By Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. and Sen. Rick Jones
Pro: Protecting Freedom Of Religious Expression Is Not Discrimination
By Sen. Rick Jones
The proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act is about protecting one of America's founding principles: religious liberty. This a fundamental right that goes back to the settlement of the New World. The Pilgrims on the Mayflower are probably the most famous example of this idea of religious freedom in action. They came here to live free from religious persecution.
Our country's Founding Fathers comprised different religious backgrounds and they knew the best way to protect everyone's religious beliefs was to keep the government out of religion. This was so important that freedom of religious expression was included in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof…"
This founding principle of religious freedom and the belief that government cannot tell anyone what to believe or how to worship and cannot penalize you because of your religious beliefs has served us well for more than 200 years.
Sen. Shirkey has proposed a Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act modeled after the federal law that was supported by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, passed almost unanimously by a Democratled Congress in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Senate Bill 4 adopts the same practices that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides on a national level. Just as with the federal law, the goal is to ensure religious freedom for everyone.
The bill does not provide employers with a license to discriminate in the workplace. It is strictly an attempt to ensure the protection of religious beliefs from undue government interference. It has nothing to do with actions between two private parties.
Like the federal law, SB 4 would prohibit the government from substantially burdening a person's expression of religion, unless that burden is the "least restrictive means" to furthering a compelling government interest. In short, if government tramples a person's religious beliefs, the person would have a recourse in court.
The outcome is not guaranteed. Not every sincerely held religious belief will be upheld by the court, and not every compelling government interest by the state will be upheld either.
As President Clinton said when signing the federal law, "What this law basically says is that the government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone's free exercise of religion."
Although there is a federal law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that it only applied to the federal government and not states or other local governments. As a result, 21 states have passed their own religious freedom laws, including Illinois, where a state senator named Barack Obama voted for it.
Where was all the uproar when Democrats passed the federal law and many of the state versions? Where are all the problems that those laws created?
The fact is that most of the outrageous claims being made against the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act are nonsense. For the truth, just look at how the federal law and the law in other states have worked over the last two decades.
It seeks to remind our state government officials that our rights are not granted by our government; they are bestowed upon every person by the Creator and enshrined in the Constitution.
Democrats have done a great job of falsely messaging RFRA (a law they wrote) for political reasons. If SB 4 was the law, the LGBT community could use it in their argument at the Supreme Court. They should embrace it, because it protects religious diversity, which ultimately could include the LGBT community.
Rick Jones is a Republican politician from Michigan currently serving in the Michigan Senate after having served three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives.
Senator Rick Jones can be reached here
Con: Discriminatory Laws Wrong For Michigan
By Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr.
The LGBTQ community makes up about 4 percent of the population, which in Michigan is around 300,000 people. According to the 2010 census, four Michigan cities are among the top 25 nationally with the highest number of gay and lesbian couples: Pleasant Ridge, Ferndale, Ann Arbor and Lansing.
LGBTQ citizens are an integral part of our state and local communities. Elected officials should be focused on creating open and accepting policies that extend greater rights and protections, not the other way around. Instead, Michigan Republicans are focused on passing denigrating and punitive legislation, including bills to prevent samesex parent adoption and Senate Bill 4, the socalled Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
While I have not read Senator Jones' commentary before writing mine, I have a pretty good understanding of the flawed arguments he's going to make. He's going to say this bill is designed to protect people from discrimination, which is simply untrue; in fact, it allows for discrimination.
He's going to say that it allows good, Godfearing people the right to refuse service to Satanists, which is a laughable exaggeration. What Sen. Jones won't say is that the First Amendment already protects the right to religious freedom. Further, the opposition cannot point to a single instance when an individual's right to religious freedom has been infringed upon.
Senate Bill 4 is an obvious attempt to legalize discrimination and it brands Michigan as a less inclusive state than it already is. Ironically, Senate Republicans have scheduled a hearing regarding this shameful piece of legislation for April 28 — the same day that the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of samesex marriage.
Legalized discrimination is bad for Michigan, but don't take my word for it. Businesses almost universally oppose discriminatory laws like RFRA. Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, has said "it would send a negative message when we're trying to attract talent to
Michigan." Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce President Rick Baker has said, "I think for the general business community, it does not want to be one that is discriminating against people in our community or looking to be one that is viewed as discriminating. It wants to be one that is… very inclusive, welcoming and open for its customers, employees and for visitors in our region."
Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, speculates that his members would say that the Legislature "ought to be spending more time focusing on ways to grow the economy than on issues like that."
Freedom Michigan, which was founded by the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, has come out in opposition to the socalled Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well. The Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition includes some of Michigan's largest employers like Whirlpool, Kellogg's, AT&T, Herman Miller and Dow Chemical.
A recent poll by The Washington Post and ABC News found that U.S. citizens are growing increasingly supportive of LGBTQ rights and equality, with a recordhigh 61 percent of Americans supporting marriage equality. According to the poll, among those under age 30, support has grown since 2005 from 57 percent to 78 percent. A CNN/ORC poll also found that nationally, 57 percent of people oppose laws that allow for religious discrimination.
If Michigan is going to attract and retain a young, talented workforce, we must become a more inclusive state. Young people do not want to live in a state where they or their friends and neighbors are discriminated against. It is time for legislative Republicans to realize that socalled RFRA laws are bad for Michigan.
You've heard what I think. Now please visit http://www.michigancares.org to let me know what you think.