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Michigan House Passes Religious Protection Legislation

Image: Michigan House Passes Religious Protection Legislation
Michigan House of Representatives. (Dmitriy Bryndin | Dreamstime)

By    |   Friday, 05 Dec 2014 05:04 PM

By a vote of 59-50, the Michigan House has passed a bill designed to protect those with religious beliefs against government interference with the practice of those beliefs.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, aimed at, for example, protecting a baker who doesn't want to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding, or a Jewish family opposing an autopsy on a family member due to religious belief, is now headed for the Republican-dominated Michigan Senate, against fierce opposition from those who feel it permits and protects discrimination, USA Today reports.

However, Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, insisted, "This is not a license to discriminate. People simply want their government to allow them to practice their faith in peace."

Bolger's House Bill 5958 would require the government to make a "compelling justification" to burden someone's ability to exercise their religious freedoms, the Detroit News reported.

The bill states, "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 interest is both of the following: (a) in furtherance of a compelling government interest and (b) the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest."

It would protect "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."

"I am asking you today to give Michigan's law-abiding citizens the same protection as Michigan's incarcerated felons have," Bolger said in a speech before the vote, the Detroit News noted.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 to pass the bill.

Democrats said the bill would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians, and bill opponent Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, commented, "I believe it provides a license to discriminate," the Detroit News reported.

The Michigan Catholic Conference supported the bill, and group representative Tom Hickson said, "A Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act is good for tolerance and diversity, it is good for individual and religious liberties and it is for the common good of society."

Bolger told the New Civil Rights Movement, "I support individual liberty and I support religious freedom," Bolger said today. "I have been horrified as some have claimed that a person’s faith should only be practiced while hiding in their home or in their church."

However, the group expressed concerns that the bill could be used to justify, for example, a pharmacist refusing to fill a birth control or HIV medication prescription or a teacher refusing to tutor the child of a same-sex couple.

Constitutional law expert William Wagner, however, said of the bill, "This is about asserting a religious belief against a government action. The question is, are we still going to be tolerant of religious communities."

Rep. Vicki Barnett, D-Farmington Hills, said, "This bill moves us in a new and uncharted direction. It requires me and others to practice the faith of our employers, grocers and pharmacists," USA Today reported.

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By a vote of 59-50, the Michigan House has passed a bill designed to protect those with religious beliefs against government interference with the practice of those beliefs.
Michigan House, passes, religious protection
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2014-04-05
Friday, 05 Dec 2014 05:04 PM
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