Republicans in Michigan are getting closer to providing citizens with a license to discriminate
The Michigan Legislature is using this typical lame-duck session, the period after elections, but before new members take office, to legalize discrimination. The Republican legislature is fearful that bigotry is under attack and they must stop the government from protecting certain groups from any discrimination invoked in God’s name. In doing so, the Michigan Republicans are providing a license to discriminate in the name of religion.
The “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” is the brainchild of House Speaker Jase Bolger, who is in his third and final term. Not wanting to waste his final two weeks in office, during committee testimony, Bolger stated, “I support individual liberty and I support religious freedom… 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.” Even though your home and church is exactly the place to practice your religion Bolger thinks that your personal faith should be used to discriminate against others living contrary to your faith.
Bolger added his bill would help protect Jewish butchers who were prohibited from following Kosher tenets, for example, or Christian pastors who were prohibited from feeding homeless residents due to local food safety rules. However, this bill was in direct response to a push by advocates of gay rights to expand protections to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons.
According to an ACLU of Michigan attorney, the RFRA could allow a landlord who was forced to rent to a single mother to sue their city on religious grounds. Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s in other states have been used by pharmacists who then refuse to dispense birth control. State Rep. Vicki Barnett, D-Farmington Hills, said “I should not be forced to follow the religion of my pharmacist,” prior to a vote on the bill.
This bill is ripe with unintended consequences. It is so broadly written that an EMT could refuse emergency treatment based on someone’s sexual orientation. It would also permit a catholic school to refuse to hire a Muslim. A government employee could refuse service to someone who is divorced. The list of possible discrimination is endless.
Meanwhile, a companion bill that would have expanded Michigan’s civil rights acts to the LGBT community was declared dead after a committee couldn’t get enough votes to move the bills to the full House. The LGBT community still lacks protection against discrimination. Anyone can still be fired just for being gay. But as a member of the religious community stated, “No one from the LGBT community has ever had fire hoses turned on them by the police department, they have never had to drink out of an LGBT water fountain,” Pastor Stacy Swimp told the House committee that considered the measure. “There is no record of LGBT — homosexuals, lesbians—being forced to sit at the back of the bus in an LGBT section.”
Maybe not. But they have been fired, beaten to death, refused the right to adopt children, been denied the right to be with their ill partner in the hospital, had property taken from them by a deceased partner’s family, and refused service in local businesses. Somehow, in some twisted logic, wanting to live with dignity is an affront to religious freedom. Michigan’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has passed the house and bigots are just a little closer to having this law behind them. It now moves to the Republican controlled Senate, and then can be signed into law by the Republican Governor.