CON Some communities see religious-freedom bill as setback for progress

The Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as spelled out in House Bill 5958, would create a substantial burden on our communities, by letting individuals avoid abiding by any state or local laws they say “hinder” their exercise of religion, and by enabling them to file suit challenging local ordinances and regulations.

It could allow individuals to argue that laws outlawing discrimination, child abuse and domestic violence don’t apply to them. That includes laws passed by cities such as East Lansing to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender residents from discrimination, protections they currently don’t have under Michigan law.

Even if local governments are ultimately successful in defending their ordinances from frivolous legal challenges, they’ll still need to spend untold sums of taxpayer dollars in court to do so. This bill isn't a shield to protect religious liberty. It is a sword that can and will be used to challenge the application of all manner of local ordinances.

If this bill becomes law, a police officer could argue that he or she should not have to protect a church, mosque or synagogue, citing his or her religious beliefs. An emergency room doctor could refuse to treat a gay teenager since his or her religion holds that homosexuality is morally wrong. A man could claim that domestic violence laws don’t apply to him because his religion teaches that a husband has the right to discipline his family – including his wife and children – as he sees fit.

These are not outlandish hypotheticals. We’ve already seen the very real negative impacts of similar laws in other states.

Dallas was forced to spend $1 million in a legal battle over requiring local religious groups to follow city food safety standards when preparing and serving meals. In Tulsa, a police officer, citing religious freedom, refused to attend a police appreciation community event aimed at building better community-police relations held by a local Islamic society.

Passing this law will legitimize discrimination in every community across our state.

Even conservative politicians such as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer have balked at RFRA bills in their states. She vetoed similar legislation, stating that “the bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”

East Lansing was the first community in the nation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in March 1972. We have long prided ourselves on being a community that values inclusion and embraces diversity. We are the only community in Michigan to earn a perfect 100 rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. We have worked hard to make our community welcoming to all who might wish to live, work, raise a family or start a business in East Lansing.

If passed, Michigan's RFRA will undermine decades of work done by our community. We can’t claim to be working hard to attract the best talent for our businesses and universities while passing policies such as RFRA that we know will drive talented people from our state. Communities are in a pitched battle to attract and retain the best and brightest in Michigan, but we can’t win that battle if we are constantly being undermined by a legislature bent on adopting discriminatory legislation.

RFRA has passed the Michigan House and is now in the Michigan Senate. Now is the time for Michigan citizens to speak out.

Lawmakers shouldn’t pass a bill that could lead to court-clogging lawsuits, expensive legal bills for cities seeking to protect their citizens, or legalized discrimination. For these reasons, I urge our legislators and Gov. Rick Snyder to keep this ill-advised bill from becoming law.

PRO Religious-freedom act would protect Michigan people of faith.

