A Busy Week for Religious Freedom Bills in the States

Several state legislatures are pushing Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bills, which many have dubbed “licenses to discriminate.” These bills could allow people to disregard non-discrimination, public safety, and public health laws in the name of religion. Here are some recent updates from on state RFRA bills:

Indiana

Earlier this month, Indiana’s Senate Judiciary Committee held a passionate five hour hearing on Indiana’s RFRA bill, Senate Bill 101. Despite the fact that this so-called “religious freedom” bill stirs up controversy, last Wednesday morning the Committee sneakily passed SB 101 when no Democrats were present to vote or oppose the bill. It will now move to the whole Senate for a floor vote.

Indiana civil rights groups and the business community came out against the bill because of the risk that some may use to the bill to refuse service to potential patrons. They recognize that this is not likely to help boost business in the state. The business community has been a consistent opponent of these bills: last session businesses came out against similar bills in Arizona, Kansas, Georgia, and Michigan as well.

Georgia

Last Wednesday, Senator McKoon filed Senate Bill 129, despite the lack of support for the same bill last year, when civil rights and business groups vehemently opposed the legislation. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SB 129. The sponsor, who is also the Chair of the Committee, allowed each speaker a mere two minutes to express their opinions on the bill—although his timer seemed to much more lenient for those who supported the bill. After Senator McKoon invoked procedural rules to refuse to allow committee members to consider an amendment that would have prevented the bill from being used to discriminate, a motion was made to table the controversial bill. The vote succeeded because committee members didn’t feel they had enough time to submit and consider amendments.

Representative Teasley also introduced a RFRA, House Bill 218, earlier in the month in the House and it has not yet moved.

Wyoming

The Wyoming RFRA, House Bill 83, goes further and would allow special protections not only for religious expression, but for actions based on a person’s “moral conscience,” making it even broader and expanding the excuses to discriminate. HB 83 recently passed in the House.

Arkansas

The Arkansas RFRA, House Bill 1228, is called the “Conscience Protection Act,” but it does the same thing as the other RFRA bills. The House passed HB 1228 earlier last week and the Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to take it up soon.

South Dakota

The South Dakota House State Affairs Committee began discussion on its RFRA bill, House Bill 1220, and will continue to hear testimony on Tuesday, February 24th.

Check back here and with AU’s State Action Center to stay up to date on state RFRA bills.