student groups on college campuses to limit membership to people who espouse certain beliefs. It was signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback on March 22, and takes effect July 1.
SB180 would stop the government from compelling businesses with religious owners and other faith-based organizations to serve all customers. It passed the Senate on March 15 and is now being debated in the House. Legislators are also considering HB17, HB14 and HB28, which deal with the rights of government officials and clergy members to refuse to participate in same-sex weddings. All three were introduced in January and assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. The committee is also considering HB31, which proposes moving marriage licensing and recording duties from county clerks to the state registrar of vital statistics.
HB597, described as a pastor protection act, would prevent religious organizations, employees of religious organizations and members of the clergy from having to solemnize or provide services for a marriage ceremony that violates their religious beliefs. The bill was introduced on March 14 and assigned to a committee.
The House considered one religious freedom bill this year, but it was withdrawn in February after an unfavorable report from the Judiciary Committee. HB16 would have exempted faith leaders from having to perform wedding ceremonies for couples whose marriage violated the faith leaders' religious beliefs.
Mississippi's "Religious Liberty Accommodations Act," HB1523, was signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant on April 5. The sweeping legislation "prevents the government from 'discriminating' (through taxes, fines, withholding benefits, or other forms of retaliation) against a 'person' (broadly defined as an individual, religious organization, association, corporation, and other kinds of businesses) for acting on their religious convictions regarding sexuality and marriage," according to The Washington Post.
Five other bills, SB2093, HB587, HB586, HB1342 and HB737, which would have allowed religious leaders, judges and other government leaders to refuse to participate in a marriage ceremony on religious grounds, died in committee in February.
State lawmakers in Missouri have debated several RFRA-related proposals this year, but only two gained national attention. SB916 would expand exemptions to the Missouri Human Rights Act — which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, sex, age or disability — from houses of worship and faith-based organizations to groups like religiously affiliated hospitals and universities. The bill passed committee and is set for Senate debate in April.
SJR39 would amend the state constitution to allow religious organizations, businesses and people of faith to refuse service to same-sex couples if gay marriage violates their religious beliefs. The proposal survived a nearly 40-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats in March and awaits action in the House, The Missouri Times reported.
Nebraska policymakers are considering LB975, which would maintain the status quo and allow faith-based adoption agencies and foster families to abide by their beliefs in placing children, as sponsoring Sen. Mark Kolterman, who is Republican, wrote in a post on the Nebraska Legislature's website. Opponents say it would enable adoption agencies to refuse service to LGBT families. The bill was adopted by the legislative committee on March 21 and awaits action in the Senate.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in New Jersey since 2013, but the Legislature is still debating whether there should be legal protections for clergy members who do not wish to participate in same-sex marriage celebrations. A1706 would provide an exemption for faith leaders and religious organizations, allowing them to avoid blessing same-sex marriages and civil unions. The bill was introduced in January and referred to the Judiciary Committee.
HB55 would expand on the state's RFRA to "prevent discriminatory action by a person or a government agency in response to a person's free exercise of religion." The bill is currently in committee, but some lawmakers have said concerns from business interests have ensured the measure is "dead on arrival," according to television station KOB 4.
While not explicitly religious, faith-based groups backed HB 2, aka "the bathroom bill," which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on March 23. The law prohibits cities from expanding on state nondiscrimination laws, which do not explicitly protect LGBT individuals. The law nullified a Charlotte ordinance that had "protected transgender people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity," The Charlotte Observer reported. A federal lawsuit has already been filed challenging HB 2.
Two bills related to religious freedom protections have sat in committee since last year. HB286 would allow people of faith not to participate in same-sex weddings for religious reasons. HB296 would grant that same protection to wedding-related businesses, such as bakeries and photographers.
The Oklahoma Legislature has more than 10 religious freedom bills circulating in the current session. About half of them were filed in 2015 and remain in committees.
SB898, which was introduced in February, proposes a state RFRA. SB973, also referred to as the "Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act," seeks to prohibit the use of any state funds for any act related to same-sex marriage. It would also prohibit state employees or local government entities from recognizing or granting a same-sex marriage license.
Two separate pieces of legislation, one a proposed constitutional amendment and one a House bill, deal with the right of religiously affiliated adoption agencies to refuse services to same-sex couples. HJR1059, introduced in February, would also limit the LGBT community's access to health care providers and marriage-related services. HB2428, which advanced to the House in February, would allow child-placing organizations to refuse service to couples who do not live according to the organization's religious beliefs or moral convictions.
A committee killed SB1328, which would have allowed any individual, business or organization with religious objections to same-sex marriage, including government clerks tasked with providing marriage licenses, to refuse service to couples.
HB4513, introduced in the House in January, would "limit the term marriage to a union that (involves) one man and one woman. It also would try to invalidate court decisions to the contrary and prohibit the enforcement of such court rulings," local TV station WJCL 22 reported.
The state's lawmakers are also weighing two other bills — HB4446 and HB4508 — that seek to protect members of the clergy from having to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Both bills were introduced in January and referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.
A religious freedom bill, HB1107, passed the House in February and was tabled by the Senate Judiciary Committee soon after, effectively killing it.
"The measure would've prohibited the state from retaliating against people who voice beliefs that marriage should be exclusively between one man and one woman, that sexual intercourse should only occur between married couples and that gender is determined by biological sex at birth," the Argus Leader reported. "People who expressed those views would be protected from termination of employment or enrollment, loss of funding, accreditation or tax exemption in some cases, or termination of state contracts."
Four religious freedom bills have been introduced simultaneously in the Tennessee Senate and House.
HB1412/SB1437 requires state officials to uphold marriage between one man and one woman even in the face of federal intervention. The bill failed the House but is still alive in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
HB2375/SB2329 would protect clergy members and religiously affiliated organizations (and their employees) from having to solemnize or take part in a same-sex marriage ceremony if doing so would violate their beliefs. It failed in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, but it is still being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Introduced in January, HB2379/SB2462 has not yet progressed through Senate and House of Representatives committees. Both bills would prohibit public officials from performing marriages, allowing only clergy to conduct such ceremonies.
HB1840/SB1556 would provide legal immunity for counselors and therapists who refuse to counsel people whose goals conflict with their own religious convictions. This bill passed the Senate in February, and was to be debated in the House this week.
Three religious freedom bills have failed in Virginia already this year. SB40 would have excused county clerks with religious objections to same-sex marriage from providing licenses to gay or lesbian couples. House and Senate negotiators couldn't agree on a final form of HB773, which would have prevented the government from taking legal action against an individual who believes only marriages between one man and one woman should be recognized.
SB41, which proposed protections for clergy members and religiously affiliated organizations who wish to be exempted from same-sex marriage ceremonies, passed both houses but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe on March 30.
Lawmakers have considered two religious freedom bills in 2016. HB2752, which was introduced and assigned to a committee in January, would protect groups like faith-based charities and education institutions from violating their beliefs by supporting same-sex marriage. HB2631 would have allowed individuals or businesses to refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings for religious reasons. The bill was introduced in January but did not make it through the House Judiciary Committee.
Three attempts to amend the state RFRA have failed this year. HB4012, which passed the House but was voted down in the Senate in March, provided a sincerely held religious belief a legal defense in court, Metro News reported. SB11 and HB2508 died in committee in January.
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