As Arizona Backs Off Discrimination Bill, Legislation Moves to Other States
Early this week, Arizona state legislature approved a bill that would literally protect discrimination against homosexuals in the state under the guise of “religious freedom.” People in and out of the state were aghast. Companies threatened boycotts. The NFL said it would pull the Super Bowl. Finally, even politicians who originally proposed the bill were telling Republican Governor Jan Brewer to veto it.
Brewer did. But Arizona isn’t the only state with a bill that would allow discrimination against the LGBT community under the guise of religious freedom. So how are the other bills faring?
Ohio’s “religious freedom” bill was believed to be similar to that of Arizona. According to bill sponsors, however, the legislation was primarily for ensuring Ohioans could publicly parade their religious beliefs without fear of blowback. “We thought it would be a good idea to protect people who wanted to wear their Yarmulke to work or put their Bible on their desk and not be punished in any form for that,” said bill sponsor, Rep. Bill Patmon, D-Cleveland, alluding to a case where a teacher was allegedly fired for having his bible out in public at school. (That wasn’t exactly the case; he was let go for promoting Christian ideas in the classroom.)
Lawmakers decided to give up the bill on Wednesday after public pressure from civil liberties groups.
The Georgia bill was just as short-lived as Ohio’s. The so-called “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” was meant to be heard early in the week, but faded off into the sunset after bill sponsor Sam Teasley was contacted by irate constituents. “After introducing the bill, a number of citizens expressed concerns that the language could be construed in a way that might encourage discrimination,” Teasley stated, according to Mother Jones. “I do not believe that the bill as introduced does that. It was most certainly not my intent and frankly, as a man of faith, that would be inconsistent with what my faith teaches me. My faith teaches that all people, regardless of belief system, are to be treated with dignity and respect.”
According to Right Wing Watch, Mississippi was intending to pass a “religious freedom” bill by tacking it onto a bill putting “In God We Trust” onto the state seal. The seal passed unanimously, but the language to allow discrimination as long as it occurred because of a person’s religious beliefs was struck from it. Instead, the final language ratifies the original 90s Religious Freedom Restoration Acts language that protects religious freedom but does not allow that freedom to be used as an excuse to discriminate against others in hiring or services. Not everyone in Mississippi agrees that the change eliminates the possibility of discrimination, though. “The bill, obtained by Deep South Progressive, still says that state action cannot ‘compel any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion’ and continues to define ‘exercise of religion’ to mean ‘the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief,’” warns Deep South Progressive. “Those key parts of the bill, which LGBT activists feared would legitimize discrimination by businesses that claim ‘sincerely held religious belief’ as the motivating factor, remain unchanged.”
While there doesn’t seem to be unanimous consent on whether or not the Mississippi discrimination bill is defanged or not, no one has any doubts about the bill in Missouri, where an Arizona-style bill was introduced early this week and still remains up for consideration. Interestingly, the same lawmaker proposing the bill also voted to have sexual orientation be a protected class when it comes to workplace or housing discrimination in the state. In other words, according to the bill’s sponsor, a person should not be discriminated against based on sexual orientation unless a business wants to refuse services to that person based on the business owner’s religious beliefs. Or, something along that line.
Yes, that confuses us as well.
It remains to be seen if Missouri will follow the lead of every other state to propose a “turn gays away” bill since Arizona and let the issue die without a vote.
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