An Iowa farm

A license-to-discriminate bill that has been going nowhere in the Iowa legislature since 2016 seems to be getting new attention. According to the Des Moines Register, Senate Study Bill 3171, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, might soon come to the state senate floor for consideration.

Iowa law protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Those protections will be nullified if SSB-3171 becomes law. The measure also preempts the local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances that are in effect in a number of Iowa municipalities.

The bill claims to be a state version of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

That this chapter be interpreted consistent with the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. §2000bb et
seq., federal case law, and federal jurisprudence.

However, consider this definition:

“Exercise of religion” means the practice or observance of religion, including any action that is motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief. The term “religious exercise” includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.

The federal RFRA does not interfere with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It does not permit a Klansman to deny service to Jews and blacks based on free exercise of religion. The Iowa measure is intended to do just that. It excuses an “action motivated by sincerely held religious belief.” This, in turn, provides a defense to a charge of discrimination under Iowa state or local law. The net effect is nullification of all state and municipal nondiscrimination laws.

Ultimately this means that an LGBT person can be subjected to rank discrimination without recourse. They can be denied service in public accommodations. They can be refused employment and housing on the whim of an individual who doesn’t approve of gay or trans folks. Were this measure to pass, Iowa becomes a great deal like Alabama.

If it’s in Iowa …

Chances are pretty good that this and similar boilerplate is floating around various state legislatures. Such bold bigotry is often the handiwork of Alliance Defending Freedom. That Christian legal group is an anti-LGBT hate group.

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By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.