Religious protection bill teed up for House vote
A bill that's supposed to protect people exercising sincerely held religious beliefs has been approved by the state House on a party-line vote.
The bill was sponsored by House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall).
"Our founders cared a lot about religion," he said. "They knew that religion helps give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive. They there needs to be a space of freedom between government and people of faith that, otherwise, government might usurp."
The bill was supposed to move in tandem with a measure to add gay rights protections to Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. That effort deadlocked this week over the issue of whether transgender people should be included as a protected class, and Jase Bolger declared the effort dead for this session.
But he said the effort to adopt a Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act should continue to move forward.
State Representative Jeff Irwin and other Democrats oppose the bill. He says this measure would make it easier to discriminate against LGBT people.
"There are some folks out there who feel they need a legal protection for their discrimination against members of the LGBT community, and that's what this is really, fundamentally all about," he said. Irwin says it could also be used to discriminate against minority and out-of-the-mainstream faiths.
"I think it's very dangerous to be putting the government in the role of deciding which religious beliefs are bona fide and which religious beliefs are too aberrant to be protected by our laws. We already have a First Amendment. We already have strong religious protections here in America."
Republicans say those fears are unfounded. Bolger says the law would also extend protections to private citizens that are currently applied to the religious practices of prisoners.
The measure now goes to the state Senate. Governor Rick Snyder has not said whether he would sign the bill.