Legislators rushed the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), HB 5958, through both the House Judiciary Committee and full House in a floor vote with little notice yesterday. In both the committee and on the floor, the bill was passed along straight party lines, the full House vote being 59-50.
That the votes were straight party line represents a failure for the bill’s sponsor, Speaker Jase Bolger, who claimed he wanted to reach across the aisle by pairing it with an anti-discrimination bill, which failed to receive a vote at all.
The Michigan RFRA bill models the Federal RFRA of 1993, which passed almost unanimously with bipartisan support in U.S. Congress. When originally passed, it was intended to be a shield to protect people who wanted to freely exercise their religion without harming others. For example, in Holt v. Hobbs, RFRA is being used to argue that a prisoner should be allowed to grow a beard for religious reasons despite the prison’s rule on facial hair. AU submitted a brief in the case in support of the prisoner. This is how we, and other original supporters of RFRA, believe it should be used: to allow people to freely exercise their religion without affecting or harming others.
Unfortunately, RFRA is more often being used as a sword, to take away the rights of others. Especially after Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, we see more and more efforts to use RFRA as a “license to discriminate” against others. State RFRA bills are now largely pushed as a way for people and for-profit corporations to skirt state and federal discrimination, public safety, and health laws in the name of religion.
That’s not all that passed in Michigan’s House yesterday. House Bill 4928, which AU opposed over a year ago and hasn’t moved since, also passed. This bill is another “license to discriminate,” specifically allowing government-funded adoption agencies to discriminate against parents seeking to adopt for religiously-motivated reasons.
If you live in Michigan, contact your Senator and let him or her know you do not support these bills.