Religious Freedom Bill Passes in House, Moves to Senate
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 4, 2014)
A religious freedom bill passed in the State House Dec. 4, that would give corporations, employers and individuals more freedom to use religion in decision making, even when it potentially affects the civil rights of others.
Religious Freedom claims have been used by companies to deny reproductive healthcare coverage to female employees, to allow doctors and psychiatrists to refuse service to clients whose religious beliefs or lifestyles differ from their own, and in cases where business owners want to refuse employment or service to individuals who contradict their religious beliefs. Examples could include pharmacists who refuse to give hormones to transgender people, a counselor refusing to help a depressed or suicidal gay person, or a baker who refuses to sell a cake to a gay couple or someone of a differing faith than their own.
According to The Detroit Free Press, “Amendments offered by Democrats would have required: the law to state clearly that the bill would not interfere with the protections offered by the state’s civil rights act; that a person asserting a sincerely held religious belief claim provide proof either through tithing to their church or evidence of community service; or that local communities be allowed to pass their own ordinances.
“All the amendments failed and all the Democrats on the committee and in the full House opposed the bill, while all the Republicans supported it.”
The Free Press also reported that “The House also passed a separate package of bills, on mostly party-line votes, that would allow adoption agencies to refuse services to people if that violated their sincerely held religious beliefs. Those bills also now move to the Senate.”
HB 5958 states:
November 13, 2014, Introduced by Rep. Bolger and referred to the Committee on Judiciary. A bill to limit governmental action that substantially burdens a person’s exercise of religion; to set forth legislative findings; to provide for asserting a burden on exercise of religion as a claim or defense in any judicial or administrative proceeding; and to provide remedies. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT: Sec. 1. This act shall be known and may be cited as the “Michigan religious freedom restoration act”. Sec. 2. The legislature finds and declares all of the following: (a) The free exercise of religion is an inherent, fundamental, and unalienable right secured by article 1 of the state constitution of 1963 and the first amendment to the United States constitution. (b) Laws neutral toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise. (c) Government should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification. (d) In 1993, the congress of the United States enacted the religious freedom restoration act to address burdens placed on the exercise of religion in response to the United States supreme court’s decision in Employment Division v Smith, 494 US 872 (1990), which virtually eliminated the requirement that the government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws neutral toward religion. (e) In City of Boerne v P.F. Flores, 521 US 507 (1997), the United States supreme court held that the religious freedom restoration act of 1993 infringed on the legislative powers reserved to the states under the United States constitution. (f) The compelling interest test set forth in prior court rulings, including Porth v Roman Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo, 209 Mich App 630 (1995), is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing governmental interests in this state. Sec. 3. The purposes of this act are the following: (a) To guarantee application of the compelling interest test, as recognized by the United States supreme court in Sherbert v Verner, 374 US 398 (1963); Wisconsin v Yoder, 406 US 205 (1972); and Gonzales v O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, 546 US 418 (2006), to all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened by government. (b) To provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government. Sec. 4. As used in this act: (a) “Demonstrates” means meets the burdens of going forward with the evidence and of persuasion. (b) “Exercise of religion” means the practice or observance of religion, including an act or refusal to act, that is substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, whether or not compelled by or central to a system of religious belief. (c) “Government” means any branch, department, agency, division, bureau, board, commission, council, authority, instrumentality, employee, official, or other entity of this state or a political subdivision of this state, or a person acting under color of law. Sec. 5. (1) Except as provided in subsection (2), government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. (2) Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to that person’s exercise of religion in that particular instance is both of the following: (a) In furtherance of a compelling governmental interest. (b) The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. (3) A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in any judicial or administrative proceeding and obtain House Bill No. 5958 as amended December 4, 2014 appropriate relief, including equitable relief, against government. (4) A court or tribunal may award all or a portion of the costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney fees, to a person who prevails against government under this section. Sec. 6. (1) Section 5 applies to all laws of this state and of a political subdivision of this state, and the implementation of those laws, whether statutory or otherwise and whether adopted before or after the effective date of this act, unless [a law of this state] explicitly excludes application by reference to this act. (2) This act shall be construed in favor of broad protection of religious exercise to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this act, the state constitution of 1963, and the United States constitution. (3) Nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize any burden on any religious belief. (4) Nothing in this act shall be construed to preempt or repeal any law that is equally or more protective of religious exercise than this act. (5) Nothing in this act shall be construed to affect, interpret, or in any way address those portions of the United States constitution or the state constitution of 1963 that prohibit laws respecting the establishment of religion. Granting government funding, benefits, or exemptions, to the extent permissible under those constitutional provisions, is not a violation of this act. As used in this subsection, the term “granting”, used with respect to government funding, benefits, or exemptions, does not include the denial of government funding, benefits, or exemptions. Sec. 7. If any provision of this act or any application of such a provision to any person or circumstance is held to be unconstitutional, the remainder of this act and the application of the provision to any other person or circumstance is not affected.
NOTE: Kathy Gray of the Detroit Free Press covered this hearing very well. Check out her story at http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2014/12/04/michigan-religious-freedom-bill-moves-house/1988997.
Religious Freedom Bill Passes in House, Moves to Senate