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Michigan GOP Pushes Non-Inclusive Elliott-Larsen Amendment

By |2014-11-13T09:00:00-05:00November 13th, 2014|Michigan, News|


LANSING – Republicans in the state House announced Wednesday they would be pushing a non-inclusive amendment to Elliott-Larsen and legislation aimed at protecting religious freedom. Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petosky) will introduce legislation to amend the state’s civil rights act to include sexual orientation, but not gender identity. House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) will introduce legislation to protect “religious freedom.”
In a press event on Wednesday Bolger said the two bills were a “balanced” approach to protecting people from discrimination and upholding individual’s religious beliefs. “I believe we as a society must get along with each other,” Bolger said. “I do believe these bills provide balance.”
A document circulated by House Republicans Wednesday afternoon claimed the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation would prohibit a baker from refusing to bake a birthday cake or hire a person because they were gay, but would allow that same baker to refuse to make a cake for a gay
couple to celebrate their wedding.
Such broad religious exemptions have come under scrutiny in the past as potentially allowing racial and other discrimination on the basis of race and other already protected categories. In the press event, BTL asked the Speaker if an adherent of Christian Identity religion, a racist form of Christianity with two churches in Michigan according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, would legally be allowed to refuse to make a cake for an interracial couple’s wedding celebration. “No,” the Speaker said definitively. “There is no racial discrimination that would be allowed under this.”
He called the situation “an outrageous example.”
Ari Adler, spokesperson for Bolger, responded to BTL’s question of legal precedent with the following message:
“In the Hobby Lobby case, the court made it clear that RFRA cannot be used as a basis for unlawful racial discrimination. Note, as stated by the court: ‘The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.’
“In Bob Jones University v United States, 461 US 574 (1983), the university argued that a civil rights law burdened its religious beliefs against interracial marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court held that a civil rights law prohibiting racial discrimination will always satisfy the compelling interest test. Note, as stated by the court: ‘The government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest.’
“And, in the Michigan Constitution (Article V Section 29) the Michigan Civil Rights Commission is given plenary power in prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, race, color or national origin. Put another way, no law passed by the Legislature can be interpreted to conflict with the Civil Rights Commission’s power in these categories. Thus, the state Constitution prohibits RFRA from ever being used to discriminate on the basis of religion, race, color or national origin, which are protected categories within the exclusive purview of the Civil Rights Commission. Note, as stated in an Attorney General opinion soon after the Constitution was adopted: ‘The legislature is without authority to abrogate or limit the power of the Civil Rights Commission… in the fields of employment, education, housing and public accommodations.'”
Response to Bolger’s legislation was swift.
“By pushing for this type of legislation, Jase Bolger is endorsing the use of religion to discriminate, which obstructs the LGBT community in their struggle for equal rights,” said Hugh Madden, communications director for Progress Michigan, in a press release. “Bolger is trying to redefine religious freedom to allow one’s religion to be imposed on others. Our nation was founded by those who fled the type of religious persecution that Jase Bolger wants codified into Michigan law.”
House Democrats were also unhappy with Bolger’s bill.
“We must never allow faith to be an excuse for bigotry,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills said. “One person’s civil rights can never be subject to another’s religious belief. We can’t accept a civil rights law that is so flawed and leaves so many people behind. We urge our Republican counterparts to work with us to create a real civil rights bill that will protect all LGBT Michiganders.” Foster’s legislation, which excludes the transgender community, has also come under withering criticism, as noted in Greimel’s statement.
Foster, Bolger and others claim Elliott-Larsen already protects transgender Michigan residents against discrimination on the basis of gender identity under the category of sex. “(Gender identity) is not necessary,” said Bolger. “I would not support, and I would oppose to my fullest extent, legislation that includes gender identity,”
Bolger said. “It is important we get it right.”
Bolger claimed the more enumeration a law had, the more it excluded other variations of discrimination. This is an argument that was used to pass a non-enumerated anti-bullying bill that was signed into law by Gov. Snyder.
“When it comes to legal protections for marginalized and targeted groups of people, we cannot compromise,” Greimel said. “No Michigander deserves to be denied employment or housing because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, and the civil rights of all of them must be protected. We can’t support any bill that falls short of that. Justice demands that we stand up for the rights and equality of all people, not just some of them.”
Greimel said the entire Democratic caucus would oppose any legislation that was not fully inclusive. Democrats have introduced a fully inclusive amendment to Elliott-Larsen. That bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing).
Opposition to the so-called “two word” solution was swift.
“Businesses agree an inclusive update to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is needed because we know our state’s economic success is dependent on recruiting and retaining top talent,” said Josh Linkner, a Michigan entrepreneur and founding partner of Detroit Venture Partners. “We need to make it clear that Michigan is open for business. But passing legislation that permits discrimination against one group of people because of who they are would undermine our efforts to keep Michigan competitive and on the cutting edge of innovation.”
Linkner is part of the Competitive Workforce Coalition, which on Friday launched the Freedom Michigan initiative.
“If you believe in the basic value that discrimination is wrong, this bill doesn’t just fall short of fully protecting all Michiganders, it sets our state back,” said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan and co-chair of the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition. “This shameful bill ignores the 80 percent of transgender people who report experiencing widespread discrimination in the workplace. We are unwavering in our commitment to passing legislation that specifically protects transgender people and we call on lawmakers to do the right thing.”
“By deciding to leave gender identity and gender expression out of the bill, the sponsors of this bill have handed those who wish to discriminate against lesbisn, gay, bisexual and transgender people a huge gift. Either intentionally or naively, this bill accomplishes none of its stated goals. We have no intention of leaving the transgender community behind. We also are faced with the reality today’s glaring omission impacts the entire community. As LGBTQ victim and legal advocates can tell you, many lesbian, gay and bisexual people are also fired because of their gender expression; any bill which is not fully-inclusive is inadequate,” said Emily Dievendorf, executive director of Equality Michigan.
Bolger tried to pre-empt opposition to the exclusion of gender identity and expression from the legislation during his press event.
“Do they want a resolution or an ongoing fight?” Bolger asked of groups opposed to the current bill. He implied groups might oppose the legislation because passage of protections in civil rights laws would cause the groups to “cease to exist.”
“Speaker Bolger’s claim that we are only continuing this fight for our own gain is correct,” said Dievendorf. “We seek to gain our equality and we don’t feel it should arrive for some now and some later when the whole can be protected from unnecessary vulnerability today.”

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