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Comments

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 12:05pm
"In Tulsa, a police officer, citing religious freedom, refused to attend a police appreciation community event aimed at building better community-police relations held by a local Islamic society." And so our mayor would be obligated to throw rocks at windows and loot businesses because the local chapter of the NAACP deemed participation to be part of their strategy for eliminating racism.
Chuck
Mon, 12/15/2014 - 4:24pm
Non sequitur. And, by the way, did you see the National Association of Evagelicals report that, following an early morning raid, atheists took control or at least three Christmas creches this past Sunday?
Mon, 12/15/2014 - 6:18pm
Chuck, I'm hurt; I worked hard on finding the exact parallels of the cop and our mayor. What you said was so confused that one could not tell whether it was nonsense or not. How is it relevant?
S. Joy Gaines
Sat, 12/20/2014 - 8:23am
Mr. Haas, the NAACP has never advocated looting business nor damaging property to address racism. The NAACP has always advocated non-violent means for addressing racism; has always had members of all races; has always partnered with men, women, and organizations of all races to advance a more just society. The NAACP march in Missouri was not followed by the media. If you seek out the few sources who did report it or the individuals who participated, you will find that it was peaceful - peaceful despite being shot at by "counter protesters," peaceful in spite of being spit on, assaulted, threatened and called all sorts of vile, hateful things, by counter protesters, peaceful despite having mock lynchings and nooses displayed by these counter protesters. To make such an untrue statement is particularly distasteful to down right disgusting when your police the department, the Lansing Police Department, has in fact protected KKK demonstrators in Lansing AND the KKK IS an organization that promotes and practices violence,malicious destruction of property, assaults, batteries, and murder.
Pure Reason
Tue, 12/16/2014 - 12:42pm
Interesting that this article does not reference just one egregious case where RFRA was SUCCESSFULLY used. Instead, those seeking to exploit this bill for political gain point to misleading hypotheticals and claims made under RFRA that were quickly shot down by courts (the author conveniently forgot to mention the outcome of the RFRA claims that he cites). People can always assert crazy claims whether or not a RFRA (or any other law) is in place. I can claim that reading Mr. Triplett's false claims here is a form of cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment. While I'd of course lose, that doesn't mean we should repeal the 8th Amendment. What matters is whether or not claims are successful, not whether or not they're made in the first place. In response to the absurd examples cited here: "If this bill becomes law, a police officer could argue that he or she should not have to protect a church, mosque or synagogue, citing his or her religious beliefs." This couldn't be more false. Besides the fact that the bill would affirm such a claim because the government has a "compelling interest" in ensuring police officers carry out their duties, government employees such as police could never use RFRA in this way because that would itself be a government action that discriminates on the basis of religion, which the Constitution forbids. This isn't rocket science and it should go without saying that no law could ever be used or interpreted in a way that would result in such a constitutional violation. Hence why the court easily struck down such a claim in the case below. "In Tulsa, a police officer, citing religious freedom, refused to attend a police appreciation community event aimed at building better community-police relations held by a local Islamic society." This is true that the officer did try to assert such a claim, but using this as an example is extremely disingenuous considering that the officer's claim was flat out rejected by his supervisor, as well as a trial and appellate court. That officer also unsuccessfully filed an objection under the First Amendment, so even if RFRA didn't exist, he would have (unsuccessfully) objected anyways under other laws. "An emergency room doctor could refuse to treat a gay teenager since his or her religion holds that homosexuality is morally wrong." This is easy to dismiss and prove false. A federal law called EMTALA governs the provision of emergency medical services. Under the Supremacy Clause, this means that the federal law would trump and preempt RFRA in these situations. Even if that federal law didn't exist , RFRA would undoubtedly recognize that the state has a compelling interest in ensuring public health through emergency medical services. Anything related to "emergency" services will always satisfy RFRA's compelling interest standard. The case law and empirical evidence couldn't be any clearer on this. "A man could claim that domestic violence laws don’t apply to him because his religion teaches that a husband has the right to discipline his family – including his wife and children – as he sees fit." Again, this is a ridiculous example. There is not one case out there that says government doesn't have a compelling interest in preventing physical violence or threats to public safety. To the contrary, the case law and empirical evidence is clear that the state always has a compelling interest that cannot be interfered with when it comes to enforcing criminal laws that involve a victim, such as domestic violence laws.
Jeff
Tue, 12/16/2014 - 3:38pm
The E.R. doctor refusing treatment is absurd and illegal under federal law. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act expressly prohibits discrimination for medical treatment. In case you were unaware, state law cannot override federal law in a situation like this. Correct if I am wrong, but I am aware of only one religion in which the treatment of wives is addressed. When the issue has been raised in court, it is always struck down as a defense for domestic abuse in the U.S. The case in Dallas had to do with the city trying to prevent the church from feeding the homeless. Their claim was by feeding the homeless, the church was enabling those people to remain on the streets. The church maintained it had a religious obligation to help those people and the federal court agreed. I would submit that the Tulsa officers case was very weak and totally misplaced. He had options he refused to pursue if he chose not to attend. It was his own personal bias that was the problem, not discrimination. Freedom of Religion does not mean disobey orders just because you don't want to go somewhere. I agree this case did use resources that could have been put to better use somewhere else. In my opinion, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain since he didn't have to pay for a lawyer. Please use examples that are legitimate when trying to make your point. Such examples could be a person who is Muslim could refuse to sell you gasoline if you have a "I love Jesus" sticker on your vehicle. A Jewish cook could refuse to handle non-kosher food. A Christian electrician refusing to install a service for a Buddhist monastery.
Duane
Tue, 12/16/2014 - 9:05pm
"East Lansing was the first community in the nation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in March 1972." Mr. Triplett seems to see East Lansing as the beacon for legislative actions to control people attitudes. He seem to believe that what East Lansing did was to provide legal due process at the local level to those who felt slighted/deprived/deny of what they wanted. It seems now that others want to create an equivalent legal due process for those who have similar feelings about how they are treated he wants to prevent such actions. It leaves me with the impression that Mr. Triplett wants the system to be available to those he sides with but not those he disagrees with. His justification is the financial burden it may place on the local governmental organizations, I believe this was similar to the rationale people used back in the 60s and 70s when resisting the lesgislation he supports. I believe failed then and so should it fail now, if what was happening then is similar to what is happening now then a similar approach for redress should be available now. I am resistant to the implication of the proposed legislation, except for Mr. Triplett's rationale against it. If I were to simply rely on the Pro and Con articles I would support it not because Mr. Adler makes a better case, both are weak and self serving, but Mr. Triplett's willingness to treat people differently simply because of cost to communities or that he wants local law to some how supercede the US Consitution is more disturbing than and Mr. Adler wanting to follow the path established by East Lansing over 40 years ago and creating local law.