John M. Becker

Michigan House Passes 'Right to Discriminate' Bill

Filed By John M. Becker | December 08, 2014 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: anti-discrimination law, Christianists, Michigan, religious exemption, religious privilege, Republican Party, special rights, theocracy

quit_squirming.jpgLate last week, the Republican-controlled Michigan House of Representatives passed a GOP-sponsored bill that would create a special "right" to discriminate against LGBT people and others on the basis of religion.

Like Arizona's "right to discriminate" bill -- which failed spectacularly earlier this year after enormous pressure from businesses, politicians, human rights advocacy organizations, and concerned citizens -- the Michigan measure would grant individuals and businesses the legal right to refuse services to people or groups if they claimed that doing so would "substantially burden" their freedom of religion.

The Associated Press reports:

The Republican-led state House approved legislation Thursday that supporters said would protect people's religious beliefs from government overreach and opponents charged would permit discrimination against gays and others.

On a party-line 59-50 vote, the House sent the GOP-controlled Senate a proposed Michigan version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It would provide a claim or defense to people who say their exercise of religion has been substantially burdened by the government. Majority Republicans also passed bills letting faith-based agencies refuse to participate in adoptions that violate their beliefs.

GOP House Speaker Jase Bolger of Marshall, the sponsor of the Michigan version of the federal law, introduced it last month to coincide with a GOP bill that would amend the state's civil rights act to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. But that measure is dead because Republicans and Democrats disagree on specifically banning discrimination against transgender residents.

More, after the break.

Supporters of the bill bristle at the charge that it's extreme, but opponents -- including civil liberties advocates and proponents of LGBT equality -- say the measure could in fact lead to unconscionable discrimination. Via MSNBC:

While Bolger insists the bill is meant to protect, say, the Muslim butcher who wants to prepare food in line with halal practices, or the Jewish mother who doesn't want an autopsy performed on her son, civil liberties advocates warn it could be used as a defense for the landlord who wants to evict a gay tenant, or the pharmacist who doesn't want to provide birth control, all because of sincerely held religious beliefs.

In some of the ugliest scenarios, critics say the measure could allow Catholic-owned hospitals to refuse admittance to people who need a procedure that violates the institution's religious directives, such as a pre-viability pregnancy termination in the case of a miscarriage. In another instance, opponents foresee the bill being cited as a legal defense in domestic violence cases.

"In many religions, it's OK for a man to beat his wife," Brooke Tucker, staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan, told msnbc. "Based on language in this bill, all he has to say is my religion allows me to do this."

The measure will now be considered by Michigan's GOP-controlled Senate. The state's Republican governor, Rick Snyder, is a well-known anti-LGBT bigot.

nom-refuse-right-service.jpgEunice Rho, an advocacy and policy counsel with the ACLU, says that the group is "very concerned" that as marriage equality advances, "proponents of these bills are going to regroup and pour more resources into it, and that the push will be even more aggressive."

Over the past year, bills granting special rights to anti-LGBT bigots have been introduced in nearly a dozen states. In every state but one (Mississippi), they have failed. But the Supreme Court's disastrous Hobby Lobby decision, which granted religious rights to closely-held corporations, appears to have reinvigorated the special-rights-for-homophobes push.

"Quit Squirming" cartoon by artist Mike Ritter of the GA Voice.

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