Last week, the Michigan House passed what it cynically calls the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The obvious intent is to suggest that Michigan is simply enshrining federal code into state law and that is simply not the case.
The first point that the Michigan House Republican Caucus makes in their rather shabby defense of the bill is to point out:
The MiRFRA, like its federal counterpart, provides no new rights to people of faith to refuse service to LGBT people.
Oh so just existing rights to discriminate are protected? The simple fact is that this law is intended to nullify local non-discrimination ordinances. Moreover, the Michigan version is not just an incorporation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. For starters, the federal act was not intended to justify discrimination against the LGBT community while that is the very purpose of the Michigan bill. In order to ensure that religious whack jobs don’t have to do things like hire us or serve us, the Michigan bill has some clear differences. For example, when it comes to the exercise of religion, here is the federal definition:
the term `exercise of religion’ means the exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
And here’s Michigan’s proposed definition:
“Exercise of religion” means the practice or observance of
religion, including 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.
What the fuck does that mean? Basically it means whatever the person doing the discriminating wants it to mean. It allows one to claim that just about any notion they may have is, in fact, a religious belief.
Over at Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal blog, Ryan T. Anderson had his own version of things over the weekend after CBS made the accurate claim that the Bill would let Michigan doctors, EMTs refuse to treat gay patients. According to Mr. Anderson:
The bill, passed by the Michigan House last week, is the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act. And, as the legal scholar Ed Whelan points out, “the bill is modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, [and] at least 19 other states have enacted laws modeled on the federal RFRA, and nothing remotely like what CBS News alleges has ever happened anywhere.”
First of all, Ed Whelan is not a legal scholar. Like Mr. Anderson, Mr. Whelan is a True Defender of the Faith. Legal scholars are primarily interested in law while Mr. Whelan’s concern is the the interests of the Catholic Church. The Church wants very much to have the right to discriminate against LGBT people — particularly when a gay person has the audacity to get married. Then his or her employment at a Catholic school will be terminated in an act of selective enforcement of Church doctrine. But I digress.
It is true that 19 states have an RFRA on the books. Most of these are quite red. However, for example, Connecticut’s law constitutes a simple recitation of the federal code.
Most importantly, the purpose of Connecticut’s or Rhode Island’s RFRA is not to permit discrimination. While Connecticut and Rhode Island are blue states with an RFRA, Connecticut law prohibits discrimination based on “sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS, or gender identity. In Connecticut, employers must comply with these laws if they have at least three employees.” Rhode Island’s anti-discrimination law is identical.
Michigan has no such protections in employment, education, housing and public accommodations. LGBT citizens of Michigan rely on the protections afforded them by municipal code. Now the state seeks to nullify the effect of those local laws and ordinances.
GOPers in service to the religious right. Just as the Tea Party crackpots surged in 2010 we can expect that moderates are going to put things back in balance in the not too distant future. It’s only a matter of time