The Michigan House last week voted to pass a bill that gives service providers the right to deny service to anyone who does not adhere to their religious beliefs.
Speaker Jase Bolger’s proposed bill, cynically promoted as protecting religious freedom, passed through the House with a vote of 59-50 along party lines. The bill will now go to the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate. Opponents of the bill argue that it gives service providers a license to discriminate against those who do not share their religious beliefs. Far from protecting religious freedom, opponents say the bill limits religious exercise.
“The free exercise of religion is one of the most basic principles in our state and federal constitutions,” State Rep. Vicki Barnett said. “This bill moves us in a new and uncharted direction. It requires me and others to practice the faith of our employers, grocers and pharmacists.”
Susan Grettenberger, a professor at Central Michigan University, says she believes the bill could be extremely harmful. “Social workers who are opposed to war on religious ground could refuse to serve military members,” she said. “If their religion excludes the use of alcohol, they could refuse a client with substance abuse problems.”
The Michigan bill is modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – the same law the US Supreme Court relied on in Hobby Lobby case to exempt “closely held,” for-profit corporations from providing health insurance coverage for contraception if the corporations’ owners had a religious objection.
The LGBT rights community in Michigan has also been a vocal opponent to the Michigan bill, especially as Michigan does not have a statewide law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Speaker Bolger has refused to put a broad-based LGBT anti-discrimination bill up for a vote.
Media Resources: MSNBC 12/6/14; USA Today 12/5/14; Detroit News 12/4/14; Feminist Newswire 6/30/14