Religious exemption bills should not be used in road funding negotiations, Freedom Michigan tells Lansing

Posted on May 28, 2015

 LANSING, Mich. – Freedom Michigan announced a new public education and digital organizing initiative today called RFRA Hurts, intended to stop the passage of state laws promoting broad religious exemptions in Michigan. The new initiative urges legislators and the governor to not use RFRA and RFRA-type bills – Senate Bill 4 and House Bills 4188-4190 – as leverage during the contentious road funding negotiations. 

SB 4, the misnamed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), would let individuals put their religious beliefs ahead of established state and local laws by letting individuals argue they should be exempt from any law that they say “burdens” their exercise of religion. HB 4188-4190 would give taxpayer money to support foster and adoption agencies that discriminate against loving families based on the agency’s religious beliefs.

For instance, SB 4 could allow a man to claim that domestic and child abuse laws don’t apply to him because his religion teaches that a husband has the right to discipline his family as he sees fit, it could allow social workers to refuse to counsel clients based on the social workers’ religious beliefs, or let pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for daily birth control pills or life-saving HIV drugs because of their religious beliefs.

HB 4188-4190 would allow religiously affiliated foster agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples, single parents, and prospective parents who do not share the religious beliefs of the agency.

“Other states with similar legislation have borne witness to the great harm that can be inflicted on third parties when individuals and groups are able to lay claim that any local or state laws burden their exercise of religion,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “Michigan’s roads and infrastructure should not be fixed on the backs our kids in foster care or our LGBTQ community.”

Earlier this year, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a similar RFRA law amidst public outcry only to be faced with record low approval ratings according to a Howey Politics Indiana Poll. In Texas, where a similar law has passed, the law has been used to block public health requirements in kitchens run by religious organizations, and to overturn zoning laws. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill last year, expressing serious reservations about unintended consequences.

During a hearing in April before the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee, advocacy organizations, business leaders, local government officials and others highlighted the potential unintended consequences and risks of RFRA.

“Americans want our government to treat everyone equally under the law and not discriminate. People entrusted to serve our community – such as doctors, paramedics, school counselors, and elected officials – should not be able to pick and choose who they are going to serve based on their religious beliefs,” said Sommer Foster, Equality Michigan director of political advocacy. “Efforts to pass discriminatory laws like the so-called ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’ and its companion adoption bills are not where our elected officials should be putting their time and energy, and are ultimately a threat to the safety of Michigan families and children.”

“Discriminatory laws significantly reduce the placement options for youth in foster care,” said Gabriel Blau, Family Equality Council executive director. “Nationwide, there are five prospective LGBTQ parents for every youth in foster care awaiting a home. And same-sex couples are four times more likely to be raising an adopted child, and six times more likely to be raising a foster child. We want to see these children in loving homes, and RFRA-type laws will make that more difficult.”

Last year, similar bills in Michigan died after the Senate adjourned on the last day of the legislative session without a vote.

Freedom Michigan is a coalition of business leaders, lawmakers, faith leaders, grassroots activists, members of the LGBTQ community and concerned residents who have come together across party lines for one goal: To protect gay and transgender Michiganders from discrimination.

The campaign was founded by the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, formed by leading businesses and corporations across Michigan united in their commitment to update Michigan’s civil rights law to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.